To think that one of the most iconic acronyms in automotive history almost never made it on to the boot lid... It was the early Seventies and the Volkswagen Golf was selling like hot strudel. Why change the recipe?
That’s exactly what Professor Ernst Fiala thought when presented with the preposterous idea of a cheap, reliable, attainable sportscar. But five of Volkswagen’s men – Herbert Horntrich, Hermann Hablitzel, Horst-Dieter Schwittlinsky, Anton Konrad and Alfons Löwenberg – did what men do best; they sat around over some brews and hatched a stupid plan. That plan, subject to many obstacles, saw the birth of one of the most legendary cars ever made: the Golf GTI.
At every turn they were cornered by Volkswagen’s notorious Germanic bureaucracy. “Verboten!” rang in their ears. But they toiled on, after hours and on weekends, creating a wide-arched, loud-mouthed, hotted-up Golf prototype they affectionately called the ‘roaring monster’.
Naturally when the Volkswagen board got wind of these defectors they promptly tried to put an end to
all the shenanigans, but the five kept at it, eventually convincing Professor Fiala to have a go around the company’s test track. He loved the (now significantly toned-down) prototype’s handling so much that even with disdain for the ‘brash’ tartan seats, spoilers and red stripes, he promised to put in a good word to the rest of the suits. Perhaps hesitantly, they agreed to give the five men their chance, but only a sliver of a chance. The board ordered the factory to produce a limited edition of 5,000 of these so-called GTIs and no more, or else!
Or else they would produce 50,000, actually... See, nobody at the factory was counting. Seriously. And so the fabulous Golf GTI was flying out of dealership forecourts, who in turn kept ordering more and more until six months later somebody noticed the extra zero on the production figure. They started counting after that and a legend was born. The Golf GTI nameplate has since found nearly 2 million happy driveways.
As the Golf GTI enters its seventh generation, we flew to the Côte d’Azur to see if it’s better than the original – which would automatically make it the best GTI ever.
Let’s not beat about the bush here: yes, this is the best GTI ever. Volkswagen based the new model of the GTI on its latest MQB modular platform, which helps to lower production costs by spreading the technology over numerous models of the Group’s empire – Audi, Seat, and Skoda cars all share the same platform. Although you won’t feel the savings – the car starts in the UAE from Dh116,400 – you will feel the lower weight the platform saves. The GTI tips the scales at 42kg less, or 1,352kg in total.
Naturally this improves handling response, and the new dimensions initiate quicker turn-in while the shorter steering ratio gives your hands less to do. Especially since you can’t have a manual transmission either – the DSG six-speed, twin-clutch transmission is the only ’box offered in our market. This is fine because it’s rather brilliant, despite its continued tendency to shift too soon in normal mode and perhaps too late in Sport mode – there is no middle ground, as in the previous sixth-generation GTI.
Power grows from 207bhp to 217bhp in the base GTI, but the newly offered GTI Performance Pack stretches that to 227bhp, additionally including suspension changes and bigger brakes. The engine is a carryover, first introduced in the MkV Golf GTI, but here it has an entirely new cylinder head design and some turbocharger trickery – it’s a hugely refined, economical powerplant that exposes turbo lag only in the very low rev ranges. Everywhere else the four-cylinder 2.0-litre is a firebomb – complete with downshift throttle blipping and exhaust backfiring – good for 0-100kph half a second quicker than before for a time of 6.4 seconds.
And yet none of these improved features are the GTI’s highlight. That would be the new electronic torque-vectoring system coupled to the Performance Pack’s electronic limited slip differential (a first in a front-wheel drive hot-hatch) that all but completely rids the handling dynamics of any understeer through tight turns.
In the Seventies the GTI tag may have come too close to extinction before it was even born, but this seventh-generation model proves the theory of evolution. The strongest most definitely survive.