Writing about the new Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 doesn’t need justifying the length of War and Peace. In Europe, this thing is a legend. Here in Malaysia, though it’s beginning to attract the wrong kind of buyers as of late, it’s well on the way.
In recent years, the Mk5 GTI came to Malaysia first as a grey import, kept by a few fanatics. It was the first GTI, after a near-flood of greys, to come officially. The subsequent Mk6 – largely the same car, but with a new, more aggressive body and bigger dimensions – quickly became the default hot-hatch purchase here.
Now it’s time for the latest Golf GTI Mk7 to shine, as it has just arrived here, priced from RM209,888. It sits in another new shell, an even sharper one to keep the driving experience as intense as possible. The look is square, hard, clear of eye, jutting of chin and vast of mouth; a design theme lying somewhere between aggressive and superficially sporty.
Volkswagen modestly claims to have improved every critical aspect of what is already a great car, and that the new version goes, stops and corners better. After long miles of pelting about in it in beautiful sunny Saint Tropez, I can’t say I found any way of disagreeing.
First up, the basics. The Golf GTI Mk7 is based on the modular MQB platform. Compared to the previous model, the wheelbase has been extended by 53 mm to 2,631 mm, with the front overhang shortened by 12 mm. This visually moves the A-pillar backward, giving the GTI a cab-backward effect to suit its sporty nature.
Elsewhere, the new GTI is lower by 27 mm at 1,442 mm, 13 mm wider, and total length has grown by 55 mm to 4,268 mm. The change in dimensions appears more drastic than it actually is, and coupled with the 15 mm lower ride height compared to the standard Golf Mk7, the GTI’s proportions and stance have improved dramatically.
There’s now a red trim strip on the radiator grille that extends into the headlights, parallel to the bonnet seam and bumper. Also typically GTI are the additional honeycomb air inlet openings, vertical fog lights, larger rear spoiler, twin tailpipes and unique alloy wheels. The visual effect of the 18-inch ‘Austin’ alloy wheels and their interplay with the rest of the car is breathtaking at first sight.
At the back, you’ll find a new roof spoiler. Considerably larger than those on the standard Golf, it sits flush to the roof, with blacked-out aerodynamic elements running along the sides of the boot lid. More black is used on the diffuser too, with 80 mm diameter chrome pipes sticking out of each end. Smoked LED rear lamps complete the GTI persona change, though unfortunately our local cars don’t get these for now.
Climb in and you meet a combination of the extraordinary and the mundane. There’s nothing oddball about the doors or driving position. Five adults can fit in relative comfort. You can all see out. The cabin is a clear step forward from the old GTI, more interesting in design and of better quality. It feels tough and Germanic as well as Japanese-precise (that’s a compliment).
Ergonomics have been improved, with better pedal placements, revised seating position and a steering wheel column with a broader adjustment range. The tartan upholstery (paired to optional Alcantara in these pictures; local cars get standard fabric tartan or full black leather) look brilliant, as do the contrasting red decorative seams, GTI-specific black roofliner, red ambience lighting and sill covers.
Less successful is the ‘Checkered Black’ dashboard inserts. It’s a cheap-looking faux-carbonfibre lookalike that spoils the whole serious, menacing, GTI feel of the interior. At least the instrument graphics are new for the GTI, with pointers that perform a show when the engine is started.
The turbocharged motor of the GTI is from the third generation of Volkswagen’s EA888 engine series and has a completely newly-developed cylinder head. It has a unique water-cooled exhaust gas circulation loop to the turbocharger that is fully integrated in the cylinder head, giving a crucial contribution towards fuel economy at full load.
The 2.0 litre motor features variable valve timing with dual camshaft adjustment, with valve lift on the exhaust side that is adjustable over two stages. This enables optimal control of the charge exchange process for better performance, fuel economy and lower emissions.
Put on the road, the new motor now generates 220 PS at 4,500-6,200 rpm, a modest 10 PS more than before. Incidentally, that’s exactly double the amount of power that the original Volkswagen Golf GTI had 37 years ago. Getting a much more significant bump is torque, which is up from 280 Nm to 350 Nm over 1,500 to 4,400 rpm.
More power and torque, paired with 42 kg less weight translates to more speed. Zero to 100 km/h sprint now takes 6.5 seconds, and top speed is 244 km/h with the six-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox (0.4 seconds and six km/h faster than the Mk6 GTI). The manual version (no, it’s not coming here) is just as accelerative, but has a higher top speed, at 250 km/h.
Also improved is the GTI’s fuel economy, now rated at 6.4 litres per 100 km in the combined cycle. That’s 14% lower than before, it using one litre of fuel less to travel 100 kilometres. Paired to a manual gearbox, the gains jump to 18%, at just 6.0 l/100 km. Not bad at all, considering the car is now much quicker than before.
Offered for the first time is a factory-installed Performance Pack that adds an additional 10 PS to the engine, making a total of 230 PS. More than just a power boost, the pack also includes a mechanical front differential lock (the standard GTI has an electronically-controlled diff), and larger brakes.
With 230 PS, the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance DSG hits 100 km/h a tenth of a second sooner (6.4 seconds), and travels four km/h faster at top whack (248 km/h). More significant are the other upgrades, which improves upon the GTI Mk7’s already outstanding handling properties.
The only visual giveaways of this Performance Pack are subtle GTI letterings on the red brake calipers (painted plain red on standard models). Unfortunately, we won’t be getting this option here in Malaysia, at least not in the near future. That’s just fine though, as the standard 220 PS is plenty to have fun with.
Right from the start, it doesn’t feel like the sort of car you’re going to upset. In the first metres, the first kilometre, the first minutes, it feels solid, weighty and precision-engineered. Everything about it says ‘cleared for take-off’.
