Kayalami race track is not for the faint-hearted, or sissies as we would say in Mzansi. No siree! Any racing track with a section called “the mine shaft” has no business entertaining sissies of any sort. It was with this positive and somewhat inflated attitude about myself that I climbed into the driver’s seat in the new 2009 Volkswagen Golf VI GTI after being shown around by racing maverick Gugu Zulu.
The first few corners were not too hectic; I tried to take it as easy as possible while maintaining a respectable lead over the car behind us. After that it was a free-for all as I began to understand how the car worked. Previously a different guy had patiently taken us around for an orientation session, probably not realising that we are quite familiar with Kayalami. Nevertheless VW SA wasn’t about to take chances, especially since there were no track marshals to help out in the case of a mishap.
On this day there was no mishap even though one or three of the present media VIPs had previously had excursions off the track in previous launches. No names attached. Sorry. Nevertheless the GTI seems to be made to flatter. VW says it’s installed the new XDS system, an electronic transverse differential lock which basically works by taking power away from the wheel in whose direction the car is turning. This makes the GTI turn better and quicker, and minimises understeer. The suspension is sports tuned: lowered by 22 millimetres at the front and by 15 millimetres at the rear. The entire architecture of springs, dampers and rear stabilisers was completely re-tuned
That you have 155kW to play with is no small contributor either. The new car uses an essentially new 2.0-litre turbo engine to produce 155kW between 5300rpm and 6200rpm. I know a number of people who’ve laughed at the mere 8kW gain from the GTI V (147kW) and they wondered why in the world VW didn’t at least give the car 160kW in order to keep up with the Ford Focus ST. If it makes you feel better there is a 195kW GTI R coming in about a year. Even I was quite taken aback by 155kW actually. Thing is, none of us had driven the car yet. And when I did on those long straights of Kayalami, tapped the 280Nm torque through the 6-speed DSG gearbox for a quick changedown, when I did that I understood the new GTI 6.
See, the new GTI seems to be the old GTI in many ways. The exterior is only slightly changed. Most of the change is in the front end where VW’s new face is evident. The old familiar red outline around the grille is there, so is the clear GTI moniker and honeycomb middle and lower grille.
Going to the sides one notices the same “Detroit” 18-inch alloy wheels from GTI 5 and wonders if Walter da Silva and his design team didn’t accidentally approve dusty GTI 5 designs from 2003. “These wheels are now standard, whereas in the previous car they were optional. If you were not close to the previous GTI you wouldn’t know that” is what the VW guy said. I see.
Moving right along we see doors, two a side, one at the back. South Africa is not getting the three-door GTI unfortunately. The rear shows two tailpipes as per usual but instead of them being clubbed together on one side they are separated by the air diffuser and are singularly placed on either side. But that action has not deterred the growl coming from there. It’s raspy yet pleasant, and is particularly smile-inducing when combined with the DSG gearbox.
Kayalami is not exactly the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife so one doesn’t have 20.8 kilometres to play with. The GTI then was never gonna get close to its claimed top speed of 239km/h there but along the main straight by the pits one could get reasonably lose to 150km/h. Ok, it’s not a long straight.
What did surprise was that after a few bashing laps the car hadn’t used that much fuel. This is a typical GTI trait. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that that new owners are getting less than the claimed 7.3 litres per 100km average on their cars in spite of the relatively small 55 litre fuel tank. There will be plenty of drivers I’m sure, despite the recession. GTI is for its throng of fans, not just a badge but a lifestyle. VW SA says sales of GTI 5 were never less than 40% of the entire Golf 5 total. That is quite astonishing given that Golf 5 was selling at roughly 800 units per month at some point. That’s about 320 GTIs, at least, per month. No wonder we hardly ever see any other Golf 5 derivative on the roads. Here’s a twister; VW plans to shift 1755 GTIs during the rest of 2009 or about 293 units per month, of which 60% should be 6-speed manuals. Recession anyone?
The sad news is that not everyone will be able to experience the car in the way that I did. Fact it, most people will judge it based on what they see and on the fact that they loved the previous one. This is a better car. It’s more refined, grown up but feistier at the same time. It’s also more luxurious: curving bi-xenon headlights, red brake callipers, colour coded bumpers, air conditioning, CD player with 8 speakers, multi-function computer, air bags, etc etc.
I really liked the flat-bottomed steering wheel but the manual gear lever is not my style. It’s just too simple, too basic to be GTI. On the contrary the DSG handle feels good in the hand.
For R317 300 you can get yourself the best GTI ever. I’m sure you can think of other things you can do with that money. But none of them will make you feel as alive as when you drive the GTI.
Volkswagen Golf GTI pricing
R317 300 (manual)
R331 800 (DSG)