|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Volkswagen popularized the hot hatch when the Golf GTI Mark I appeared in Europe in 1975. It was a response, at the time, to produce a car that was socially responsible (there was a fuel crisis) without denting any of the driving fun. The result is a car whose top speed is 177 km/h when cars then struggled to even hit 160 km/h. More than sheer speed though; it was its sharp handling that helped VW create the GTI phenomenon car enthusiasts know today. The 2015 model successfully continues that tradition.
A hotted-up version of the Golf (Volkswagen’s version of the Corolla), the Golf GTI has the requisite ingredients that give it a sporty tone without going overboard. The conservatively styled yet timelessly styled five-door gains 18-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone Potenza S001 225/40 R 18 tires and dual exhausts at the back. The GTI also has specific bumpers, but you can’t be faulted for not noticing as the execution is subtle. It makes for the perfect stealth car—almost no one will suspect you have a 220 horsepower engine under the hood. There are only two visual giveaways (aside from the wheels and exhaust) and they are the honeycomb grille with GTI badging and red pinstripe detail, and the front fog lamp covered with horizontal rakes. These two are the most eye-catching but most controversial parts of the styling. The former is nice, a nod to the original; the latter is just plain campy.
Like the exterior, the interior is a mix of Teutonic efficiency and refinement, sporty cues, and sadly, more 1970’s campiness. Enthusiasts will decry the notion of taking potshots at the plaid seats, but let it be said: it doesn’t look cohesive with the rest of the cabin. It’s lovely for VW to take a note to its familial roots, but it detracts too much from the otherwise serious, straight-talking, “designed for sporty driving” atmosphere. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to do comedy. Plus, imagine how hard it’ll be to take care of those in the long run. Plain black seats or leather ones would have been perfect. The rest of the cabin though is flawless. The fit and finish are top-notch with particular nods given to the soft-touch matte plastics and genuine looking metallic accents scattered throughout.
Seating is adjusted manually, which is a downer, but at least it offers a sporty driving position. You do end up seating a bit lower here compared to other cars, but that’s because of necessity. Sit any higher, and you’ll end up bumping your noggin getting into the car. Still, the view, especially around the hood is great and the pedals are positioned perfectly. The overall impression is that of a two-door coupe than a five-door hatchback complete with the limited rear visibility. The sporty feeling is emphasized further by the heavily bolstered seats (it’s punishing for those who’re attempting the dadbod craze), the flat-bottomed steering wheel, and large, legible gauges.
Like a typical German creation, the controls require immense adjustment especially if you’re familiar with a Japanese car. There are a multitude of customizable functions and settings, but you’ll have to go through a series of slow, animated screens to find them. Thankfully, the animations can be shut off, but having to access four screens just to adjust gauge brightness (Car > Settings > Lighting > Instrument Cluster Lighting) is just frustrating. Whatever happened to a good, old rheostat knob? It’s the same with the steering wheel which offers every command conceivable, but the clustering is less than logical. For example: volume is on the left, track change is on the right. Accessing the multi-function display is via the right menu button, but scrolling through the menus is done via a separate up/down control.
The Golf GTI scores a barely passing mark in terms of practicality. Name another Japanese compact, and chances are, it’ll feel more spacious. Though it does have more leg room on paper, it’s tight for seating three abreast at the back. Still, they’ve got good headroom because of the upright C-pillar (a Golf trademark), supportive seats, and their own air conditioning vents. Those in the front thrones will love the expansive shoulder room. The flat cargo space opens up to a huge 467-liter space with the tonneau cover removed. But even with it in place, there’s good space to swallow a sizeable chunk of grocery or luggage.
Its practical nature speaks volume of how it performs. Like its originator, it is best suited for every day driving and the occasional winding road. Yes, it can do hot laps on a race track, but that’s not what the entire Golf GTI experience is about. Simply put, it sticks to the original’s design charter very well. The start-up though is less than convincing. Locating and pressing the ‘Start Engine’ button (requiring an extra five seconds) turns the 2.0-liter TSI 4-cylinder to life with a diesel-like clatter. That hiccup aside, everything else is stellar. Its mission is to make driving a more satisfying task, and to that point, it delivers beautifully. The secret is how the entire drivetrain is tuned as a cohesive package.
