With a 147 kW two-litre FSI powerplant under the bonnet, the Volkswagen Golf 5 GTI promises potent performance. But is the newcomer a swift corporate suit or a tar-shredding hot hatch?

With a 147 kW two-litre FSI powerplant under the bonnet, the Volkswagen Golf 5 GTI promises potent performance. But is the newcomer a swift corporate suit or a tar-shredding hot hatch?


Volkswagen has finally admitted what hot hatch lovers the world over have been saying for years. The immortal GTI badge, made famous in the late 70s and early 80s, became nothing more than a marketing “sticker.” Things had to change.


CARtoday.com reported last week that the new GTI was one of the highlights of Volkswagen SA’s exhibit at the Auto Africa Show. So when the Wolfsburg-based company launched it to the world’s press at Circuit Paul Ricard in France this week, we were very keen to find out whether it would signal a resurrection of the old GTI virtues of nimble handling, usable performance and quality.


Unlike the two previous generation GTIs, the new car is immediately distinguishable from the rest of the range. Available in both three- and five-door guise, the GTI gets an aggressive new grille that flows into a bigger front airdam, double exhaust pipes at the rear and stunning 17-inch alloy wheels (18 inchers are optional). Suspension is lowered by 15 centimetres, giving the car a hunkered-down stance.


The interior is similarly smartly detailed. GTI-branded bucket seats take care of front occupant comfort. Cloth upholstery, reminiscent of that used in the first Golf GTI, is standard, with leather an optional extra.


The steering wheel has a square section at the bottom, and the dials have a 3D look and increased ranges - the rev counter now goes up to 8 000 r/min and the speedo, optimistically, extends to 300 km/h. And, of course, aluminium-look pedals and foot rest are fitted.


New GTI weighs just under 1,4-tonnes, almost 500 kg heavier than the original. But with 147 kW from the turbocharged 2,0-litre FSI engine, the power/weight ratio is actually quite similar to the original’s. Volkswagen claims a 0-100 km/h time of 7,2 seconds when equipped with the six-speed manual gearbox and 6,9 seconds with the DSG (direct shift gearbox).


The GTI certainly is quick, but because the engine is so smooth and refined, with no obvious turbo kick, it doesn’t actually feel that fast. Top speed is a claimed 233 km/h. The engine emits a meaty growl and, when equipped with DSG, there is a lovely throttle blip during ‘shifts. DSG will be available on South African-spec GTIs, and it could just become the transmission of choice - smooth, quick and with involving paddles behind the steering wheel, you’ll have to search far and wide to find a gearbox that offers a better combination manual and automatic.


The advantages of the new multi-link rear suspension are really brought to the fore in a sporting car such as this. There are 20 per cent stronger stabilisers and firmer springs and dampers. The electro-mechanical power steering has been “reprogrammed” to give it more feel. This is probably the one aspect that could be further improved - driver feedback through the steering wheel is still not to the levels the real enthusiast would approve of.


To cope with the extra performance, the braking system has been upgraded. Ventilated discs are used all-round and measure 312 mm in front and 286 mm at the rear. ABS with EBD and dual brake assist are fitted, as well as ESP. Thankfully, the ESP on the GTI is not as obtrusive as some of these systems can be.


We drove the car on the Circuit Paul Ricard, a very technical track that takes many laps to learn, and then, the following day on France’s country roads. First impressions are that the GTI is a very fast, refined and forgiving car. Grip levels are very high and turn-in fast and accurate.


With 147 kW going to the front wheels only, you would expect some torque steer, but this remains absent if the ESP is activated. In fact, to get the car to misbehave, have to be really wild at the wheel. And despite its weight, new GTI is much more agile than its predecessor. Sure, there are cars that feel sharper (especially on the track), but very few offer such an attractive blend of comfort, speed and dynamic ability on real-world roads. This then, seems to be a proper GTI, but it is a modern interpretation, with all the pluses (safety, comfort) and minuses (extra weight) that it brings.


For a full driving impression, look out for the January 2005 Performance issue of CAR Magazine.