Road Tests

Drive Review: Golf GTI (2017) is VW’s finest work

Kelly Khumalo. Jabu Mahlangu. Steve Hofmeyr. All famous South Africans who are very much disliked. With reason. Then there’s Golf GTI. It’s also very much disliked, mostly by anyone who drives a rival hot hatch. Disliked for a reason. A very simple one: crushing competency.

If the hot hatch, in concept, is a five-door family performance car, Golf GTI is unmatched. Adept at cruising in traffic to your local Curro for the morning school run and dissecting apexes on the journey from Witbank to Nelspruit, via Mpumalanga’s incredible mountain passes, this is possibly the finest car VW makes.

The new one is not completely new. Think of it as a Golf7-and-half, with some cosmetic and digital upgrades: full LEDs housed in larger headlights, new bumpers front and rear and a variety of touchscreen infotainment features, including gesture control and Smartphone App compatibility.

A product evolved to GTI’s design maturity is often easy to superficially criticise, yet difficult to understand. One must delve into the depth of component quality on offer, to realise the value. Details are everything. The optional 12.3-inch infotainment screen, for instance, has Smartphone compatible luminosity, even in direct South African sunlight. Think about it for a moment, at arm’s reach, your Smartphone screen isn’t that clear outdoors, but the GTI’s infotainment display is.

Then there’s the platform. MQB. This is the most ridiculously overengineered front-wheel drive chassis ever and Golf GTI benefits handsomely from it. Adaptive dampers are a necessary evil in South Africa, if you are going to run a vehicle with low-profile tyres, but even without them Golf GTI’s composure is remarkable.

We’ve all been there: you’re pacing along an unfamiliar South African backroad. A succession of invitingly open curves lull you into a false sense of security before that delicious, long right-hander suddenly starts closing-in, ever tighter along the rock face it’s carved into. The next moment you’re dipping to cross a bridge, and everyone knows that the entry and exit points of any bridge have severe surface depressions.  GTI just rolls through untroubled. No disconcerting thud of the suspension’s bump stops. No drama.

It’s much the same with the drivetrain. The numbers are average. GTI’s 2.0 TSi is now good for 169kW (a seven-kilowatt gain), with an unaltered torque value of 350Nm. There are 2-litre hot hatches with superior outputs, but few feel quicker in the real world – much to the credit of VW’s six-speed DSG, which is now the only transmission option for local GTIs.

There’s a lot of autobahn driver assistance cleverness too, including high speed adaptive cruise control and blind spot assist covering a 50m radius aft of your GTI. Even without the optional seven-speed DSG or mechanical slip-regulating front differential – both Performance Pack options not yet available in SA – VW’s Golf GTI remains what it has been for generations: the target of scorn. A burden of excellence it certainly does not deserve, but carries with the assurance of true hot hatch royalty.

  • Price: R545 800
  • 1984cc, 4-cyl turbo petrol, FWD
  • 169kW, 350Nm, 6A
  • 6.4l/100km, 149g/km CO2
  • 0-100km/h in 6.4secs, 248km/h
  • 1298kg


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