First, the steering is linear and perfectly weighted. It’s responsive without being overly sensitive making it perfect for carving through traffic. It can make any sort of cornering exercise fun, even if you’re just turning into a parking lot. And speaking of parking, the tiller’s two turns lock-to-lock can catch you by surprise. You’ll need less steering angle to get into a tight space. Second, the iron-block TSI engine is tuned more for flexibility than top-end thrills. The 220 horses puts it midstream in the local hot hatch/sports sedan category, but crucially, peak torque occurs from 1,500 rpm up to 4,400 rpm—the sweet spot for overtaking and short-squirt response. It does sound gruff, but thankfully, the burbling exhaust note masks that. Third, the DSG or dual clutch gearshift shifts quickly and exactly when you want it to, though there’s some subjective roughness whenever you’re half-committed with throttle application.
The secret weapon though is a button just below the ‘Start Engine’ button called Driver Profile Section. It comes with three default modes: Normal, Sport, and Eco plus an Individual setting that allows you to customize different parameters such as engine response, steering sensitivity, and air conditioning optimization. Leaving things in Normal gives it livable characteristics with hints of strength to go with the smoothness. Sport is fun for tackling winding roads, but the constant whirring sounds of the gears at high rpms is tiring in traffic. Eco is best for cruising where extra range is appreciated. With Eco mode on, throttle is less sensitive and the gearbox coasts in neutral, dropping the revs to idle (around 800 rpm). It results in improved fuel efficiency, but how much depends on your driving habits. After five days with the GTI, it was just 0.2 km/L over the 16.94 km/L highway mileage. In the city, it didn’t seem to make a dent. Whether in Normal or Eco mode, it managed 7.46 km/L in heavy and 9.09 in light traffic.
Mental note to would be GTI testers though: please make sure to clear out the Individual setting. Testing a car with Eco engine, Sport steering, and Normal air conditioning is just plain odd and upsets the balance of the car.
It’s not a track day weapon nor it should be treated solely as one, but it gives you the perfect excuse to take the long way home. It sounds cliché, but it’s on those kinds of roads where the Golf GTI comes alive (another cliché). It gives excellent amounts of grip (though the stability control does kick in quite early and frequently) and that grip gently fades away allowing you to explore the capabilities of the car without it biting you back. There’s enough zing to remind you of its performance-tuned origins without being too much in-your-face. And the ride, even with low-profile 18-inch tires and suggested 46 PSI tire pressure maintains its composure. It’s firm, but comfortable.
Priced at P 2,290,000, you end up paying P 10,409 per horsepower. That’s a mighty premium considering it’s just P 7,044 for the Subaru WRX CVT, P 8,680 for the Toyota 86 A/T, and P 9,750 for the Peugeot 208 GTi. If there’s any consolation, you do get a nice chunk of luxury niceties such as an 8-speaker Bluetooth-equipped audio system (iPod integration is still wonky), automatic HID headlamps, and the like. Still, it’s one car that goes beyond the mere numbers. It tells the story of designers and engineers who’ve worked to make sure it performs beautifully without one aspect overpowering all others. And Volkswagen should be thankful for that, otherwise it would simply be too much peso for too little power. As it stands though, it’s a great poster child. The Beetle may have given VW affinity with the everyday man, but it’s the Golf GTI that will make enthusiasts consider them seriously.
2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI
|Ownership||2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI|
|Vehicle Classification||Sports Sedan / Hatchback|
|Body Type||5-door Hatchback|
|Engine / Drive||F/F|
|Under the Hood|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||Inline-4|
|BHP @ rpm||220 @ 4,500-6,200|
|Nm @ rpm||350 @ 1,500-4,400|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Gasoline / 95~|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,400|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, 3-pt Wishbone|
|Rear Suspension||Independent, 4-pt Multi-link|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Rear Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Tires||Bridgestone Potenza S001 225/40 R 18 Y (f & r)|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||Yes|
|Parking Sensors||Front and Rear, with Reverse Camera|
|Fog Lamps||Yes, Front and Rear|
|Steering Wheel Adjustment||Tilt/Telescopic|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather|
|Folding Rear Seat||Yes, 60/40|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|Power Mirrors||Yes, with Fold|
|Climate Control||Yes, Dual, with Rear Vents|
|No. of Speakers||8|
|Steering Wheel Controls||Yes|