The second coming- Golf GTI mk5

Car Specifications
1984cc, Turbocharged
Cylinder Layout: 
in-line 4, 16-valves, DOHC
Top Speed: 
233 km/h
6-Speed DSG
6.9 seconds
200 bhp at 5100 bhp
280 Nm at 1800-5000 rpm

Getting it right again

The GTI is the most recognized sub-brand VW have ever had and enthusiasts consider it having a better image than VW itself. While the traditionally conservative VW board almost did not give the green light for the 1976 MkI GTI, we must thank them for actually giving the go ahead.


Yes the MkI GTI truly did invent this genre of car, the hot-hatch where a lowly utilitarian vehicle could keep up and occasionally shame some expensive sports cars back in the late 70’s. And while we did some time behind the wheel of the MkI during this launch of the latest GTI, it is clear that by even today’s standards, the original GTI was truly an automotive great. But in the third and fourth generations of GTI’s, VW had gradually and then completely lost the plot. A misguided penchant for luxury and refinement is the natural killer for the GTI genre and almost every manufacturer who happens on a gem of a car in one generation will nanny it to death in subsequent reiterations.

The fifth generation GTI aims to address that and return to the basics that made the GTI the king of hot-hatches. The GTI concept is fairly straightforward. Drop a hot engine into the body of a family hatchback and suitably upgrade the suspension. Well back in 1976 it was fine without any competitors but in the ensuing years there have been numerous pretenders to the throne and some of them were pretty damn good.

VW knows this and has been hard at work right from the very beginning. Although not overtly obvious the key to the GTI is its chassis. The starting point is the structural rigidity which by current standards is still very high. Consider that the M5 has a torsional rigidity of 30,000 Nm per degree and the GTI has a tub that tops 25,000 Nm per degree which is among the industry highest. The rigid chassis allows the engineers to fit springs and dampers that will give the desired handling without compromising the bodyshell. On the inside it still feels as if hewn from solid not unlike what one feels inside the M5 and that’s impressive for this class of car.

The ride has only been lowered 15mm but you’d swear it is lower than that. The GTI is just so stable moving around the mountain roads. It wasn’t until we followed along in a MkI GTI that we realised just how much the game has moved on. The Mk5 GTI is really stable through the corners and is not thrown off course, especially when encountering mid-corner bumps. We did our level best to find its limits on those roads and in its own understated way it just mopped up the punishment. The scene was quite different inside the trailing MkI, reaching its suspension limits quite often just trying to keep up with the Mk5.

Two gearboxes are specified for the GTI, a 6-speed manual and a 6-speed DSG. The manual gear box is nothing particularly special and while accurate is not quite so positive in its feel. The DSG however is a delight. First used in Audi’s TT, the DSG is the perfect mate for the 2.0-litre turbo engine. Thanks to the dual clutch operation this is the perfect answer to what Ferrari and BMW have been trying to develop with their complex electro-hydraulic transmissions. Essentially it is two parallel gearboxes, one operating the odd gears and the other the even gears and sequentially alternates between the two. In theory the next gear is already engaged and all that is left to do is swap the transfer of power to the next clutch.

VW has decided to keep the Tiptronic like shift switches mounted just behind the 3-9 o’clock positions. In most situations it works fine, just try to keep most of the gear shifts in a relativly straight line as identifying which is up or downshifts after twirling the steering around for a corner, identifying what’s up and what’s down is at best confusing. In the very short intervals between each shift, there is a delightful burble in the exhaust. It is a curious by-product created by the ignition of unburnt gas in the exhaust system. What happens at the very moment one clicks the up button, the engine has to cut the ignition to reduce the torque to match the incoming gear which allows some unburnt gas into the exhaust manifold which is reignited once the next clutch closes as the engine goes back to full power sending a pulse of ignited charge past the exhaust valves.

Part of the test drive included a track session at the Paul Ricard circuit where F-1 teams do their testing. It is a high-tech circuit that has lots of tarmac run-off areas not gravel traps. F-1 cars could spin-off anywhere and not hit any barrier, the run-off areas are that wide. However the new GTI hardly needed any. The car resolutely refused to oversteer. It stayed very close to neutral and surprisingly managed to stay that way right up to its considerable limit. The only thing it would do is go off in massive understeer but only if severely provoked. The ESP while can be turned off is not really off as it lurks in the background.

Not only were there no mishaps at Paul Ricard circuit, the track session was performed using the very same cars we had just previously driven over the extensive road course. Needless to say the cars were driven ruthlessly and relentlessly around the track from after lunch till closing time at 5 pm. Not one GTI broke down or was retired and the brakes, obviously a big 312mm set from a larger VW model just went on and on without failing or fading. Quite an impressive test of endurance we’d say though the pads could have been more of a competition type pad than the normal ones.

