In 1973, the world spiralled into an oil crisis. This meant that the cost per barrel inflated four times its regular price overnight, which meant that many luxurious and exotic manufacturers needed to rethink their production plans from the product itself to the number of units they were going to manufacture. You see, back then luxury car makers were as interested in fuel economy as Kim Kardashian is when you 'LIKE' one of her photos on Instagram.
However as history tells us, 1973 wouldn't be the last of the so-called 'oil shocks', as six years later there would be another one. So what happened when millionaires and car nuts from around the world weren't willing to spend four times over their gasoline budget? Well, they had to get the 1976 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
"When most fun cars packed gas-guzzling power, the Golf GTI packed a rather measly 110 horses."
So what is the Volkswagen Golf GTI, you might ask. Well, essentially it's a Volkswagen Golf, a 3-door or 5-door hatchback made 'for the people'. Except since this was the created during the oil crisis, Volkswagen sent it over to its 'go fast' corporate parts bin shared with Audi, suited it up in black and red trim, blessed it with a new fuel-injected 1.6-liter engine, and then let it loose to ultimately not be the 'people's car'. The Golf GTI was the antidote to the power-crazed frenzy era of the Lamborghini Countach and the Ford Mustang. This car paved the way for the reversal of the automotive industry's performance hierarchy.
When most fun cars packed gas-guzzling power, the Golf GTI packed a rather measly 110 horses. The beauty was that these horses only needed to push about 820kg of mass, which is roughly half the weight of the hatchback that you drive today. The figures say that it would sprint from 0-100 km/h in 9 seconds flat, and onto a top speed of 180 km/h... in 1976! This meant that you'd be the first one in the door for a night out of debauchery in Studio 54. Also, if you were one of those in bell bottom jeans that bought the Golf GTI, it meant that you had impeccable taste and that you had also purchased the original recipe for what we know today as the 'hot hatch'.
Forty years later, we find ourselves in the tropical Philippine archipelago with the seventh incarnation of the Golf GTI. Does it still have the spirit of the original hot hatch or is this merely a tribute band with GTI badging to mask the spirit that no longer lives?
Let me begin by saying that I've always been a massive fan of the Golf. My sisters Charlotte and Monique have had their fair share of Golfs and Jettas, and it has somewhat rubbed off on me while I was growing up. The very first car I drove out of Alabang was a Mk2 Wolfsburg edition Golf. I went on a trip with my sister Monique, to catch Stefano's kart race in Manila. Stefano being the ruthless racer that he is, naturally swept the competition which made the drive back to Alabang quite a leisurely one. I basked in its solid build quality, weighty steering, and German exhaust note of the Golf.
I even remember constantly pressing on the horn because it sounded so different from all the Japanese cars I'd been driving. I have a deep love and affection for the Golfs from the Mk1 to the Mk4. Somehow, the Mk5 and Mk6 have left me dry, and that's why I am pretty much over the moon with this current generation Mk7. It is an absolute stunner and I can't be happier that Volkswagen is finally here in the Philippines.
"It is a mesmerizing piece of kit to carve corners with."
For starters, it is bite the back of my hand beautiful. The shape is gorgeous, fit, and tapered. It no longer looks obese and lazy. The stance of this Golf is athletic, and it is only complemented by the GTI treatment that is seen across the exterior. The scarlet trim is seen on the front fascia of the car and it penetrates right through the headlights. In a different color, this detail would be given much more justice. Those LED daytime running lights compliment the angry and snarling eyes of the GTI. When you see the car in motion and stare into those lights, you see its mischievous soul that is always ready to play. The HID headlights illuminate the road perfectly.
The rakes on the front bumper hide the LED foglamps which work brilliantly when the sun fades. The dual exhaust pipes are a lovely finishing touch to what is a very solid package. However, I can't say the same for the wheels. I know that beauty is subjective, but I very much prefer the optional offerings of Volkswagen over these plate-like wheels. I think that they fit the look of the GTI much better than the shoes it's currently wearing.
"And finally there's Sport mode, which is the setting that God wants you to be in."
