It’s still the bench­mark FWD hot hatch

Tweaked with more power and tech, Golf GTI ma­tures grace­fully

The Star Early Edition - - ROAD TEST - JESSE ADAMS

SUCH a pol­ished ma­chine was the Golf 7 GTI, it’d be fool­ish for Volk­swa­gen to toy too much with the recipe for the newly up­dated 7.5 ver­sion. And they haven’t, thank­fully.

The ex­te­rior preen­ing is so mild you might miss it, with only a set of now stan­dard LED headand tail-lights, some fresh wheel de­signs and a slightly tweaked bumper shape dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing old and new. Changes here have mostly hap­pened in­side, where the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tems have been up­graded with big­ger touch­screens and the in­stru­ment clus­ter is now avail­able as an op­tional dig­i­tal ‘Ac­tive Info Dis­play’ just like the ones in Pas­sat and Tiguan. The 2-litre turbo en­gine’s been squeezed for a bit more power too, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Our test car’s stan­dard fit­ment 20.3cm colour touch­screen was swapped out for a R22 000 op­tional Dis­cover Nav­i­ga­tion Pro sys­tem, mean­ing it grows in size to a 23.4cm unit and gains 10GB of mu­sic stor­age, ges­ture con­trol and Ap­ple Carplay com­pat­i­bil­ity.

That gi­ant dis­play mea­sure­ment is a bit mis­lead­ing though, be­cause while the glossy black panel is in­deed 23.4cm wide, a good por­tion of it is taken up by flush, touch-sen­si­tive glass but­tons on one side. The ac­tual touch­screen por­tion is smaller.

Still, it’s a sexy de­vice that adds a hefty dose of sparkle to the GTI’s cabin, and its res­o­lu­tion is as crisp and colour­ful as any­thing you’d find on show in an iS­tore. The ges­ture con­trol func­tion is a gim­mick we’d never use, be­cause it’s just as easy to just swipe icons with a fin­ger on the screen rather than with a waved hand at a dis­tance. The move away from a ro­tary vol­ume knob is also a step back­ward in our opin­ion, be­cause pok­ing re­peat­edly at a pair of tiny but­tons can be tricky when on the move.

It’s nice that VW has made its Ac­tive Info Dis­play avail­able as a stand­alone fea­ture, and not bun­dled it with ex­pen­sive sat­nav as Audi’s done with its very sim­i­lar Virtual Cock­pit. In the VW it’s an R8000 op­tion that fur­ther el­e­vates techno-ambience with whizbang dig­i­tal graph­ics in­stead of con­ven­tional nee­dle gauges. We’d spring for it given the choice.

You get the feel­ing that VW and Audi’s 2-litre turbo en­gine, which is sold in a huge va­ri­ety of ve­hi­cles, is ad­justable for out­puts with a sim­ple turn of a screw at the fac­tory. This same motor has been tweaked and tuned to all sorts of power spec­i­fi­ca­tions de­pend­ing on ap­pli­ca­tion, and here it makes 7kW more than it did pre-facelift, with the same 350Nm torque fig­ure. In this state it’s ac­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to that in 2015’s GTI Per­for­mance Pack.

Can you feel the 7kW dif­fer­ence on the road? No, not re­ally. But we did go faster in this GTI than we have with any pre­vi­ous ver­sions at our test fa­cil­ity. The launch con­trol func­tion within the sixspeed DSG gearbox (man­ual GTIs are now ex­tinct in our mar­ket) makes for metro­nomic stand­ing start times, and af­ter a hand­ful of nearly iden­ti­cal runs we set a fastest 0-100km/h dash of 6.49 sec­onds (VW claims 6.4) with a best quar­ter mile time of 14.63 secs.

Th­ese fig­ures mean the GTI 7.5 is a shade quicker than the now dis­con­tin­ued Per­for­mance Pack (a new one’s likely on the way) which achieved 6.62 and 14.79 sec­onds re­spec­tively two years ago. It’s also quicker than the pre­vi­ous 162kW ver­sion (6.60 and 14.85 secs), though the model we tested had a man­ual gearbox and no launch con­trol.

Just as we said in pre­vi­ous road tests of older models, traction is the lim­it­ing fac­tor. This GTI, and all oth­ers, would prob­a­bly be quicker if it didn’t wheel­spin so much off the line. Launch con­trol works well to keep revs up be­fore the clutch dumps, but from there it fights for grip and loses pre­cious time to spin­ning, and some­times hop­ping front wheels.

Re­gard­less of par­tic­u­lar power spec, this is a fine pow­er­plant with a vel­vety spread of boosted gusto right across its rev range. Gushes of ac­cel­er­a­tion are avail­able at any mo­ment thanks mostly to one of the best au­to­boxes in the busi­ness, and there’s al­ways a smooth ex­haust note ac­com­pa­ny­ing en­gine speed. Some of it is, how­ever, pro­duced elec­tron­i­cally, and its in­ten­sity can be turned up and down via the cen­tral dis­play screen.

A va­ri­ety of drive modes trans­form the GTI’s on road be­hav­iour with pre­set gearbox shift maps, damper firm­ness and throt­tle sen­si­tiv­ity, and I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with how it hov­ered along in the soft­est Com­fort set­ting. Our car rolled on op­tional 19” wheels (the big­gest avail­able), and while we of­ten ad­vise against low pro­file rub­ber for its ad­verse ef­fect on ride qual­ity, the GTI copes with rub­ber band-sized tyres just fine. Just be­ware those nasty pot­holes. VER­DICT It’s still the bench­mark fron­twheel drive hot hatch. The al­ready well sorted GTI is now just a lit­tle bit bet­ter with new tech and a tad more power. That push but­ton vol­ume con­trol is a tiny blotch on an oth­er­wise near-per­fect pack­age.

Fol­low me on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd

An ex­tra 7kW is squeezed out of the 2-litre turbo en­gine, mak­ing this the quick­est GTI we’ve yet tested.

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