2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI

The most comprehensive review of the standard-bearer straight from its launch in the South of France

By Shahzad Sheikh

[Read about the original Golf GTI here]

[Read about the new Golf R here]

First drive full review 2014 Golf GTI

There’s nothing like jumping in at the deep end. We haven’t actually tested the new seventh generation Golf yet, which has just gone on sale, but we’ve gone straight for the sporting flagship, the latest iteration of a hot hatch icon – the all-new GTI. It’s available to order now with deliveries in the Middle East starting in late June, and prices starting from AED114,000 in the UAE.

Frankly the GTI is the most important car in the range; it’s a crucial indicator of the 2013-on Golf. It’s a bit like when you go into an Asian restaurant for the first time. The thing to do is to order the Biryani and/or the Seekh kebabs, because if the establishment gets these two right, you know everything else will be good too.

So is the GTI a spice-infused concoction of basmati rice? Is it a succulent finger of juicy mince meat skewer-grilled to perfection?

Wow there, the verdict will come, all in good time. Or you could probably just scroll down, which is what you’ve just done haven’t you?

First drive full review 2014 Golf GTI

The Tech

One engine – two states of tune. The regular GTI gets a 2.0-litre TSI (turbocharged direct injection) four cylinder engine with a revised cylinder head. It puts out 220PS (217bhp) from 4500-6200rpm and 258lb ft (350NM) torque from 1500-4400rpm. This gives it a 0-100kph time of 6.5seconds both in six-speed manual and DSG automatic guises with a top speed of 244kph for the DSG and 246kph for the manual. If you’re interested, fuel consumption is 18% better for the manual and 14% better for the DSG.

On the launch we drove both manual and DSG automatic versions of the car and I’ll give you impressions of both. But please note that it’s very unlikely any manual versions will be available here, unless you really put your foot down with the dealer and insist they order you a self-shifter.

Now in addition to the regular engine, there is also a ‘Performance’ edition of the GTI which features 10PS more resulting in 230PS (227bhp) at 4700-6200rpm with the same torque of 258lb ft but up to 200rpm higher (1500-4600rpm). 0-100kph improves by a tenth to 6.4seconds, and top speed rises to 248kph for the DSG and 250kph for the manual.

The Performance also features a world-first front electronic differential lock for a front-wheel drive car and bigger brakes – in fact the only way (presently) to identify the Performance edition is the bigger brake callipers emblazoned with the GTI logo.

Again, we did sample this version, and I’ll cover it in this review, but please note that it hasn’t yet been decided if the Performance edition will come to our market – looks like it will be judged on demand. The premium in Europe will be about 1000EURO, and is likely to be about the same if it does make it here – that’s about AED5000.

Not that you’ll be missing out on tech with the standard GTI – the XDS introduced in the previous GTI has been enhanced (now dubbed XDS+) and does feature central electronic differential lock working in tandem with the stability programmes. By the way, you can dial ESC and traction control back, though it never really switches off.

There’s also ‘Progressive Steering’ which is only 2.1 turns lock-to-lock compared to 2.75 on the regular flavour Golfs, thanks to variable tooth spacing and a more powerful electric motor.

The DCC dynamic chassis control offers three driver modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport and you can even configure suspension/engine/steering in the Individual mode.

Ah but you want to know about that electronic front differential lock right? The one that’s available exclusively on the Performance pack and the first time it’s been seen in a front-wheel drive car? Basically during cornering, it can send as much as 100% of the torque to whichever of the front wheel has the most grip – which would be the outside wheel, and thus essentially dismisses any notion of dreaded understeer.

First drive full review 2014 Golf GTI

The Styling

You may look at the 2014 Golf GTI and pronounce that it looks the same as previous iterations, and for sure the silhouette is reassuringly familiar, but since the rather bloated fifth generation Golf, the model has lost a bit of visual bulk in sixth-gen guise and has trimmed down further for this seventh generation Golf. It looks lithe and taught compared to before.

The wheelbase has grown by 53mm, the front overhang has been reduced by 12mm, although moving the A-pillar back makes the bonnet look longer and therefore the Golf looks sleeker. It’s lower by 27mm (1442mm) is 55mm longer (4268mm) and 13mm wider (1799) – and yet it’s 42kg lighter (1351kg). It has a longer roofline thanks to a bigger back spoiler and has new alloy wheels available in 17, 18 or 19-inch guises.

