Edgier styling, greater choice, ad­di­tional spice

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - ALEX IN­WOOD

Hot hatch fine tunes its fo­cus

AT A din­ner party re­cently, I ran into a friend who’s poised to buy a hot hatch. He’d been re­search­ing for months, he told me, and then, with the wild look of a man who has spent too much time in front of a com­puter trawl­ing through spec sheets, he ex­claimed, “We’re in a hot-hatch boom!”

I could see his point. To­day’s hot-hatch buyer is spoilt for choice with cut­ting-edge all-wheel-drive sys­tems, ever-ris­ing out­puts, and ex­otic-sound­ing modes that start with ‘Drift’ all jostling for po­si­tion. All of which has had an in­ter­est­ing im­pact on VW’S iconic Golf GTI. Once the ‘go to’ hot hatch, the GTI now finds it­self swamped by more hard­core per­for­mance ri­vals. But don’t think this means it has lost its ap­peal.

Here now in ‘Mk7.5’ guise, like the rest of the up­dated Golf range, this ‘new’ GTI is ef­fec­tively a facelift. Tweaked front and rear bumpers, new 18-inch al­loys, larger ex­haust pipes and LED head­lights are the ex­tent of the visual changes, while in­side, the cabin re­fresh ex­tends to a new in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and the in­clu­sion of a full-tft in­stru­ment clus­ter to the op­tions list.

The me­chan­i­cal changes are, if any­thing, even more sub­tle. Power from the EA888 2.0-litre turbo is up 7kw to 169kw and torque re­mains at a meaty 350Nm, though is now avail­able over a wider 1500-4600rpm rev range. Buy­ers will have the choice of ei­ther a slick-shift­ing six-speed man­ual or a six-speed dual-clutch, with both trans­mis­sions pro­pel­ling the GTI from 0-100km/h in 6.4sec.

Small changes, then, but refin­ing one of the best all-round hot hatches on sale is no bad thing. Point that red lip­sticked nose at a wind­ing road and this re­mains a hugely en­gag­ing hatch­back. The 2.0-litre en­gine is gutsy, smooth and quick enough to feel ex­cit­ing, the six-speed man­ual ( VW says a full 20 per­cent of buy­ers will opt for the stick) is a real high­light, and the trac­tion from the front axle is ex­cel­lent.

Un­like the three-door-only GTI Per­for­mance Edi­tion One, which is lim­ited to 150 units and boasts 180kw/370nm, plus an elec­tri­cally con­trolled me­chan­i­cal lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, the reg­u­lar GTI uses the car’s elec­tron­ics and brakes to achieve a sim­i­lar re­sult. Bar­rel into a bend too quickly and you can feel the brakes nip­ping away to trim your line, but the pro­gres­sive vari­able-ra­tio steer­ing (2.1 turns lock-to-lock) is com­mu­nica­tive enough to en­sure it’s easy to tread the line be­tween grip and slip, and even­tual ESC in­ter­ven­tion.

Driven hard, the GTI is lighter on its feet, more play­ful and ar­guably more re­ward­ing than its an­grier AWD sib­ling, the R (see side­bar),

which feels squarer on the road and more hun­kered down as it sling­shots out of cor­ners.

The GTI’S magic lies in its du­al­ity of char­ac­ter. Drive it around town or on lumpy coun­try roads and you’ll no­tice how quiet the cabin is, how ami­ably the sus­pen­sion soaks up bumps, and that the cabin is richly trimmed and gen­er­ously equipped with com­fort­able and sup­port­ive seats in both rows.

And while you could ar­gue that Wolfs­burg’s en­gi­neers haven’t been that busy with the new GTI, VW’S Aus­tralian prod­uct plan­ners have. Join­ing an ex­panded line-up is a sub-$ 40K vari­ant, dubbed GTI Orig­i­nal, with a lower spec (such as fixed-rate dampers) and a three­door body. A five-door 180kw GTI Per­for­mance is also on its way, and a plug-in hy­brid GTE is likely.

It means the per­for­mance Golf fam­ily is now a broad church, but which­ever you choose, the GTI re­mains the mas­ter.

Model Volkswagen Golf GTI En­gine 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo Max power 169kw @ 4700-6200rpm Max torque 350Nm @ 1500-4600rpm Trans­mis­sion 6-speed man­ual Weight 1329kg 0-100km/ h 6.7L/ 100km Econ­omy 6.4sec (claimed) Price $ 41,490 On sale Now

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