What's all the fuss about the VW Golf VI GTI

When I was a little boy we used to play a game while travelling aptly named 'Golf' (I don't know why) but the game was simply to choose a popular car and hope that you score points as the car you chose drove past. The more your car drove past, the more points you got. So you needed to choose a car that was popular on the roads. Usually the winners were Toyota Corolla or Hilux and sometimes you could get away with a Nissan Sentra or a VW Citi Golf. But I am convinced that if I had to play that game now, I would choose the VW Golf 6 GTI. They're everywhere. And I just didn't get it. The thing about popular cars is that generally they're either really cheap or really really good so that we don’t mind paying extra for it. The Golf is certainly not cheap. In fact, emptying the pocket of R322, 000 without all the fancy options, one could argue it to be quite expensive. So it had to be good.

Recently I spent a good bit of time with the GTI and decided to find out:

In the world of Hot Hatches, you win some and you lose some. It’s a world of street fights and robot to robot dices and they just don’t stop. Get to set of lights, survey the competition, find the opposition and BAM! Just like that you launch into a series of short throws between the gears and make the guy behind you eat your dust. In the GTI it must be said, you’ll be eating a bit of dust yourself. It’s not the quickest cowboy in the dirty South and the numbers don’t lie: o-100km/h in about 7.3 seconds? Bout against any Opel Astra OPC; Ford Focus STi or Renault Megane RS and you’re sure to be a little behind on the straights. So in this contest the GTI loses.
So: it’s not the fastest hot hatch around, not even close so I ask again, whats all the fuss about then?

Well when you dig deeper and start to see the car for what it was intended for, the picture seems to change. The GTI seems to have come in without the brash, loud, arrogant personalities that so many Hot Hatches have used to differentiate themselves. The car is subtly beautiful with clean lines and eye-catching grille detailing. The rear sports a low slung bumper with a single tailpipe jutting out from each side. The car I drove also had yellow fog lamps and red rear indicator lenses and that set it apart from the crowd I spoke of earlier. These finer details are thanks to the car belonging to SA National Rally Champion Gugu Zulu also known as 'the fastest brother in Africa!'. But back inside the car. The cabin is just perfect as a driver’s car. All the switchgear is in easy reach and the seats are brilliant. The car is built with a quality that is hard to match. It is mind-blowing how well everything has been put together and you feel it, see it and appreciate it the minute to get inside. What’s even more fascinating is that the sort of build quality is unheard of in any of the other competitors. On the comfort front, one of my passengers remarked that the front seat was too bucketed and uncomfortable when cruising. Point taken.

Under harder driving, the bigger, brash hatches have loads of torque steer which is a little challenging for those of us who fancy some entertaining driving. They are a bit of handful especially in the rain and though some of them come with fancy tech to beat torque steer, the truth is, it still creeps in to spoil the party. In the Golf however, I would say it is minimal. You would guess that it’s because there is not as much power but no, I have driven less powerful cars that proved quite unstable yet in this car, it stays composed. The steering feedback is fairly clinical I admit, and the understeer is expected but again, the car is much much more controlled and composed when turning into a corner with the heat on.

As an overall package then, I think I have changed my mind. The Golf VI GTI is not the fastest car in the world of hot hatches but that doesn’t mean it’s not fast. That’s like saying Arsenal is not a good football team because Chelsea and Manchester United beat it. It is a fast, driveable, comfortable, well specced, well built piece of VW genius. It handles better than you would believe and it’s a subtly styled, easy to live with, 5-door machine. It is very very cool. I get it now.

Popular cars are either very cheap, or VERY GOOD and the VW GTI is definitely the latter.

(Psst: If you are looking for something just as good if not better, but more exclusive, I would strongly recommend the VW R32. You won't win at the Pumps though but it's a good car and a lot more exclusive. And then of course, the Audi S3 is the next step up. It's pricier sure, and it's a different make altogether but trust me on this. It's not too bad either)

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