The GTI also gets a red flash on the fenders incorporating the traditional GTI script, a red line that horizontally cuts through the grille and uniquely continues through the headlights themselves and new front air intakes that seem to have borrowed Wolverine’s blades for the side-intakes – very dramatic.

Having said that, whilst the overall effect is to sharpen up the looks and it’s certainly the most visually appealing GTI since the Mk II 16v in my opinion, it still lacks the theatre of a Focus ST, the sex-appeal of a Guilietta or even the swoopy modernism of a Mercedes A-Class. Still if it ain’t broke, I suppose…

First drive full review 2014 Golf GTI

The Cabin

Much the same can be said for the inside. At least it still retains the signature tartan seat covers which, if it weren’t for tradition, would never ever be seen in a modern Volkswagen, especially not a sporty one. I love the aesthetic, but an odd side effect was that I kept sliding down into the seat – although my co-driver didn’t complain of any such phenomenon, so perhaps it was just me.

There’s a much bigger new central screen in the dash now and it works iPad style, which is to say you can sweep, scroll and even pinch (you can zoom into the sat nav map this way – which BTW – now has Google satellite maps incorporated and even street view – although not for our region).

Inside everything has been tweaked and shifted, lengthened and moved ever-so-imperceptibly-slightly to make it all the more ergonomic. Apart from the seat-sliding I experienced, the car fitted me like a well-worn old jacket, comfortable, snug, easy, familiar.

Heel-and-toeing comes naturally, so well-placed are the pedals. Visibility is good, all the switchgear is entirely intuitive, and I even like the new presentation of the Golf-ball gear knob mainstay. Quality too is fantastic.

If there are a couple of gripes, rear legroom is not a patch on the Focus, and it now has an electronic handbrake switch, rather than a proper racketing affair – although one of the VW guys insisted it was still perfectly possible to do a handbrake turn. Hmm… now there’s a challenge. For another time, though.

First drive full review 2014 Golf GTI

The Drive

With the launch based in the South of France taking in some of the most sensational driving roads in Europe, on a gorgeous sunny day, frankly speaking I could’ve been driving a Chery QQ and I’d have been a happy man.

To have a GTI with a manual six-speed transmission (we were quick off the blocks to grab one) in a place like this was like gaining temporary access to petrolhead heaven.

With the low starting point and wide rev-band for the torque, the car never seemed to run out of grunt, although for most of the twisties I found myself leaving it in third and making the most of the usefully flexible ratio.

Occasionally there were downshifts for the hairpins with a little sidestep blip of the throttle that came naturally, and sometimes a surge of momentum meant bringing fourth into play and maybe even fifth.

Fortunately, the rubbery and rather elasticky feel of older VW manual boxes has gone, replaced by firm, precise and well-defined short throw changes. The shift feel and response is definitely superior to the Focus ST (which also doesn’t allow for easy heel-and-toeing) and it’s quite possibly the most delicious manual shifter I’ve sampled from the people at Wolfsburg.

The clutch is light with good take up, and if you are prepared to throw a tantrum, and most of your toys out of the pram, and insist on a manual, I would heartily recommend it. Sadly most, if not all buyers here, will end up with DSG.

And whilst the manual is still the more satisfying to drive for me personally, I have to admit, there’s nary a gripe or moan to be hurled the way of this double-clutch auto – the first and still one of the best of such systems.

The fast, almost sublime and certainly unflinching responses from the paddles behind the steering wheel encourage you to slide the lever over and drive this in full manual mode. Interestingly you get the previous familiar parp from the exhaust on upchanges with the DSG but you don’t with the manual – and despite the quoted identical 0-100kph acceleration times, I have to admit this felt quicker.

It does however lock you out of gear on occasion to protect itself from your juvenile ambition, will change down automatically (and up) plus, of course, operates as a superb full self-shifter. Despite my reservations, it acquits itself magnificently though.

The same can be said for the steering too. Good size, nice thick rimmed, flat-bottomed, perhaps a little too much going on the remote-controlled side – but that’s forgiveable. Thing is though, this is yet another incidence of electronic power steering, and we know that the curse of such systems (increasingly being used due to cost and lightweight) has spoilt some sensational metal.

In fact VW supply the system to Porsche, and it appears to be the guilty culprit accounting for a slight loss of tactile feel and sensitivity that was a Porsche tradition. Except that I suspect Wolfsburg is being a little cheeky here, because whilst not the most talkative steering ever, the system in the GTI still manages to infuse the driver with an understanding and comprehension of what’s going on at the front.

