2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

By Motormouth: Gordon Hall

Someone wondered recently where Volkswagen buyers go after Golf? They could easily jump ship, on becoming wealthier, to brands that are not necessarily Audi. One salesperson admitted that his previously faithful customers graduate mostly to Mercedes-Benz, with a minority opting for the German three-letter word.

Volkswagen tried previously to retain its faithful with the more upmarket CC and is trying again with its recently announced Arteon. We’ll see what happens with that because South Africans never took to CC, despite its undoubted value, and are usually slow to accept anything new.

Volkswagen’s solution so far has been to move its more expensive Golfs – GTD, GTI and R – even further upmarket than was originally intended. This helps to retain customers who might otherwise desert, while maintaining profitability with economically installed electronics that have high perceived value. It seems to be working because these “hot” models account for about 60% of all Golf sales.

Starting at R565 800, you expect some serious bells and whistles.

Polos, in the meantime, take care of the bread-and-butter market – good, honest VWs with single-channel airconditioning, normal windscreen wipers and lights that need switching manually. They outsell Golfs by a factor of 14.45:1.

Enough of that. Golf was facelifted in 2017, so you’re familiar with the details. What you might not know, however, is that GTI now has the outgoing Performance Pack engine’s 169kW and 350Nm. The 0-to-100km/h sprint takes 6.4 seconds, or 0.1 seconds quicker, while top speed increases slightly to 248 km/h.

It earned its NHTSA five-star safety rating with seven airbags, disc brakes front and rear with ABS, EBA, EBD, anti-spin regulation, ESP, electronic diff lock, auto hold and XDS. If you still manage to throw yourself away, despite all that kit, do not expect our sympathy because Mr Darwin evidently needs you.

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The standard, for GTI, Composition Media music system with its integrated eight-inch colour display has been completely restructured. Apart from two rotary/push-button controls, the eight-speaker, 4×20-watt system has eight function buttons. Along with SD card and aux-in interfaces, there’s a USB port compatible with Apple CarPlay, a Bluetooth connection for mobile phones and a CD drive. That’s so the old folk can borrow it.

Golf GTI – so much has changed yet this iconic car retains the Golf DNA and look.

Optional, at R16 500, Discover Navigation Pro has a 9.2-inch display with resolution increased from 800×480 pixels to 1280×640. Conventional buttons and controls are a thing of the past with this; manual control is via the touchscreen and five capacitive surface buttons on the left. It can also be operated by gesture, touch or voice. A proximity sensor calls up additional menu functions when a hand approaches the screen. Despite offering such advanced features and functions, operation remains intuitive and simple.

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Adaptive Cruise, Front Assist with City Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert, Park Assist, keyless entry and start, reversing camera and Trailer Assist are optional too. Our test car’s optional sunroof (R12 750) worked better than most. The editorial locks were ruffled only mildly at 120km/h.

Despite not having Golf R’s all-wheel drive, seventh gear and awesome power, this car sits solidly, handles like it’s on rails and charges like the wind for which it’s named. Steering is solidly weighted and feels just right, while the standard sports seats provide comfortably firm support. We could get used to having one.

It’s also practical, with more luggage room than offered by the “R”, spacious seating for four-and-a-half adults and fewer seldom-used gadgets like selectable driving modes. But if you must have lap timing, it’s in there somewhere. Saving R110 700 on the purchase price sounds good too.

• Test unit from VWSA press fleet.

THE NUMBERS
Base price: R565 800
Engine: 1984cc, DOHC 16-valve, four-cylinder turbopetrol
Power: 169kW between 4700 and 6200rpm
Torque: 350Nm between 1500 and 4600rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 6.4 seconds
Maximum speed: 248km/h
Real-life fuel consumption: About 8.4 litres/100km
Gearbox: Six-speed DSG
Tank: 50 litres
Luggage: 380 to 1270 litres
Ground clearance: 133mm
Turning circle: 10.9m
Warranty: 3 years/120 000km
Service plan: 5 years/90 000km at 15 000km intervals