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First drive: Volkswagen Golf GTI – on sale January 2005

Volkswagen

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Review

The first Golf GTI I drove, back in 1978, was a gem. Not everything that followed deserved five stars. Or four. The last decent GTI was the 1986 16-valver with the useful five-speed gearbox, and the first truly undesirable GTI was the fourth generation model. There were many variants, petrol and diesel, not all of which wore the GTI badge, but VW didn’t at any stage take a lightweight back to basics approach, something to echo that first fantastic car.

No wonder I’m thinking back a quarter of a century as I get behind the wheel of the new 2.0-litre turbocharged Golf GTI – the chequered cloth trim, the no-nonsense instruments, the chrome-plated, rubber-studded pedals and the supportive seats all hark back to former glories.

No golf ball on the gearlever, though, and fat plastic instead of thin metal for the spokes of the steering wheel.

You can almost feel, smell and touch every kilo this car has put on over the past 28 years. There are plenty of goodies like climate control and sat nav and there’s a long list of options. The materials are worthy of a Mercedes and the noise insulation ensures you hear only what the engineers want you to hear. Like the engine. It sings.

And, just like the original, the 197bhp successor is dead stable on the straights, amazingly ground-hugging through corners and smooth at the breakaway. It goes where you point it.

I drove the version with the standard manual six-speed gearbox, which rushes from 0-62mph in 7.2sec. Quicker still is the variant with the optional dual-clutch DSG, which clips off 0.3sec in automatic mode.

The six-speed ’box is geared for progress; the brakes have bite and stamina and the meatier recalibrated steering feels more assuring in the straight ahead position; suspension is supple and sensitive; upgraded aerodynamics are untroubled by crosswinds.

The 2004 GTI is a good example of a new wave hot hatch – a car that needs minimum input to get maximum effect. Sensational, yet unspectacular.

It marks a huge step in the right direction for GTI and it’s what most GTI junkies have been waiting for. But wouldn’t it make sense to dig a little deeper with a stripped out version to uncover the more of that almost forgotten GTI greatness? VW says it is thinking about it, but an R32 V6 is a definite for next year.

Strengths: Engine, materials, sound, sportiness
Weakness: Not as hot as the original hot hatch
Opportunity: To make up for a succession of un-GTI GTIs
Threat: Some really hot hatches around
USP: Step back in time, step in the right direction
Prices: £19,995-£21,820
Bodystyles: 3dr, 5dr (+ £500)
Engine: 1,994cc 4cyl, 16V DI turbo,198bhp @ 5,100rpm, 207lb-ft @ 1,800-5,000rpm
Transmission: 6spd man or 6spd DSG, full-time 4x4
Performance: 0-62mph, 7.2sec, top speed 147mph
Efficiency: TBA
Rivals: Astra Turbo, Megane 225, 147 GTA, C230K, Ford Focus RS

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