PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 August, 2009, 12:00am

VW bets on MkVI

The sixth-generation Golf GTI should impress petrol heads between 11am and 8.30pm at Ocean Terminal today and tomorrow, but we wonder whether the fastie's wasted in compact Hong Kong. The marque says that the GTI 'MkVI' (below left, HK$318,000) has the 'sharp dynamics, a responsive four-cylinder engine and driver involvement' of the original (below right). The MkI GTI was special back when portable phones were the size of a brick, but these days the Mini Cooper S (HK$324,800 auto; HK$303,800 manual) promises 0-100km/h in 7.1 seconds, looks as hip and its front seats might offer more leg and thigh room. The 1.6-litre Suzuki Swift Sport (HK$169,800) also handles well and hits 100km/h in 8.9 seconds, and even if its interior is comparatively spartan it is still probably the best-value hottie here, with second-hand models for sale on local websites for HK$100,000 to HK$120,000 this week.

The new GTI sounds terrific, with a two-litre TSI engine linked to a double-clutch or six-speed manual gearbox promising 207 horsepower (9.8 horsepower more than the MkV GTI) between 5,300rpm and 6,200rpm. The GTI VI's top speed rises to 240km/h and it can sprint to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds, while carbon-dioxide emissions fall from 189 grams per kilometre to 170g/km (173g/km with the DSG box) and economy rises from a combined 6.5 litres per 100km (35.3mpg) to 6.1l/100km (38.2mpg), in DSG versions, Volkswagen says.

The marque says the newbie promises 'greater flexibility and keener throttle response'. But there's a difference between boasting about your GTI MkVI and actually enjoying it under the watch of over 300 police cameras across Hong Kong, where city traffic often crawls at under 30km/h. The new GTI's power might jerk you past the No6 bus in the two-lane crawl on the Southside but there seem few places where you can let rip beyond furtive bursts to out-of-the-way places at unsocial hours. Those cameras are everywhere - last week we even spotted some on Lantau's Tung Chung Road-Cheung Sha Road - and the last thing any self-respecting right-foot thumper wants is to be pulled over by the law in a prissy hybrid Prius.

So, if you're looking for an urban car that looks good, parks well and still has a bit of poke between traffic lights, spend less and look at the 1.4-litre Volkswagen Golf GT (HK$229,000) that whacks you to 100km in eight seconds, the 1.6-litre Mini Cooper (HK$249,800) that sprints the same in 9.1 seconds and the Fiat 500 (HK$139,800-HK$169,800), which is 3.8 seconds slower. The 1.6-litre Peugeot 207 (HK$219,900) and 1.6-litre Opel Corsa OPC (HK$268,000) will also offer a feeling of out-of-the-office-at-last oomph without making you feel that our traffic is caging your engine.

The new GTI's technical marvels are still worth a gawp in Tsim Sha Tsui. The model's new 1,984cc engine is the same size as the T-FSI engine it replaces, but with modified pistons and piston rings, an improved oil pump, a new induction system and a high-pressure fuel pump, the marque says.

We hear a standard new XDS electronically controlled differential has been fitted to improve traction, too. 'A series of sensors detects when, through hard cornering, for instance, the inside wheel is not sufficiently loaded and applies braking pressure via the electronic stabilisation programme in order to restore traction,' Volkswagen says. 'The result is less wheel spin and greater control and precision on demanding roads.'

The car has been fitted with new springs and dampers that lower the ride height by 22mm at the front and 15mm at the rear, and new anti-roll bars provide sharper responses, the marque says.

The GTI MkVI also has an adaptive chassis control system with pneumatically controlled damper units that allow the driver to select from normal, comfort or sport modes. Bravo Volkswagen, but such gadgetry sounds a luxury over short runs in Hong Kong.

Still, the latest GTI has achieved a five-star safety rating in Europe and tries to make you look good in tunnel traffic with red brake-callipered, 17-inch Monza alloy wheels and a new front bumper that features a deep honeycomb air dam framed by vertical fog lights that sit below a new grille element.

The GTI's horizontal lines make it appear lower and wider than it really is; the new version is just 27mm wider than its predecessor, the marque says.

Inside, you get sports seats, a flat-bottomed GTI multifunction steering wheel (below) and GTI badges galore, inside and out.

It's fast, but GTIs tend to make us think traffic moves even slower in Hong Kong. So keep a left-hand-drive version in Europe, where you can enjoy it in its natural habitat and, at Euro26,650 (HK$296,980), pay less.