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First drive: the new VW Golf GTI

April 22 2013 00:00  1798 views
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So, how far will VW roll the dice this time? From trail-blazing featherweight 1970s original to bloated 1990s chubster, the GTI is the everyman prize-fighter that went to seed before getting on the comeback trail. The 2004 Mark 5 version, in particular, remains a Top Gear favourite, the one car above all others that truly merits that ancient car journalist and almost Confucian saying, ‘the only car you’ll ever need.’ Well, it is. Or was.

So here’s the party line: ‘New Golf GTI: faster, more efficient and cheaper to insure’.

There’s a long, fast straight, wisely interrupted by a coned chicane, into a longish right-hander. You only have to look at it to know that this is understeer central, the sort of corner that murders tyres, lasts longer than a series of 24, and reduces whoever’s behind the wheel to tears of frustration. The approach to the corner is a good indicator of the GTI’s overall character: it’s super smooth, completely calm, and plenty fast enough without giving you any sort of nudge in the nuts. Slice through the cones at 90mph and the steering needs just a quick flick of the wrist. Not too hard on the brakes, and the exhaust emits an unexpectedly guttural rasp as you work your way down through the gearbox, then turn in. Accurate, linear and a little bit – whisper it – boring…

But mid-way through the corner you can simply stand on the throttle, then watch all eight seasons of 24 while some torque-shuffling front axle magic hauls you round. It’s very effective, but you need to give it full beans for it to work properly. The GTI has never been a car whose back end was particularly mobile, but more than ever the schwimmwinkelen are hard to detect. Drive it like a moron and still the Golf hangs on. Personally, I like a bit of back-end mobility, but it’s clearly no longer the done thing. By working so seamlessly, the GTI’s chassis architecture promotes an unarguably efficient but ultimately rather aloof driving style. On the other hand, the GTI with the trick diff is eight seconds faster round the Nordschleife than a GTI without it. The computers might have won, but they’re not as much fun to hang out with.

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