I’d go so far as to say it’s the best electric power steering I’ve yet sampled, although the Focus ST’s steering would run it very close indeed, however that one does torque steer like a writhing cat trying to get away from bath time. Not so the GTI, there is barely a hint of a pull, or hardly a suggestion of a twitch and the steering remains composed and well behaved at all times.

So well-controlled is it that the oodles of confidence and assurance derived from this helm immediately invite you to go exploring the GTI’s limits, and that’s a good thing, because the limits are not only substantial, but barely bloody believable!

The turn-in is not as startling or as sharp as I recall an ST’s direction change to be, but it is far more steadfast, secure, guaranteed. This is where the XDS voodoo comes into play and the way in which understeer has been all but banished is uncanny.

It’s backed by a huge dollop of grip and neck-straining road-holding that almost convinces you of an invincibility – which could be worrying lest ambition get the better of some drivers.

So what of the front diff lock in Performance edition – well it isn’t as apparent as say the Porsche Torque Vectoring system – which seems to make the car pivot around its centre. Push on at high speed or really bully it into a corner and you get a sense of the outside of the car being pushed around the corner, further exploiting the sensational grip, even if only two of the wheels are doing the gripping at this point.

Frankly, purely from a performance handling standpoint, this sort of antic makes redundant any argument for all-wheel drive systems in high-speed cars – typically tuned for roadholding.

The car’s extraordinary poise baits you into pushing deeper and harder into corners, so it’s once again fortunate that even the standard brakes are strong, progressive and most-importantly, fade-free.

As for the ride, these roads where mostly well-surface but occasionally bumpy, and the GTI coped very well indeed with the dampers dissipating the harshness, keeping body control remarkably flat and soaking up the worst of it.

First drive full review 2014 Golf GTI

The Verdict

You’re expecting me to conclude then that the all-new 2014 GTI will arrive this summer and smugly reclaim its hot-hatch supremo crown from that upstart from Ford, the Focus ST. Frankly speaking you might be right.

GTI brings a level of refinement and sophistication to the game that the ST doesn’t even bother contemplating. There’s satisfying solidity here, uncompromising quality, great performance and astounding composure derived from a depth of maturity and majesty that simply outranks the rest.

On the other hand the ST waves its 250bhp plus power output in the face of a GTI owner. It’s also offers more rear cabin space and significantly it’s AED15k cheaper.

Plus – and this could be crucial in the decision-making process – it’s a more raucous, more tumultuous experience for the driver, which may be a bad thing for some, but is delightfully reminiscent of the best hot hatches of yesteryear for others (such as yours truly). It also looks wilder!

This contest certainly won’t be decided unless we can bring these two directly face-to-face though – so watch this space and keep your fingers crossed.

In the meantime, the other question you’re asking is whether you should hold-out for the much publicised Performance pack. Well despite the slightly greater horsepower and fractionally quicker acceleration, the torque remains the same, and from behind the wheel, doesn’t seem to proffer any more enthusiasm than already exists.

Similarly the XDS does an incredible job of making the regular GTI one of, if not the, best corner-carvers in the business. Granted the ground-breaking front electronic diff makes it even better. But we ain’t got that many corners in the region, and you really have to be pressing on hard to get the real benefit. Essentially you might need it if you’re a track day regular.

Frankly though if they did bring it, and it was only a AED5k premium, it would be worth having, just for bragging rights alone. But rest assured, if you can’t have it, you’re not exactly losing out. The latest GTI firmly lives up to its enduring iconic status and delivers just about one of the most highly developed performance machines you’re ever likely to get in the form of a hatchback, and represents a great investment.

First drive full review 2014 Golf GTI

[Like the old cars in this picture do ya? Well see more of them here]

2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Price: AED114,000 ($31k)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Turbo, 217bhp @ 4500-6200rpm, 258lb ft @ 1500-4400rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 6.5seconds, 244kph, 6.4L/100km
Transmission: six-speed auto (DSG), front-wheel drive
Weight: 1351kg

Let us know what you think of the all-new Golf GTI below

3 responses to “2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI”

  1. Mado says:

    It’s nice now coming with screen, but it’s still boring not like R or
    R 32

  2. Neil Barham says:

    Please. The DSG is the way to go. I gave A3 Quattro 3.2 with it and would never trade it. Manuals are a ware if time for us who drive in all kinds of conditions and in gravy stop and go traffic. the biggest bummer is that we can’t get the sTronic in both the VW R and the TT- RS.

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