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August 27, 2006

Hands on with the Golf GTI

Yesterday I continued my quest for a new car by checking out the VW Golf. I walked into the local dealership and asked about the GTI, which is towards the top of my budget. The dealer responded by offering to let me try the GTI, and also recommended the lesser GT TSI 170 and GT TDI models, which are usefully cheaper than the GTI. I had never considered these other models, since I'd like something with a bit of sparkle, but the dealer's recommendations were surprisingly wise…and full of Q–car appeal.

First car I took for a run out was the GT TSI 170. The ‘TSI’ signifies that the car has a clever 'twin–charged' 1.4ltr petrol engine. Sounds weedy, but the 'twin–charged' bit means that the engine has a turbo– and super–charger, which work in conjunction to supposedly give the performance of a normal, naturally–aspirated 2.3ltr engine. And, I was pleased to find that it most certainly did have that sort of performance. The TSI 170 pulled like a train throughout the rev range, overtaking traffic was easy peasy, and it was super–smooth along the motorway. I think it cruised at 70mph at some ridiculously low rpm, something like 2,200rpm, so it was very quiet indeed. Considering the red line is a touch over 6,000rpm, and it was hushed throughout the rev range, it's fair to say that long–distance high–speed cruising in this car would be a very pleasant experience.

It was extremely impressive, and to be honest, had the GTI been as fast as the surprisingly rapid GT 170 was, then I would have been far from disappointed. However, the GTI was much faster. Indeed, it was so capable, that driving at legal speeds on the motorway demanded more attention than hitting the sorts of speeds that have Daily Mail readers wetting themselves. The GTI isn’t just about straight–line speeds, though; it can most certainly handle the twisty stuff.

The dealer gave me a good demo of this when we left the forecourt, with him driving. He started telling me about the ESP system, which applies the brakes on each wheel individually to alter the attitude of the car; and how good it was for safety, performance, and the like. He then asked if I was a nervous passenger, to which I replied no. He then launched into a series of single–handed four–wheel drifts around one of the large roundabouts on the edge of town, whilst telling me about how the in–car computer takes care of the handling and all that gumpf. It was easy. And fast. I didn’t try anything quite that extreme when I got behind the wheel, but I could certainly see what he was on about. Amazing stuff.

However, the GTI was just too amazing for me; it was just too easy to travel at really rapid speeds. This is good, but as I like to enjoy the process of driving – I want to have to work to make a good pace. In a GTI, to feel like you're going fast, you actually have to be going seriously fast. You will have lots of fun whilst doing it, though. But since I'm stepping up from the family 306, which may as well be a wind–up toy car compared to the GTI, I can get just as much of a kick, at much more legal speeds, in a less capable car. I could always turn off the ESP to liven things up, but when there’s the technology at your disposal, it strikes me as being careless to not take advantage of it ;)

Finally we finished by trying the GT TDI. Since the 306 is a diesel, I have developed a love of low–down torque, so I had to try it to see whether it suited my driving style better. To be honest, it didn't really. It did perform extremely well, pretty much the same as the TSI 170, and the top end of the engine was amazing. However, I don't think I've ever heard such an unpleasant–sounding diesel. When you consider it's also more expensive than the TSI 170, I decided not to add it to the shortlist.

All three Golfs were fantastic. They were spacious, practical, and nicely equipped. They look ok, and in a stereotypically German manner, were full of clever little touches. I suspect that I would also find it too easy in the TSI 170 to make a rapid pace, as with the GTI. I might go back later to try the lesser TSI 140, which might be weedy enough to make driving, in a legal fashion, a worthwhile experience.

However, I did try a car today that did a much better job of satisfying that particular quality, with quite some style, and I may record my thoughts on it later in the week. I'll give you a clue though…it's French, it's small, and it’s probably on Fernando Alonso’s company car list :D


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