There is, as promised, real urge in the mid-ranges. Yes, there always was in the old, but it’s more pushy again this time around. But here’s a funny thing. The old engine was a keen revver, but you seldom took it to the edge because the top end was ever-so-slightly rougher than the rest of the range. The new motor doesn’t suffer from that strange sense of strangulation.
In third or fourth gear, the urge is seamless through the fours and early fives, then towards 6,000 rpm there’s another upward step in the force fed to your back. And it keeps going, on that same heightened level, all the way to the big red seven. Excellent then, given that the engine now has a broader working rev range.
It soars away under power, the smooth, hummy noise crackles and prickles with an urgent racy hammer. It has found its sense of purpose again. Compare the GTI motor with a powerful naturally-aspirated engine, and you find more sheer turbo poke at accessible revs – and there’s no sign of having to trade away instant throttle response.
In a straight line, the Golf GTI Mk7 has so much blastaway force that picky matters of throttle response just don’t mean a thing. But in bends, there is a difference. The GTI’s turbo punch give you the legs as it punches you out of a corner, but earlier in the curve, a more precise right foot metering of the output would make the experience more joyous.
But don’t underestimate the joy. The GTI lives for corners. And in the GTI, so do you. Technically, it’s as much as before in the electronically-controlled front-wheel drive system, the multi-link rear suspension and lightning quick wet-clutch DSG gearbox; God love ‘em all.
What’s new is a stiffer yet lighter body, better aerodynamics, smoother and punchier engine and a vastly better balanced chassis. Subtle improvements they may be, but taken together, they matter. A lot.
The GTI Mk6, you remember, is a rather big, heavy car capable of arriving at corners extremely quickly. The new one doesn’t quite feel like that. Through a string of apparently endless third-gear corners that curl right back on themselves, the new GTI somehow sheds mass going through it.
New to the Golf GTI Mk7 is the electrically-assisted Progressive Steering. It now takes 2.1 turns of the wheel to reach the end stop, compared to a standard Golf’s 2.75 turns. This perceptibly reduces steering work when manoeuvring and parking, and on country roads with lots of bends, feels more direct in both response and speed.
This results in more precise and relaxed driving in the middle steering range, with smaller steering input required. The system offers significantly greater agility and more fun on roads with lots of bends. At lower speeds, on the other hand, the Golf GTI Mk7 is much easier to handle thanks to the lower steering input angles – offering a perceptible gain in comfort.
In action, it peels into a corner more quickly than a front-driven hatch has a right to. There’s little feedback, but loads of precision from its new steering, but it isn’t exactly a lightweight, so it doesn’t dart in. It goes in hard, deep and early, and tremendously progressively, just as you ask.
Nor does it do so by piling on layers of dim-witted, stabilising understeer. The car stays balanced, but it tells you what’s up. Put on a bit of extra power and it’ll gradually start sliding outwards; ease off and it trims in. It’s perfectly planted and stable.
Get to the end of the arc, pile on heaps of power and it just rockets away. That’s part of the GTI brilliance; no fear of sudden understeer or lift off oversteer that would slow you down or break your flow. Always, the GTI communicates. It feels so direct, you can touch it.
But what if you want oversteer, for the drama? Well, if you brutally insist, sir. In the Golf GTI Mk7, Volkswagen is offering a new ESC Sport function for experienced drivers, accessed by pressing the traction control button for more than three seconds. In this mode, the ESC system reacts with a delay, which allows the driver a greater degree of control.
Say you go into a bend on full power, feeding more and more lock in and abruptly lift-off the throttle to unsettle the car. It’ll go into a lurid slide, sure, but it’s uncannily easy to balance and catch it on the way out. ESC Sport doesn’t mean off, of course, and it’ll still save you if it believes you can’t do so yourself.
Also adding to the enjoyment is the XDS system that was first introduced in the Golf GTI Mk6. Now in more advanced XDS+ form, the electronic differential lock improves agility and reduces the need for steering inputs by using targeted brake interventions at the wheels on the inside of the bend of both axles, significantly reducing understeer while aiding traction.
This cornering virtuosity is achieved despite the new GTI taking on a more approachable chassis setup. It feels less harsh now, its body vibrating less. Stick it on its harder damper settings and it scampers around over harsh surfaces, but it’s now a deep, controlled slam rather than a cheap clang.
The ride, which was particularly unyielding in the Mk6 GTI, is now much more resolved. More than the way it drives, it’s in this department that the new car shines the most. Few would say it, but the Mk6 was a hard-riding machine. This one isn’t.
A second-generation Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system is at work in the Golf GTI Mk7. It offers three driving modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport, which are now selected and displayed under the new Driving Profile Selector feature on the centre screen.
The Comfort mode is new, and is a complete revelation. Set as such, the Golf GTI Mk7 rides as well as a conventionally-sprung Golf TSI, and still offers enough dynamism to keep things GTI interesting. It adaptively regulates the damper valves according to road conditions, with forces selectively applied to the four wheels individually.
Excellent refinement, five perfectly habitable seats and those Volkswagen and GTI badges. Is this the most rounded hot-hatch ever? I think it is. There’s immense cornering security, the intimate feel, the wonderful brakes and gearbox, the turbo rush. Even the hot-hatch bits are better than ever too.
The rest of the world’s fast hatches have caught up and moved on from the peak of the go-faster Mk6 model, but so has the Volkswagen Golf GTI. In its latest Mk7 guise, the GTI is back in front, offering more of what makes a hot-hatch hot in the first place. It’s the perfect everyday performance car.
The Golf GTI Mk7 has just been launched in Malaysia, priced at RM209,888 for the three-door, and RM217,888 for the five-door, before options. Read our full launch report here.