Review: Volkswagen Golf GT

The humble VW Golf has come a long way over its 30 year history. No longer just an affordable econo-box, the Golf has grown substantially in both size and weight with each new generation and now comes with niceties you’d expect in much more expensive metal. Build quality is better than some luxury makes and even the interior trim and mechanicals are the same as you’ll find in various Audi models.

Despite its budget connotations, VW’s Golf range also gets several new technologies, which most other carmakers are still years away from delivering. Take the new GT. The ‘People’s Car’ can be optioned with a six-speed dual-clutch DSG and is powered by a compact 1.4L ‘twincharger’ powerplant with direct injection FSI technology. The unique design of the supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder engine puts it on par with larger 2.3L displacement motors in the performance stakes, but no matter how hard we pushed it fuel consumption remained below the 26mpg (9L/100km) mark.

Styling and Interior
To differentiate the new Golf GT, from its more regular stablemates, designers have added a darkened grille section matching the one used on the more powerful GTI and R32 models. The headlights, too, feature blacked out surrounds and sit above a sporty bumper with integrated fog lights. Other touches include a set of 17in multispoke ‘ClassiXs’ alloys fitted with 225mm rubber.

Hop into the cabin and you’re immediately smacked with the rich leather upholstery (optional), efficient and ergonomic dashboard and brushed aluminum handles on the doors and glovebox. There’s also a small boost gauge located in the dash to show when the blowers are kicking in, and a small pair of steering wheel mounted paddles for shifting the gears. Interior space is a major bonus for Golf buyers. The four-door model easily accommodates five passengers, and those taller than six feet will have no trouble sitting in the back.

VW adopts an unusually long 50-hour build time for the Golf lineup, and the result of this shows in the exceptional build quality and high-end feel of the car. Doors shut with a solid thud that exudes quality, and panels fit with surgical precision without a rattle or squeak to be found on even the roughest roads. Our test car was fitted with optional sports bucket seats, and without doubt they’re well worth the money. They make long journeys feel like a short trip down to the shops, with plenty of lateral support around quick corners and comfort for the lower back.

The new engine is the world’s first application of a twincharged FSI powerplant and it also holds the title of delivering the highest output per liter for a production four-cylinder engine. Peak output stands at 168hp (125kW) with maximum torque of 240Nm (177lb-ft) plateauing from a lowly 1,750rpm to 4,500rpm. Remember, this is a 1.4L petrol powered engine but with the low torque characteristics and fuel efficiency of a diesel.

The key to its prowess is the combination of a mechanically driven supercharger for the lower revs with an exhaust driven turbocharger kicking in as revs start to rise. To boost output further, engineers also added a revised version of VW’s FSI direct-injection technology. The end result is the power characteristics of a 2.3L engine but with 20% lower fuel consumption.

The Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG) is itself a technical marvel. By utilizing two individual clutches that swap intermittently every time the driver moves from an odd numbered gear to an even, the DSG enables smooth acceleration and greater fuel efficiency than conventional manual boxes. The innovative gearbox is not completely without its faults. When accelerating hard from slow speeds or standstill, there can be a small delay before power is transferred to the wheels. This gets very annoying, especially when you come out of turn and the car hesitates before moving on.

On the Road
Apart from the small boost gauge and the odd burp and mechanical whine coming from the exhaust and compressors, there’s nothing much from the driving sensation that alludes to the technical powerhouse that resides beneath the bonnet. Floor the pedal and the needle in the tiny boost gauge flicks almost instantly to the max setting. The crankshaft driven supercharger kicks in immediately, delivering boost pressure of 1.8bar just above idle and providing plenty of shove off the line. Depending on how much power is required, an electromagnetic clutch integrated with the coolant pump decides when to switch from the supercharger to the turbo. This happens somewhere around the 3,500rpm mark, and reverses if engine speeds drops back to the lower regions. Not surprisingly, there’s a constant 200Nm (148lb-ft) of torque available from 1,250rpm that’s still hanging around at 6,000 revs.

Acceleration in any gear is nothing short of amazing. There’s no need to furiously fling up and down the gears every time acceleration is required like you have to do with other engines of this size. Words cannot express the disbelief we felt every time the pedal is dropped. Instead, we’ll let the numbers explain it. Acceleration from 80km/h to 120kmh in fifth gear, for example, was just eight seconds. Reaching 100km/h from standstill takes 7.9seconds, just 0.7seconds off the pace of the more expensive GTI, and cruising at 120km/h only requires a lazy 2,500 revs on the ticker.

Of course, acceleration and straight-line speed is just one aspect of any true performance car but we can safely say that the FWD Golf GT holds its own when it comes to the twisty stuff. The differences between it and the GTI are immediately apparent. Softer suspension sees more lean going into corners but the reserves of torque and near-zero turbo-lag makes driving so much easier thanks to the strong acceleration in the higher gears. The GT doesn’t suffer from the GTI’s torque steer, either, but its steering isn’t as sharp and it requires more effort to prevent understeer. Both cars feature the same ride-height and sit on 17in wheels shod with 225mm Continental rubber, providing more than adequate levels of grip.

Final Verdict
We’d like to say the Golf GT fits in with the affordable performance image but against cheaper alternatives from Asian rivals, the VW hatch is now the premium choice rather than the prudent one. That’s not to say it’s not worth the money, because the Golf GT is a brilliant car. In a world of rising fuel prices it’s good to see carmakers developing cars like this latest Golf, offering oodles of performance while being capable of running on the fumes of an oily rag.