TWO SIDES, SAME COIN
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI 2.0 TSI VERSUS GOLF 1.4 TSI
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).
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.