Volkswagen Golf GTI
Click to enlarge

A car many of you will be familiar with by now – having first seen it zooming past you on the road as a Wald in 2005 – the Mk V Golf GTI, now in its official Volkswagen form, was a car hailed by many for combining everyday drivability with plenty of extra grunt to keep the family man in touch with his hooligan side.

But as it nears the end of its lifecycle, with the sixth generation of the Golf debuting later this year and a new GTI sure to follow by 2009, Shannon Teoh takes a nostalgic test drive of the car many of us have realistically (meaning that we didn’t plan on being overnight millionaires) aspired to own in recent years.

More after the jump to memory lane.

Volkswagen Golf GTI
Click to enlarge

After a bit of refueling at the Sungai Perak rest stop, we swopped cars and I got into my first ever Golf GTI. It was just a short burst to Taiping where we had decided to stage our photoshoot. So, RM50 (this was in the good ol’ days of RM1.62/litre) would do it, right?

Wrong. It’s not that the car’s a fuel-guzzler – official figures boast about 12.5km/l – but once you get on the throttle, the torque is unbelievably addictive, giving you 280Nm from 1,800-5,000rpm. You soon find yourself going at extralegal speeds with great aplomb… until the fuel light starts to blink.

By the time we arrived, the first-gen Cooper S we had paired the GTI with for our little hot hatch article had overtaken me as I slowed down and maintained 2,000rpm cruising as a precaution. But make no mistake, had we the fuel to burn, I’d have been able to stop for a pee and a bottle of Red Bull before the MINI had arrived at our Taiping rendezvous. In fact, I’d lost the MINI on the highway pretty much after the first bend.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

That was back in 2005, when Amazing Tempo brought in the rebadged GTIs and the term ‘hot hatch’ back into local petrolhead lingo. Widely regarded as “the return-to-form for the progenitor of the genre (so says Wikipedia)”, the Mk V GTI simply upped the ante on the sub-luxury sports market. The defining question that it was asking was, what else can give you this much fun and functionality for RM226,000?

Certainly, there was a reason why we thought the Cooper S stood a chance. As the top-of-the-line (John Cooper Works) MINI available, it was fun, involving, and had a retro-cool to it. So we thought it could give the GTI a run for its money.

The truth was that in purely objective terms, it couldn’t. It didn’t handle as confidently (it rained torrentially on the way back from Taiping and the MINI found itself aquaplaning precariously but the GTI remained entirely composed), wasn’t anywhere near as fast (I remember before having a chance with the GTI, being amazed at how it pulled away from me irresistibly as we merged into the highway) and lacked the cold simplicity with which the GTI brought you to a new level of motoring.

Volkswagen Golf GTI
Click to enlarge

The latter, was a key factor that was mainly represented by the Direct-Shift Gearbox. While it debuted in much earlier VW models, the 197hp GTI was probably the first to show off its functionality in a sports-oriented vehicle. Dropping gearshifts to a mere 8 milliseconds, it achieved the ton in 6.9s, 0.3s faster than with an equivalent six-speed manual gearbox.

Machine had triumphed over man and videos of Drift King Tsuchiya being out-dragged by a DSG-fitted GTI and then singing its praises after trying it out are now legend amongst GTI enthusiasts. Three years on, and it’s still difficult not to be impressed with it. Certainly in more developed markets, the GTI has stiffer competition. But here?

In recent times we’ve seen the Honda Civic Type-R make a tilt. There’s no doubting that it’ll smoke the GTI in a straight race but it’s owner will also have to live with a rather hardcore transmission and suspension setup. A family car, it is not.

VW Malaysia has also introduced the rather diminutive Polo GTI while Fiat has the Bravo GT. Still, both lack the balance and completeness of the GTI.

Volkswagen Golf GTI
Click to enlarge

VW Malaysia’s GTI is spec-ed down from the gray-imported Wald and so comes in at below RM200,000. It removes such luxuries as the sunroof, 18” alloys, special upholstery and a badge that says Wald.

Seriously, I don’t think it really matters. You don’t (or at least shouldn’t) buy this car to be flash. You want something that blends in nicely with traffic and only takes off like a fighter plane when you want it to and even then, without actually looking like an aeroplane (not that you guys with huge rear GT wing spoilers should feel embarrassed).

GTI BadgeWhat you get instead, is a bit of brand identification. GTI logos are found on steeringwheel, headrests and door sill. Stuff to remind you that when you start the engine, that the drive ahead is filled with possibilities. Possibilities like squealing tyres and overtaking three-car chains on less than 50 metres of B-road without actually requiring racecar driver skills.

Mid-corner steering and throttle adjustments hardly faze it and you know this intuitively because the GTI gets intimate with your hands and bum due to the informative steering and great seating position. The front-wheel-drive car’s instant delivery of peak torque ensures that it’ll train you into adhering to the the slow-in, fast-out approach. It’s safe, ensures a quick and engaging exit from a corner and will leave any ambitious tailgaters on winding roads with not a few second thoughts.

Second thoughts, as far as I can remember, have never been on a single passenger’s mind in the GTI. I won’t go so far as to suggest it’s fun for them too but they too will benefit from the confidence that the car’s lack of bodyroll delivers. Furthermore, there’s none of the usual quibbles with other fast cars.

Volkswagen Golf GTI
Click to enlarge

Instead, you get the very fulfilling six-disc front-loading changer, and the similarly satisfactory interior space. Three fullsize adults in the back were certainly not in much discomfort from PJ to Hulu Langat and back and there are pockets of storage everywhere, in the utilitarian fashion of the ‘people’s car’, including the now signature under-seat drawer.

It all comes together in a very convincing package. In terms of value-for-money, it’s probably the best CBU car out there that offers quick commutes.

To think that no one has been able to up the ante on it in the past three years is testament to the brilliant engineering foresight of its designers.

But what of the future of the GTI badge? With the Scirocco – come on, they can can call it a coupe but it really is a 3-door GTI-esque car isn’t it? – already in place, how will they avoid cannibalism with a Mk VI GTI?

Who knows, but perhaps once VW Malaysia starts putting those two cars on the road, those of us who’ve looked frustratingly at the Mk V GTI’s ‘just-out-of-my-reach’ pricetag might be able to finally snatch one on the secondhand market and achieve our ambitions, albeit, belatedly.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI