The Volkwagen Golf GTI is the dream car of many urban professionals. It’s not priced completely out of affordability, it looks sedate enough and it has 5-doors so it can pass off as a ‘sensible’ type of vehicle to scrutinizing family members, it’s powerful and torquey at all the right rev ranges, and it allows you to experience the latest in automotive technology – dual clutch transmission technology, the concept of engine downsizing, turbocharging, direct injection, the works!
To top it all off, it actually looks good to most of us, and whoever doesn’t adore the looks will most likely not necessarily dislike it either. Because it’s such a relatively safe choice while at the same time ticking many positive checkboxes, it’s no wonder that the Golf GTI has gained such success in Malaysia.
But still, the new Mk6 Golf GTI’s price tag of over RM200k might be a hindrance to some. The previous generation of Golf featured a sort of warm hatch model – the Golf Sport/Golf GT, powered by Volkswagen’s 1.4 litre TSI engine. The significantly smaller engine produced a very nice 170 PS, which is about as much as the 2.5 litre inline-5 that VW uses in the American market Golf (known as the Rabbit there).
There’s no Golf Sport as of yet with the Mk6, but what we have is something with performance levels that are quite close – enter the Mk6 Volkswagen Golf TSI, powered by Volkswagen’s award winning EA111 1.4 litre TSI engine, making 160 PS and 240Nm of torque. This is a seriously very interesting engine, for one, the more powerful variants of it employ twin-charging, which basically means it uses two force induction devices to push power up to well over the 100 horsepower per litre mark.
Look after the jump to read our full review of the new Golf TSI.
Volkswagen Group Malaysia first briefed Malaysian journalists about the TSI engine quite some time ago. I still remember the image of a small bee that could carry a huge load used at the event. VGM also brought in a few cars equipped with TSI engines for selected media to try (we didn’t get to try any) such as a Jetta and a Touran MPV, all equipped with the 1.4 litre TSI engine. But it was at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show that the world first heard of the new twincharged EA111 aluminium head cast iron block engine.
Initially there were two tunes – a 140 PS version and a 170 PS version. The 140 PS 200Nm version was used in “regular” Golfs and other vehicles like the Tiguan. This was already a huge amount of power to come out of a 1.4 litre engine – it’s around 100 PS per litre. This was later upgraded to 150 PS, and now we see this ‘regular output’ twincharged variant being offered as a 160 PS model in the Golf TSI.
From the power and torque outputs, this makes the 150 PS version of the engine the equivalent of a 2.0 litre normally aspirated engine, except that it will actually feel far more beefier than a normally aspirated 2.0 because it can generate the torque that a 2.0 litre typically makes at only around 4,500rpm much lower – from as low as 1,500rpm! The resulting feel is that we interpret the car as having much more “pick up”, it really wants to go right from the moment you step on the accelerator pedal, instead of moving on slowly and having its power peak only later in the rev range. In the new 160 PS version found in the Golf TSI, you can probably compare the ‘shove’ to a 2.4 litre engine as it can make 240Nm between 1,750rpm to 4,500rpm.
Enthusiasts will probably wonder why I am bothering to explain this but I figured there will certainly be readers who will want to understand what this feeling of ‘torque’ is and why peak torque at such a low RPM is impressive and a desirable quality. And a car such as the Golf TSI will not only attract enthusiasts but other more A to B kind of drivers, possibly a lot of female drivers as well, the kind that would go for a Mercedes-Benz A-Class or B-Class.
The higher output 170 PS 240Nm version was used in cars lke the Golf GT. It also made its peak torque from a very low rev range – 240Nm is sustained between 1,750rpm to 4,500rpm, with torque dropping to 200Nm between 4,500rpm to 6,000rpm. The de facto ‘high output’ tune has now been upgraded to around 180 PS, first featured in the SEAT Ibiza Cupra. The Polo GTI will probably get this same tune as well.
How is all this massive power developed from a small 1.4 litre engine? Twin-charging uses both an exhaust driven KKK turbocharger and a mechanical supercharger to operate at different engine speeds. The turbocharger is tuned to provide maximum boost at the upper rev ranges, but when you do this normally low end will suffer with turbo lag and slow boost kick in. How Volkswagen solves this problem is by employing a second forced induction device – a mechanically driven Eaton Roots-type supercharger.
This supercharger is driven at 1.5 times the speed of the crankshaft, running from idle speed all the way up to 3,500rpm where the ECU disengages the supercharger’s clutch and bypasses it to let the turbocharger (which has by then spooled up into its proper operating range) do the forced induction on its own. During daily driving which results in a very mixed and non-linear rev range movement (instead of outright acceleration which is pretty much easy to predict), a boost pressure control unit senses the amount of boost being generated and decides whether the supercharger needs to be kicked back in or not.