This new generation Golf has EPS or electric power steering and the assistance has been tailored for better feel in the GTI meaning to say less assistance. The steering is a sharp and positive tool with which to pilot this GTI around challenging roads. Thanks to its compact size even on narrow, sinuous mountain roads, the GTI can be threaded through with great confidence. The test cars were shod with optional 225/40 ZR 18 Michelin PS2s and they are one of the most forgiving tyres there are today. The 18-inch tyres give the GTI sharper handling and more grip. We had the opportunity to drive a GTI shod with the standard 225/45 R 17 Bridgestone RE050 tyres and they were equally adept at clinging on, a tad edgier but subjectively better in the wet which is surprising. Of course ride is compromised a bit with the larger tyres but still well within the realms of acceptability.

Not since the MkI has VW put in an inspired engine into a GTI and we didn’t expect them to do so now but it’s a real cracker. Well not a fire cracker but close enough. It produces 200 bhp from 2.0-litres and that would be good for a naturally aspirated engine but it is turbocharged. We would have liked to have seen maybe 230 bhp as the chassis is capable of more but there are redeeming qualities that make it quite special. For one it hardly show signs of turbo lag, feeling so linear and muscular behaving like a 2.8-litre powerplant rather than the two-litre it is. This is due in part by the high 10.5:1 compression ratio it runs as well as some clever electronics. The turbocharger size has also been optimised for quick spool up and fairly high flow. This is reflected by the flat and remarkably high torque plateau of 280 Nm from as early as1800 to as high as 5000 rpm, just 100 rpm short of its peak power.

The engine will continue to spin smoothly to the 6800 rpm cut-off and for some clever reason, it will venture to 7000 rpm in 2nd gear, just enough for the car to hit 100 km/h and record a 6.9 second run. Well that time is only achieved by some sort of launch control but that is carefully hidden away from normal use. To use launch control seems a little brutal but one needs to left foot brake, put the DSG in neutral, rev up the engine and drop the gear lever into sport. The clutches close and the electronics take care of the rest. The simple truth is it’s just too troublesome to perform at an impromptu traffic light GP. It is quite taxing on the clutch so VW may disable this feature anyway. Just leave it in “D” or Sport and let the computer do the shifting. If you want control then just take over by tapping on the tiptronic switches. It will return to auto or sport setting after 20 seconds if the tiptronic is not used.

One interesting feature in Sport mode is the way it keeps revs up at around 3000 rpm, the sweetest part of the engine’s power band. So when one is braking and slowing down for a corner, the DSG shifts down so that the engine is kept on the boil, waiting for you to get on the gas and accelerate out of the corner. Of course it is fast but not the fastest way around the circuit. For that one has to really shift the DSG manually via the tiptronic to get the most out of the engine but that is more difficult, requiring some degree of experience and skill. But if all you want is smooth relaxed shifting for town use, in “D” it almost mimics a traditional automatic which is remarkable.

The GTI felt at home on both country roads and race circuit and not many cars can lay claim to such a wide range of ability especially being competent on a race circuit. As it stands, it is right along the projected path that leads to the pinnacle of this genre of finely honed sport variants namely the M3/M5. No doubt most would want one if they could afford one and this is where the GTI comes into play.


CAPACITY : 1984cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : In-line 4-cylinder
VALVES : 16-valve
BORE X STROKE : 82.5 x 92.8mm
MAXIMUM POWER : 200 bhp at 5100 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 280 Nm at 1800-5000 rpm

TYPE : 6-speed manual or DSG

TOP SPEED : 233 km/h
0-100KM/H : 7.2/6.9 seconds

FRONT : MacPherson struts
REAR : Four-link suspension with separate spring and shock

FRONT : 312mm Ventilated Disc
REAR : 286mm Solid Disc

TYPE : Michelin Pilot Sport 2
SIZE : 225/40 ZR 18

ABS : Yes

LENGTH : 4216mm
WIDTH : 1759mm
HEIGHT : 1466mm
WHEELBASE : 2578mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1336-1391 kg

Original Price: $134,000 (2006)

It is in many ways much like the M5 but scaled down to just a mere third of the M5’s price and by our reckoning at least 70% of its performance. To think that in 1975 the VW board almost did not give the go ahead for the GTI project and now having driven the new GTI extensively, we can conclude that more than any model in VW’s stable, the GTI is in effect the company’s spiritual flagship and finally a most worthy one at that. AL
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