By Kevin Harrison
Gordon Ramsay is arguably the most famous chef in the world. With 15 Michelin stars to his name, there is no doubt that he is a culinary mastermind.
I enjoy watching mostly every show he’s created not only to ogle the mouth watering dishes he creates but also to keep my budding culinary credentials up to stuff.
Ramsay demands perfection from his meals and thus, his chefs and it isn’t hard to see why. There’s just something about a well prepared, thoughtful, brilliantly balanced meal and everyone is willing to overlook Ramsay’s aggressive style of running a kitchen in order to get a taste.
If you’ve ever seen Ramsay in action you know he has select choice words he loves to use for dishes that impress him:
“There’s such finesse!”
“Wow. Wow, wow, wow!”
I couldn’t help but hear Ramsay’s voice uttering such words in my head while I drove the GTI. And I’m not alone.
“You know, I think this might be my favourite car of the year,” said world record holder Garry Sowerby when he dropped it off to me last week. I rarely form an opinion of a car before having driven it, but Garry definitely knows what he’s talking about when it comes to cars. And he was right.
Perhaps the most challenging part for any automaker that produces legendary machinery is how to improve upon perfection. Volkswagen has this problem with the GTI.
Have they done the trick yet again?
In typical German fashion, understatement is the name of the game when it comes to style and some may find it a bit difficult to differentiate the GTI for its regular Golf brethren. One way to tell is the signature red strip donned on the front grille – a tradition found on most GTI’s dating back to 1989 – which now blends into the headlights. Another way to tell is the black gills inserted against the LED fog lights. The GTI also has 18 inch Austin wheels which are more of an evolution of the controversial Detroit style introduced a few years ago. Dual exhausts and a slightly lowered stance round things up for the GTI. I like the look, though I prefer the Detroit wheels over the Austin wheels.
Inside you’ll find another GTI tradition: plaid seats. They were a bit off-putting to passengers at first but by the time they got out, they were won over by them. This is likely partly due to the fact that the seats are so supportive yet comfortable at the same time. Leather is available as an option, which deletes the plaid, so if you’re not a fan that may be the route you have to take. Otherwise, the GTI sports the same updated content that the regular Golf gets including a nice redesign centre stack, more conventional cruise control and sunroof operation, and a slightly bigger and more responsive display screen. The GTI ads a unique flat bottomed steering wheel (which is wonderful to the touch) and if you go for the six-speed manual, which my tester was thankfully equipped with, you’ll get a black gear knob that resembles a golf ball (get it?!). While there are flashier and newer interior designs out there, there is no doubt that the Golf family takes the cake from premium looks and feel.
Part of the reason for the GTI’s success over the past 25 years has been due to its ability to double as a family hauler. With this generation Golf being the largest ever produced, interior room posed few problems. Two adults could sit comfortably in the rear seats for longer trips, but adding a third would definitely be a squeeze. Unfortunately the GTI still has a middle tunnel which completely takes away foot room from the middle passenger. Bottom line is, make sure you call shot gun, or better yet, driver’s seat when you go out with your friends in the GTI.
If you have a young family and you are looking to shuffle your munchkins around with all their stuff, there should be adequate room with 490 L of cargo space available. However the cargo floor itself can be lowered or taken out altogether to provide an a total of 670 L with the seats up. Fold them down and you’ve now got over 1,500 L.
My tester came with the $700 tech package which gives you the aforementioned 5.8 inch touchscreen, navigation, satellite radio, and forward collision warning system. It comes standard with a rear back-up camera that admittedly isn’t the best quality I’ve ever seen (why is it so dark?) but the GTI sport a neat trick where the camera hides behind the VW emblem. Once you throw it in review, the emblem will automatically moves the top part inward, pivoting the bottom portion outward revealing the camera. Not only is this a fancy thing to watch, but it’s smart because the badge serves as an awning for the camera when it’s raining and hides it away completely when not in use. Now you won’t have to go and wipe the camera lens to get all the salt and grime off of it.
Under the hood you’ll find Volkswagen’s turbocharged 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine which has been improved to make 210 horsepower. That’s an extra 10 horses from last year, but the big story is the big increase in torque, coming in a 258 pound feet. There’s good low end torque, but the GTI really catapult’s itself forward once the turbo spools up and once peak horsepower reaches around 4,300 RPM. This provides good linear power as you need it all the way up to its 6,700 RPM redline, however the GTI gives you even a bit more give if you need it to as I was able to get the GTI up past the redline at 7,000 RPMs. That’s obviously not something I recommend doing all the time, but it’s good to know the GTI is game if you are. Thankfully, the GTI now has a throatier, more audible exhaust note.
Besides, if you do consistently push the GTI, you’ll end up paying for it at the pumps. Even though the GTI is rated at a respectable 9.4 L/100 kms city and and 6.9 L/100 kms highway, I was seeing numbers in the 10s and 11 range because I couldn’t quite keep my testosterone in check. If you exercise fuel efficiency techniques, you’ll likely meet or even beat the rating. The downside? The GTI takes premium fuel.
As is the trend these days, the GTI has three different drive modes for the driver to choose from: normal, sport and individual. If you keep it in normal, you’ll still have a blast driving the GTI. Put it in sport and you’ll notice the steering and throttle feel tighten up, as does the chassis. Individual allows you to pick and choose what you’d like ‘sporty’ and what you’d like to remain normal. For instance you can change the steering for to sport and keep the chassis at normal if you want. Why anyone would want to do that, I don’t know, however I suppose it’s nice to at least have the option. Predictably, I kept the GTI in sport mode for the better part of the week.
Handling is obviously on of the GTI’s many forte’s and there’s a good reason why. It’s excellent, especially for a front-wheel drive car. It feels very well planted, sure footed and extremely nimble. Go into a corner hard and you’ll find the mildest of understeer, but the GTI can work itself out of it in a flash and before you know it you’re back on track. There is no noticeable body roll either and when you hit a highway, you have instant peace of mind as the GTI remains completely solid and ready to pounce at a moments notice. The sharp steering and excellent handling make emergency lane changes a piece of cake.
Overall, there isn’t much more to be said about the GTI other than it’s brilliant. Ah, there’s that Ramsay word again. But it’s true. The GTI has all the qualities that Ramsay expects from his food: brilliant, finesse, hero, amazing. You name it.
One thing it does not share with a Gordon Ramsay dish, however, is a high price. While my tester’s $33,590 as tested price is certainly a lot for a Golf, its capabilities and it’s overall well-roundedness makes it a bargain.
I don’t know too many cars that can successfully combine style, quality, safety, fuel efficiency, performance, cargo room, technology, and practicality into one package. I’m starting to think Garry is right, this may very well be the car of the year.
The GTI really is like a Gordon Ramsay dish, only without the premium price. And in typical form when Ramsay is rendered speechless from a delicious concoction, all I have to say is:
Wow. Wow, wow, wow!
Price As Tested: $33,590
- Pleasing understated looks
- Premium looking and feeling interior
- Well balanced handling
- Slick shifting manual
- Excellent steering wheel and steering feel
- Good cargo space
- Smart tech such as rear camera
- She’s quick, b’y!
- A tad on the pricey side
- Centre rear seat is fairly useless
- Large turning radius
- Dodge Dart R/T
- Ford Focus ST
- Hyundai Veloster Turbo
- Mistubishi Lancer 5-door Ralliart
- Nissan Juke Nismo RS
- Subaru Impreza WRX