A direct injection system enables more precise fuel delivery, thus saving fuel and producing more power whenever needed, and the precision of the fuel delivery allows the piston compression ratio to be higher than usual – it runs at a regular normally aspirated-like 10.0:1, no need to drop to 9.0:1 compression ratio despite the high boosts involved. Boost can go as high as 2.5 bar at 1,500rpm.
Volkswagen later launched another EA111 TSI engine which only made about 122 PS to replace its 1.6 litre FSI normally aspirated engine. This particular model used only a single turbocharger without any supercharger, and it also used a water-to-air intercooler instead of the twin-charged engine’s air-to-air intercooler (separate water circuit from the radiator however shares a single reservoir with a separator to make sure the user only has to check a single reservoir for water). But we’re not going to focus on the single-charged version here, we’re talking about the 160 PS and 240Nm unit in the Golf TSI.
The Golf TSI drives very much like how a turbodiesel engine would feel, but it is way more free revving and sounds much better. 0 to 100km/h sprints feel strong and good however there is not as much ‘rush’ as in the Golf TSI and even though the engine shares the same 160 PS and 240Nm output figures as the 1.8 TFSI engine in the B8 Audi A4 1.8T, somehow it doesn’t really feel as brisk.
However it is during in-gear acceleration while you are already on the go and overtaking maneuvers that Volkswagen’s EA111 1.4 litre TSI engine really shines. The kind of shove into the seat and pick up that you can feel is really surprising and somehow feels stronger than when you do a 0 to 100km/h sprint. I am guessing it is something to do with how the supercharger and turbocharger kicks in at different times and different driving styles.
This is easily the most fun that anything under RM160k for a brand new car can buy you and the engine offers all the power you ever really need, with anything more than this being purely for entertainment at the expense of your fuel reserve. This little 1.4 litre motor puts all the 2.3 to 2.5 litre big 4-potters in the D-segment under RM200k car range to shame, and thanks to our country’s arcane displacement-based road tax calculation system you also save hundreds of ringgit on road tax a year in the process. The torque curve certainly feels stronger and wider than the 1.4 litre T-JET single-turbo in the similiarly priced and specced Fiat Bravo GT.
However if you want something that feels really powerful, go for nothing less than the Golf GTI, or you could go down the dark path and modify the EA111 for more output with chiptuning – tuners like Abt Sportsline have managed to squeeze out a Golf GTI-matching 210 PS that little 1.4 litre engine, with 290Nm of torque. APR has a similiar tune for 197 horses and 307Nm for RON95 fuel, and another that increases power to 203 horses on RON98 fuel.
Notice that APR’s tune quotes different power outputs for RON95 and RON98 fuel. You might be asking – what RON does this engine require? The twin-charger engine is most likely not making its full 160 PS potential here in Malaysia, since the fuel 160 PS is rated when using RON98 fuel, however the engine can run on RON95 without issues as RON98 is the recommended fuel for maximum power rather than a minimum RON rating to avoid knocks. The single-turbo EA111 I mentioned earlier can make its maximum power with RON95 though.
The 7-speed twin clutch transmission that is paired to the EA111 in this car is of a different model than the one found in the Golf GTI. It has one additional gear ratio and is much lighter and has lower maintenance costs compared to the 6-speed DSG thanks to a dry clutch design as opposed to the 6-speeder’s wet clutch design.
No doubt the DSG transmission is extremely smooth for something that doesn’t use a torque converter. Only VW’s implementation of the twin clutch design has so far resulted upshifts are seriously lightning quick while remaining smooth at the same time, other twin clutch transmission that I’ve sampled either trade shift speed for smoothness or shift lightning quick but in a neck-snapping manner. I really don’t know what their trade secret it but it seriously works very very well. You can either let the gearbox intelligence do the shifting for you or you can manually shift via either the gear shifter or the steering wheel paddles.
However there are a few things you must understand about the transmission. It is not a torque converter automatic transmission so there are some differences in how the drive feels like. For one, when you insert your automatic transmission into D, the car will move forward on its own if you don’t press the brakes. This is called ‘creep’ and can be quite useful when driving the car at very low speeds (such as parking), just let the car move along and control the speed via the brakes. This ‘creep’ feature is really quite minimal on the DSG transmission so you need to be a little more precise control of the throttle in order to perform small and minute movements such as those required when parking in a tight spot. This is because what the gearbox computer is doing is actually slowly engaging and disengaging the clutch for you to move but maintain smoothness at the same time. It also has to do what a human driver operating a clutch has to do when starting off from an uphill slope, so the Golf has hill-start assist to help hold on to the brakes while you set off from the incline.
