Right badge, wrong model

Our VW GTi lacked the Euro­pean siz­zle, writes GRAHAMSMITH

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Used Cars -

THE Ja­panese are so dom­i­nant in the small-per­for­mance hatch arena to­day that if you were to land on this planet for the first time this week you could be­lieve they wrote the book on them.

Ac­tu­ally they didn’t, they were cre­ated in Europe in the 1960s, when Mini Coop­ers showed you didn’t need a V8 to go fast.

The Euro­peans have con­tin­ued to re­fine the for­mula and can claim hot hatches like the VW GTi, which are re­fined and so­phis­ti­cated.

The GTi made a fleet­ing ap­pear­ance here in 1990, when the then­im­porter launched a de­tuned ver­sion of the Euro­pean model.

The model that came here was a dis­ap­point­ment. It looked the same and had the right badges, but lacked the siz­zle of the model sold in Europe.

MODEL WATCH

THE Golf GTi that landed here in 1990 was al­ready a dated model in Europe, part of the sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion Golf launched in 1983.

It only just beat the sig­nif­i­cant up­date that came a year later, so the ex­cite­ment of fi­nally be­ing able to buy the GTi was some­what dulled.

En­thu­si­asm quickly waned when it was re­alised the im­porter had cho­sen to mar­ket it here as a lux­ury sport­ing hatch rather than an all-out per­for­mance model.

The en­gine cho­sen was a mun­dane 1.8-litre sin­gle over­head camshaft four-cylin­der en­gine stran­gled by emis­sion gear. It de­vel­oped only 77kW at 5400 revs and 155Nm at 3800 revs.

With those sorts of num­bers it’s clear the GTi wasn’t a rock­et­ship.

In­stead it was smooth and re­fined, terms nor­mally used when a car fails to ex­cite the senses.

A five-speed man­ual gear­box was stan­dard at launch, but a three-speed auto was added in 1991.

Though the lo­cal GTi lacked the punch of a hot hatch it had a raft of fea­tures. It came stan­dard with air, cen­tral lock­ing, a trip com­puter, fog lights, Pi­o­neer sound sys­tem and mir­rors were pow­ered and heated. Oddly, it didn’t have power win­dows.

In­side, there was pretty good room with comfortable seat­ing front and rear, and a de­cent-sized boot left over for lug­gage if needed.

The dash was func­tional and well laid-out, but the Euro­peans hadn’t quite made it to the level of the Ja­panese when it came to fit and fin­ish of in­te­rior parts.

They were fid­dly, clearly plas­tic, and not put to­gether very well.

On the road, the mod­est out­put of the en­gine dulled the GTi’s per­for­mance, but with a rea­son­able amount of torque avail­able in the mid-range it could be stirred along thanks to well-matched ra­tios in the five-speed man­ual gear­box.

ON THE LOT

THE GTi is now in the old-car cat­e­gory and largely over­looked by the trade. Take the time to find a car in good con­di­tion.

Try in­de­pen­dent VW ser­vice spe­cial­ists. They of­ten have in­side knowl­edge of good cars they take care of that are com­ing up for sale.

Pay $4000-$6000 for a car in solid to good con­di­tion.

IN THE SHOP

IN 1990 the Euro­peans were still com­ing to grips with the build qual­ity of their Ja­panese ri­vals. They weren’t pro­duc­ing cars with any­thing like the same qual­ity.

By to­day’s stan­dards the VW plas­tics were poor and made for Euro­pean con­di­tions rather than the fe­roc­ity of the Aus­tralian sun.

As a con­se­quence they warped, buck­led and split un­der the re­lent­less at­tack from the sun.

Look also for faded metal­lic paint, a legacy of the change to wa­ter­based paints the in­dus­try was go­ing through, and the force of the sun.

Me­chan­i­cally, the GTi is ro­bust and re­li­able, and lit­tle of a se­ri­ous na­ture goes wrong with them.

It’s im­por­tant, though, that they are well-ser­viced and have reg­u­lar oil changes. If the oil isn’t changed reg­u­larly the valve guides can wear and that will lead to oil use.

Parts are rea­son­ably priced and read­ily avail­able, and ser­vic­ing isn’t ex­pen­sive if you seek out a spe­cial­ist rather than use fac­tory dealers.

Main­tained well, it’s gen­er­ally held a GTi will do 300,000km or so without sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems.

CRUNCH TIME

AN AG­ILE chas­sis with nim­ble han­dling was the GTi’s main safety mech­a­nism in an era be­fore anti-skid brakes were widely used and airbags were un­known. Sturdy construction comes into play when the metal starts to crum­ble.

AT THE PUMP

WEAR­ING a per­for­mance tag means a GTi can be driven hard and fuel econ­omy suf­fers. Look for 9.0-10.5 litres for 100km in nor­mal use around town.

BOT­TOM LINE

HAD the badge but not the grunt to back it up.

Hatch and dis­patch: Volk­swa­gen Golf GTi en­thu­si­asm waned when Aus­tralians re­alised it was a lux­ury sport­ing hatch not an all-out per­for­mance model.

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