The interior is just as well-packaged as the exterior. At first glance, my attention was completely drawn to the seats. They're plaid. It's like the GTI ran over a Scottish bagpiper and turned his kilt into the upholstery of its seats. These seats are lovely though. They're bolstered properly which means that they hug you gently like a baby in your mother's womb, even when your mother decides to run a marathon. They're comfortable and infinitely adjustable. I'm a pretty tall guy, and this is the first time I had to lift my seat up. I realized that the lowest seating position made me feel like a dwarf and that at any given point, my bum was going to scrape the asphalt. It would be a waste of asphalt.
Everything that you see, feel, and touch in this car is premium. It has grown up a lot from the original Golf GTI in ways that we can only be proud of. It has a beautiful touchscreen infotainment screen that is very easy to use and to get accustomed to. The sound system is good, but could be better. I love the matte chrome (does that make sense?) finish on the steering wheel and interior accents. It's very Porsche and that's never a bad thing. Speaking of the steering wheel, it's a lovely thing to hold. It's sculpted ingeniously for your hands to feel rested yet in complete control.
So I guess the real question here is, what is it like to drive? Well like any modern car on sale today, it all depends on what mode you're in. There's Eco mode, which in a performance car like this, is the equivalent of vomit. There's Normal mode, which I assume is how Volkswagen would like you to meet the Golf when it rolls off the production line. And finally there's Sport mode, which is the setting that God wants you to be in. As for me, I'm quite religious so I'll oblige.
"the V12 Ferrari that was on sale when the first Golf GTI came out did its sprint to 100 in exactly the same time as this current one."
In Sport mode; the steering is given a bit more weight (not enough for my liking), the throttle is more sensitive, the engine is dialled-in to its most exciting setting, the headlights move a lot more, and the exhausts are rung up to make some noise. If you have the time to take it to the track, there's even a lap timer function in the car. How cool is that? Do any of your officemates have a lap timer in their car? I thought so.
The first thing I noticed in the car is the acceleration followed by the noise. The car accelerates hard and it manages to hide the few pounds its gained over the years. All 220 horses shared with the Porsche Macan work hard to bring you from standstill to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds. That's a properly decent time. To put that in perspective, the V12 Ferrari that was on sale when the first Golf GTI came out did its sprint to 100 in exactly the same time. Does that mean that in four more decades, the new Golf GTI will sprint to 100 in 3.1 seconds too? I can't wait. Anyway, not to be derailed. The other thing that caught my attention was the speed of the gearshifts. The DSG transmission is so good and so quick that it will eat the transmission of a Ferrari 458 Italia for breakfast. I think that the DSG transmission is second only to Porsche's mighty PDK. The speed of the shifts on full throttle bring out a wonderful "brraaapp!" as you tap on the paddle.
I got so addicted to the popping sound that I found myself shifting gears for absolutely no reason at all. I went for a drive and finally found some twisty roads. The GTI was right at home in its playground. It felt like an energetic puppy wagging its tail as I stitched together a string of corners. The car had hints of understeer as expected from a front-engined, front wheel drive setup, but the chassis wasn't hiding anything nasty. It changed direction swiftly and all the electronic aids kept the car in check. It was happy to play and the sticky Bridgestone Potenza tires took all the corners with unbelievable grace despite the loads of pressure and tension on the front tires. It is a mesmerizing piece of kit to carve corners with.
"this car is the one that sets the hearts of enthusiasts on fire."
Is there anything that I don't like in this car? I've already singled out the wheels. Well, I could argue that the infotainment screen is a bit slow with all the animated graphics. Thankfully it can be removed. Also, I think that the rear view camera with the park pilot can be a nuisance. When you slot it in reverse, there are too many on-screen menus that obstruct the camera. There's probably a way to fix the settings for that too. I'm really splitting hairs here.
Overall, there isn't anything to dislike. It's an absolute gem of a car. If the Beetle is the iconic Volkswagen that has won the hearts of the people, this car is the one that sets the hearts of enthusiasts on fire. It is the perfect evolution and successor to one of the most loved badges in automotive history. It's oozing with character, it's properly quick, it's luxurious, it's handsome, and best of all - it's a Golf GTI.