Throttle modulation is certainly much easier than early implementations of single-clutch AMT. I also experienced some rare instances where the transmission could not really keep up with rapid and erratic stop and go movements such as when you are slowly and aggressively trying to merge with roundabout traffic or cross a junction without traffic lights. But other than these scenarios, the DSG is almost flawless and really should be the future of automatic transmission design.
As this is not a GTI model, the exhaust system used mutes the engine and as a result the car is really quite exceptionally quiet, with an idle ambient noise that’s almost like that of an electric vehicle. I hope that this level of soundproofing continues throughout the production run. You don’t really hear much of the engine at all during normal driving actually, the volume of the engine note only fades in during hard acceleration, and there’s also no small exhaust pop during gearchanges that you get with the GTI.
The smaller wheels and thicker tyre profile used on this Golf TSI makes it feel slightly softer than the GTI, which has big wheels and low profile tyres. There’s also no electronically adjustable damper Adaptive Chassis Control (ACC) feature on the Golf TSI. What you get instead is a very “Euro” suspension setup, a little firm and very well balanced around the corners, yet is able to tackle most road irregularities with ease. It is still a little on the firm side though. The suspension design uses MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link rear architecture.
The total airbags that we are getting with our Golf TSI is a seven, which is the same standard offered in Europe. You’re probably used to 6 airbags as being the max in a regular C-segment car like this – the 7th airbag is actually under the steering column to offer protection to the driver’s knee if deployment is needed. There’s also ESP stability control and traction control which will keep wheel torque in check in case there is any slip. There’s no XDS electronic limited slip differential here.
I found myself really quite comfortable in the fabric seats offered. The shape suits and cosets large people like me quite well, but I’m not sure if this may cause smaller people to feel a little ‘loose’ in the seats. I like the texture and they offer enough grip during cornering. They’re manually controlled even for the driver, and the front-rear sliding adjustment is easily reached and controlled. As for backrest angle, you have to adjust it via a big rotary knob which while isn’t that ergonomic if you’re already seated in your seat, allows much finer control over the backrest angle than your usual release lever type of backrest angle adjuster. 6-footers could also fit comfortably in the rear, and the car also features ISOFIX points for those who have toddlers. The front arm rest can not only be adjusted forward and rearward but can also be tilted up and down.
A useful feature for night driving is the high spec unit’s dynamic cornering Bi-Xenon headlamps, which can swivel left and right if you’re going around a bend. You won’t think much of this at first as you won’t notice it working but after driving this car as your daily driver for a few days, get back into another car without this feature and you’ll miss it – you’ll be going left or right but your headlamp will be pointing straight on into the road curb.
There’s nothing fancy with the interior layout – it’s a very safe design but everything is quite ergonomically placed and it’s easy to understand how to use all the controls at first glance. Plastics and gaps were generally very good. There is also ample storage in the door cards and in the middle of the two seats. You can either use the storage compartment aft of the gear lever as two cupholders by using the included Volkswagen-badged bottle opener as a separator, or keep the bottle opener in its storage slot and create one larger storage compartment. I had no problems finding convenient and secure places to put my mobile phones, wallet, and Smart TAG.
There multi-info display in between the tachometer and speedometer. There are many different displays and you control it via a four way rocker dial with an OK button in the middle. Easy to control. The instrument panel features lots of details missing in some modern cars – there’s a water temp meter which is reassuring, and the multi-info display also shows the engine’s oil temperature in digital format, something you might want to monitor with a forced induction engine.
The head unit offered in the Golf TSI is a basic unit but the high spec model we’re testing here came with a media-in kit which included a USB/iPod input. I still don’t like the blue backlighting of the head unit (which I first encountered in the CrossPolo) – I feel like the black text blends into the blue light at night and it strains my eyes to focus on the text. Unlike the head unit, the instrumentation cluster in front of you is lit up in a very Audi-like predominantly white with red details, with a crisp and clear needle and text, as opposed to the old style blue instrumentation.
I really don’t know why Volkswagen continued to use blue backlighting for the radio unit when the high spec colour screen versions of the head unit use a white and red colour scheme much like the instrument cluster. I’d prefer a low spec version of the low spec head unit to have some kind of red/white colour scheme as well as that would match the instrumentation cluster in front of the driver much better. Even a white text on black background radio would work as it would match the multi-info display between the tachometer and speedometer.
The high spec version we tested here is priced at RM155,888 OTR without insurance, and there is also a cheaper version which loses the foglamps, Bi-Xenon dynamic cornering control headlamps and the iPod/USB media-in interface for RM148,888 – we’d seriously recommend the RM155,888 version because those headlamps are just really good. If you don’t need the size of a D-segment car, this is no doubt a car that you should really consider buying at that price range. It’s really one of the best that Europe can offer right now, and the driveline is really something that most of its competitors have not caught up to.
If you have any questions about the car that I’ve missed in the review, feel free to ask in the comments and I will try to answer.