THE 1976 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mark 1 was arguably the original hot hatch. VW made a masterly move when it decided to take a standard Golf hatchback and hone it into a fine driving machine without compromising practicality or everyday usability. Although the carmaker has through the years wavered and stumbled in its approach – think of the softie Golf 3 GTi – it regained its top form with the Golf 5 GTI and the current model. The latter is arguably the most balanced hot hatch on sale in our market.
That said, some would argue it’s a tad too sterile. Enter the Edition 35, launched to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the GTI and silence the naysayers. And before you assume that this is simply another special or limited edition, Volkswagen intends for the Edition 35 to stick around until the launch of the Golf 7 next year.
To distinguish this newest addition from lesser GTIs, there are “35” emblems behind the front wheels, while, for the first time since the launch of the Golf 5 GTI, the telephone-dial alloys have been ditched for Opel GTC-like wheels called Watkins Glen (named after the racetrack in the US state of New York). Other revisions include a new bumper design – with a front splitter – as well as standard bi-xenon cornering headlamps and LED daytime-running lamps. Lastly, there are extended side sills that imbue the Edition 35 with a squatter look compared with its lesser sibling.
The high-quality interior has similarly been subjected to a raft of revisions. Enthusiasts will recognise the golfball design of the gearknob, a patriotic nod to the original GTI. Other highlights include sport seats that offer firm support and red seatbelts. Incidentally, the seats are upholstered in a combination of leather on the bolsters and cloth on the centre panels. The latter are in a honeycomb design, which mimics the radiator grille.
Our test unit had the six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission, which is coupled with a 2,0-litre turbopetrol. A six-speed manual is also available.
Unlike the standard GTI, the Edition 35 uses a detuned version of the previous-generation turbo-four that also sees service in the Golf R and Audi S3. This means both power and torque delivery are up on the standard GTI: 173 kW (up by 18 kW) and 300 N.m (an increase of 20 N.m). On our test track, these bolstered figures translated into clean acceleration runs; only light tugs on the steering reminded the testers that the GTI is front-wheel drive.
Owing to the fast-acting DSG gearbox (with steering-wheelmounted paddles) and a launch control function, the Edition 35 rocketed off the line with minimal wheelspin and passed the 100 km/h marker after a mere 6,55 seconds (which bests VW’s claim of 6,6 seconds).
We recorded a 100-0 km/h stopping time of 3,03 seconds, which gives the Edition 35 a good score in our books, but it is slightly down on both the standard GTI and the Golf R.
This car isn’t just about speed, though. During our test period, it once again became clear why the GTI is a favourite among South African buyers. Firstly, not only is it very practical thanks to the five-door layout and capacious cabin, it also has a comfortable, well-damped ride.
But, this isn’t the suspension’s only endearing characteristic. You can easily dive into a corner faster than you’d have thought possible, and all the while the GTI communicates its levels of grip through the steering wheel and seat of the pants. Acceleration out of corners is also mostly scrabblefree thanks to the assistance of the XDS electronic differential lock on the front wheels.
Our test unit came equipped with the optional Adaptive Chassis Control system (R10 680). Press the console-mounted button to activate the sport setting and it immediately firms up the dampers and in the process diminishes body lean.
However, we would advise restraint when considering this option. Yes, it enhances the driving experience on stretches of silky-smooth tarmac, but for the majority of the time the standard setup strikes an ideal balance between comfort and handling.
Volkswagen claims the Edition 35 has a sportier sound compared with the normal GTI, but we had a hard time identifying a difference. We also found it impossible to match the claimed 8,0 litres/100 km combined fuel-consumption figure, only managing 9,2 litres/100 km on our fuel route.
In the Edition 35, we were hoping for a grizzlier version of the GTI and this is exactly what VW has delivered. In upping the sportiness without compromising its all-round appeal, the carmaker has created a vehicle that, although not as engaging as the Renaultsport Megane, remains unsurpassed as the quintessential hot hatch.
The Edition 35 slots in perfectly between the GTI (R353 000 with DSG) and the top-of-the-range R model (R427 700). It might be the middleman, but it’s certainly no wall ower. We would expect to see many of these attacking passes and suburban speed humps with equal aplomb.
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