Around the mid-late 80’s was a particularly good time in my life, I was in my early 20’s, living in the UK, the music was both diverse and had depth (it even had lyrics you could sing to), I was slimmer and fitter and I owned a MkII Golf GTI 16v. It’s a period I look back on with great fondness and a time that I remember often in the minutest of detail.
For instance, my VW Golf GTI 16v was a dark blue with a slight shimmer flake to the paintwork. The seats were grey/black with red and green striping, the gear stick had a golf ball tip and the car both drove and handled faultlessly. The 1800cc 4cylinder engine had 139 BHP and 124lbs/foot of torque. 0-60mph was around 8 seconds and I remember getting the speedo up to 130mph on the M4 Motorway.
Twenty-odd years later and I found myself again sitting in the front seat of a Golf GTI (this time the new Performance) and the memories came flooding back.
In many ways the Golf Performance GTI has remained fundamentally the same, the styling is arguably identical, (why mess with a winning formula) just a bit broader and sleeker and the seats have the same firmness and feel to them – they’re still manual too. It still uses a key to start it (rather than push button) and it remains front wheel drive.
But then there are the differences and in many ways; improvements – let’s start with the engine and specs. Although still 4 cylinders, the new performance GTI has a 2L turbo engine (no longer naturally aspirated) producing 169kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It moves the hot hatch off the line to 100kph in a mere 6.4 seconds (which back in the ‘80s was almost supercar territory) and boasts a top speed of 248kph (154 mph). The gearbox is a 6 speed DSG auto, no longer a 5-speed manual. The interior is more refined but not overly so, it still had an original Golf feel about it – apart from the illuminating red stripe around the doors and dash – the jury is still out for me on this. The instrument panel has improved and now offers far more information than before including a ‘lap time’ feature that I kept start/stopping. For some reason, it was important for me to know how long it took the GTI to get up the hill leading to my house!
To my near horror, the handbrake lever has been replaced by a button, a damn button. Now I appreciate that progress has to take place and I assume that where once there were cables there are now electronics and topping that, I’m sure that it’s safer and better BUT one of my most thrilling memories of my old Golf was taking it to a snow filled car park in my hometown and handbrake skidding ‘till my heart’s content. It was a great way to perfect the art of 180’s and J turns without ruining tyres or hitting anything.
The tape deck has been replaced with a touchscreen and full infotainment system which again is a vast improvement over what mine offered. As well as VW’s respectable array of options, your preferred driving mode can be selected on the screen. Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual, are all available and each mode sets up the Steering, Engine and AC in different ways. As expected, I chose sport.
On the road the ride is unmistakeably Golf and the GTI has lost none of its ‘hot hatchness’, it lets you get a little wayward on the bends while still giving you ample power to keep you pointed in the right direction. The suspension is solid and confidence building and the steering (especially in sport mode) is literally point and shoot.
The engine sounds pleasingly coarse and more than delivers in the power department, particularly noticeable between normal and sport (at 100kph there are over 1,000rpm’s between the two). Added to this, is the acoustic delight of the rev matching blip when decelerating, I don’t think I’d ever get bored with it. The Performance GTI offers you an action-packed drive that has lost none of the fun that made it the benchmark in hot hatches.
As a final note, driving the new Golf Performance GTI has not only helped me relive my twenties but has revitalised my memory cells for a couple more decades – or less if (hopefully) VW launch a new Golf before then.
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