The sixth-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI arrives hot on the tracks of the MkVI Golf, 2009's World Car of the Year.
Launched in July, the new Golf hatch proved an uncharacteristically enjoyable drive, yet boasted greener credentials and more refined levels of equipment. VW has given the sixth-generation GTI a lustier two-litre turbocharged TSI engine, a tuned six-speed double-clutch DSG automatic gearbox and an upgraded suspension system.
In keeping with GTI tradition, Volkswagen has also given the sports model an exterior makeover to set the car apart from the (HK$70,000 cheaper) 1.4-litre standard version.
The Golf's distinctive sharp prow, smooth bonnet and tapered headlights remain, but brightly finished five-spoke 18-inch alloys with red calipers and black edging and a colour-keyed rear spoiler make the GTI look sharp at the traffic lights. Darkened tail lights, high-gloss exhausts and a black rear diffuser are also smart additions, and the GTI logo on the honeycombed front grille and tailgate flaunt the sports hatch's vroom.
Inside there are sporty touches such as brushed stainless steel pedals and door caps, black striped door inserts, chromed controls and rotary switches, black headlining and red stitching on the leather-clad, flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The basic version's matt black dashboard and dial cluster remain (as do dual-zone climate control and a six-CD sound system), but the new GTI also gets a chromed gear stick and top-grade front sports seats with GTI-logo head restraints.
Most of the additional HK$70,000 outlay is for making the GTI a more driver-centred car than the sedan.The MkVI GTI has had its front end lowered by 22mm and its rear dropped by 15mm. It also has a new sport chassis, with reworked springs, dampers and rear stabilisers. In front, a familiar strut-type suspension system operates with helical springs and telescoping shock absorbers, and a new multi-link suspension system ensures that the electronic stability program seldom needs to intervene. The braking system has been made more durable and effective, the marque says, and the distinctive red painted brake calipers make deft work of halting the car.
The model's new twin-charged two-litre unit replaces the outgoing T-FSI engine, with modifications to the pistons and rings, an improved oil pump, a new induction system and a high-pressure fuel pump, Volkswagen says. The basic Golf's adaptive cruise control, distance control and parking assist systems are also in the GTI and dynamic curve lighting has been added to the xenon headlights to help the driver to 'see' around corners.
Unlike the basic model's three suspension settings (normal, comfort and sport), the GTI has just one: a dedicated, enhanced version of the basic car's sport mode. The GTI's suspension, gear ratios and steering responses have also been tuned to deliver more torque and a more stable yet responsive chassis.
Also new is the GTI's electronically controlled differential (XDS), which has been fitted to reduce wheel spin and improve traction. It acts as a type of transverse differential lock that compensates for the under-steer, which is a characteristic of front-wheel drive cars when they're driven fast through curves. The system works with dynamic chassis control, which helps stiffen the dampers during acceleration, braking and steering to reduce pitch and roll. The results are immediately noticeable - the GTI feels more precise and less cosseted than the standard model. And Volkswagen is not far off the mark with its claim that the XDS and dynamic chassis control work so well together that the GTI emulates the handling characteristics of an all-wheel-drive car.
A quick spin around Hong Kong reaffirms the new GTI's driveability. It pulls with much more convincing force than the standard model, with more and faster low-down torque - and it's louder, thanks to the rear tail pipes. The GTI's handling is impressively taut around town, and the DSG transmission's pre-selection of gears is seamless.
The XDS works well to eliminate any front-wheel-drive skittishness around fast corners - there's no sensation of the tyres scrabbling for traction - and the transmission does a fine job of delivering power from the 210 brake horsepower engine to the tarmac.
But a quick test drive around Hong Kong can't stretch the GTI's long legs at autobahn speeds. Volkswagen says the hot hatch can accelerate from 80km/h to 120km/h in 7.5 seconds (9.5 seconds in sixth gear) before it hits its 240km/h top speed at 5,900rpm.
It's impressive stuff, yet the numbers only tell half of the story. The new Golf GTI is such an entertaining drive that, if you're interested in a Golf and can afford to pay that extra cash for a GTI, it's money well spent.
AT A GLANCE: VW Golf GTI
What drives it?
A 1,984cc in-line four-cylinder, 210bhp turbocharged engine linked to a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox.
How fast is it?
The GTI hits 100km/h in 6.9 seconds, and tops at 240km/h.
How safe is it?
It has a Euro NCAP five-star rating, dual front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, straight line stability control and dynamic chassis control.
How thirsty is it?
The GTI drinks 7.4 litres per 100km on a combined cycle.
Hong Kong friendly?
It's Euro V compliant, spewing 176g/km of carbon dioxide.
HK$318,000 from Volkswagen Hong Kong (tel: 3698 9688)