TWO SIDES, SAME COIN

VOLK­SWA­GEN GOLF GTI 2.0 TSI VER­SUS GOLF 1.4 TSI

Driven - - Driven - Re­port and Im­ages by BERNIE HELLBERG & BERNARD HELLBERG

CULT STA­TUS IS RE­SERVED FOR BUT A HAND­FUL OF CLAS­SIC CARS. THE VOLK­SWA­GEN GOLF IS RIGHT UP THERE, AND HAS BEEN FOR OVER 40 YEARS. BERNIE HELLBERG PIT­TED TWO VER­SIONS OF ONE OF SOUTH AFRICA’S FAVOURITE CARS AGAINST ONE ANOTHER IN A CLAS­SIC BROTHERLY BAT­TLE.

The Volk­swa­gen Golf Mark I ush­ered in a new era of mo­tor­ing when it made its in­ter­na­tional de­but in the mid-1970s. Launched in South Africa not too long af­ter that, the lit­tle Rab­bit was an in­stant sales suc­cess, and helped to es­tab­lish Volk­swa­gen as the num­ber one pas­sen­ger car brand in the coun­try.

Sev­eral in­car­na­tions of the icon later – we’re al­ready on Golf 7.5 – and the name­plate still is a favourite mo­tor­ing bench­mark and an im­por­tant one for the in­dus­try.

Where once only a hand­ful of de­riv­a­tives roamed South African roads, the Golf range now boasts a full com­ple­ment of no less than eight cars, all vy­ing for a spot in the lime­light, all bask­ing in the resid­ual glow of the orig­i­nal hot hatch, the GTI.

The GTI is not called the orig­i­nal hot hatch for noth­ing, it has done many a great thing over the last four decades to earn that ti­tle, and Volk­swa­gen has ben­e­fit­ted from the car’s mas­sive suc­cess over the years by sell­ing many more “ev­ery­day” Golfs than GTIs. It’s called the halo ef­fect, and for no brand is it as pro­nounced as for VW.

SPE­CIAL IS AS SPE­CIAL DOES

The GTI, long revered for its tech­ni­cal bril­liance, should not be seen as the only Golf you ever need. It is merely one side of the Golf per­for­mance coin. The other is the slightly-above-en­try 1.4 TSI de­riv­a­tive.

The GTI is, how­ever, the most iconic Golf money can buy. There are more ex­pen­sive Golf de­riv­a­tives – such as the Golf R – but none with so much his­tory and good­will em­bed­ded in its name­plate.

The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of GTI gets its power from a de­lec­ta­ble 1,984 cc turbo four-cylin­der that de­liv­ers 169 kW of power be­tween 4,700 and 6,200 r/min and a meaty torque fig­ure of 350 Nm from as low as 1,500 r/min, and sends it to the front wheels via VW’s six-speed dou­ble clutch trans­mis­sion. Six-and-a-half sec­onds is all it takes for the Golf GTI to pro­pel it­self and its oc­cu­pants to the 100 km/h mark, reach­ing its top speed of 248 km/h not too long af­ter that.

But, the stats tell only half of the GTI’s story. To get the full pic­ture, one has to un­der­stand how this car de­liv­ers its power to the road, how it en­gages with its pi­lot, and just how hard it will be for any other hot hatch maker to em­u­late the pin-sharp han­dling and dy­namic abil­i­ties of this car. Many have tried, most have failed.

SENSE AND SEN­SI­BIL­ITY

You may be read­ing this think­ing that all of the GTI’s power and com­mand of the road will do you no good in a coun­try where the max­i­mum speed limit you are ever al­lowed to travel is less than half of what the GTI is ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing.

The truth is that Volk­swa­gen never cre­ated the Golf with a GTI in mind. It was a per­for­mance off­shoot of the stan­dard Golf that was de­vel­oped by a group of rogue VW en­gi­neers who saw the po­ten­tial of a per­for­mance ver­sion of the Golf and de­cided to build one on the down low.

So, in its nat­u­ral form, the Golf is less flashy and more ‘nor­mal’, more 1.4 TSI than 2.0 GTI.

Of­fered with a much more sen­si­ble 1,395 cc tur­bocharged power plant that pro­duces only 92 kW of power and 200 Nm of torque – a huge climb-down from the lofty heights of its per­for­mance sib­ling. In this form, the Golf is all about be­ing smooth, prac­ti­cal, and cost ef­fi­cient, claim­ing the abil­ity to sip a slight 5.0 litres of fuel ev­ery 100 kilo­me­tres over its road munch­ing tal­ents, which, at 9.1 sec­onds to com­plete the 100 km/h sprint, are not in­signif­i­cant.

CO­COON OF COM­FORT

Apart from the odd bit of trim, there are sur­pris­ingly few dif­fer­ences in the in­te­rior feel of the two cab­ins. Both cars have that dis­tinc­tive air of Ger­man pre­mium qual­ity that’s in­her­ent in al­most ev­ery VeeDub nowa­days, and both are of­fered with a de­cent level of stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion. So, what then sets them apart?

As a mid-range model, the 1.4 TSI comes stan­dard with cloth up­hol­stery, which can be up­graded to leather, while the GTI is kit­ted decked out in leather as stan­dard. Heated seats are another item that is re­served for the GTI only, as is au­to­matic climate con­trol.

Apart from those, how­ever, both cars have stan­dard big-ticket items such as cruise con­trol and Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity.

Lack­ing in both re­spects are musthaves such as satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion and park­ing sen­sors, some­thing that some of their re­spec­tive ri­vals have as stan­dard. But they make up for it with seven airbags (in­clud­ing a driver knee airbag).

LAST WORD

At R356,400 and R545,800 re­spec­tively, the price dis­par­ity be­tween the 1.4 TSI Golf and its gung-ho sib­ling is some­what con­fus­ing, and one has to won­der what ex­plains the cost dif­fer­en­tial. Sus­pen­sion changes, a dif­fer­ent en­gine, some cos­metic en­hance­ments and the like, prob­a­bly do not quite add up to the R189,400 vari­ance be­tween th­ese two mod­els. If you’re will­ing to add a cou­ple of grand for the sta­tus that the “GTI” badge af­fords its own­ers, it is un­doubt­edly the car you should buy, but for sen­si­ble folk, the 1.4 TSI will likely sat­isfy all your needs, mak­ing it, in our view, the one to watch.

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