BY ANDY ENRIGHT
No hot hatch carries with it as great a pedigree as Volkswagen's Golf GTI. This is the car that popularised the whole pocket rocket phenomenon and counting the number of models that ripped off Volkswagen's GTI badge will run you almost into treble figures. The thing is, the original hasn't always been the best. The MkI car was great and the 16v version of the MkII GTI wasn't half bad but in the intervening years, the GTI lost its way. With the MK V car, it was back at the top of its game and demand has been frenzied. Here's how to track down a decent used example.
Models Covered: (3/5dr hatchback 2.0T FSI [GTI])
Few who attended Volkswagen's stand at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show would have any inkling of the significance that the Golf Sport study would eventually have. Sold in Germany as the GTI in 1976, Volkswagen UK began importing it in left hand drive guise in 1977. It was still a very basic car, with metal bumpers and an interior that was extremely stark. Volkswagen's idea of a refinement was a push button radio with one speaker. Nobody really caught on to the genius behind the car until 1979 when right hand drive versions became available. Fast forward a quarter of a century and we have a very different proposition. 112bhp has swelled to 197bhp and, even more tellingly, weight has gone up enormously. It's illuminating to look at how the power- to-weight ratios have altered across the generations with the MkV managing 150bhp per ton, compared with 110bhp per ton for the MkIV and 133bhp per ton for the final 1.8-litre version of the MKI GTI. The fact that the MkV is the quickest and most able GTI to date underscores the public perception that Volkswagen had once again got serious about making the GTI the car the rest had to beat. The Golf Estate showed up in the summer of 2007. The MkVI Golf, basically an updated version of the MkV, arrived in 2009.
What You Get
The MkV GTI offers a real premium car look and feel, not surprising when you consider the cost from new. Volkswagen created a rather tantalising website that showed what colours and options you can choose for your GTI and when I'd finished specifying my rather natty example, the bill at the end came to over £25,000. That's some serious money but at least the GTI can back that up with a class-leading chassis and an engine that really delivers the performance goods. A full-length honeycomb grille, 17-inch alloy wheels, a roof spoiler and GTI badging differentiate this car from its humbler brethren. The black grille surround also looks less like an oversized Honda badge than the metallic finishes worn by other Golfs. The interior kept the Golf at the top of the family hatch tree. It uses a fascia design reminiscent of the Phaeton luxury saloon although the centre console is lifted from the Touran mini-MPV. With the possible exception of its pricier Volkswagen Group cousin, the Audi A3, the cabin has the beating of any hatchback out there as regards ambience. The interior features soft-feel slush-moulded plastics, subtle use of chrome, fabric-covered A-pillars plus blue instrument backlighting with red needles, a signature of the fourth generation model. Some of the lower dash plastics and minor switches feel a little cheap but when balanced against the huge improvements in interior space, it's not too big a price to pay. The MKV Golf also set new standards by introducing 2Zone climate control and four-way lumbar support within the line-up. In addition, ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme), no fewer than six airbags as well as anti-lock brakes are fitted as standard. Big car features such as automatic activation of headlamps and wipers are built into the car's electronics.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Only two real issues have yet arisen and that's an oil pump bolt fault on early GTI models that has now been fixed under recall. The other is the ABS Pump Module which is a very common failure for the VW Golf V and Touran vehicles built between 2004 - 2008. The fault causes the ESP light to illuminate permanently on the instrument cluster and the ESP OFF switch will also be illuminated. The cost of having a main dealership fix this problem can be upwards of £1,500. Other than that, there's little to report. Keep a look out for cars that have been flogged by corporate users and ensure that servicing has been attended to diligently. Check the car's specification carefully, as some of the more desirable features, like air conditioning, weren't standard on lower spec cars. You'll also need to watch for sales staff aggressively pushing Mk IV cars, knowing that the Mk Vs will virtually drive themselves out of their dealerships. Other than that, the Golf is a car that can be bought with confidence.
(approx based on a 2004 Golf 2.0TFSI GTI ex Vat) A clutch assembly will be around £145 and an alternator should be close to £195. Brake pads front and rear are about £65 and £55 respectively.
On the Road
The sole powerplant on offer is no asthmatic wheezer. The engine powering the GTI is a turbocharged version of VW's 2.0-litre FSI petrol engine, fettled to produce a hefty 200PS - around 197bhp in old money. Drive is directed to the front wheels in classic GTI style, and there's a six-speed manual as standard or the excellent DSG twin-clutch transmission available as an option. Owners can expect to accomplish the sprint to 60mph in around 6.5 seconds in a DSG-equipped car and look forward to a top speed that knocks on the door of 150mph. A combined fuel economy figure of around 36mpg means that the Golf won't cost a fortune to run either. It's not noticeably cheap to buy used, however, although residuals look set to remain healthy for the foreseeable future. The DSG 'box is a real piece of work. First seen in the Audi TT 3.2 V6 coupe, it's based around a sequential manual transmission but utilises an ingenious twin clutch system to ensure creamy smoothness. Engage first gear and the gearbox will pre-engage second gear in advance, the second clutch engaging as soon as you flick up to slot instantly into second gear. This means a seamless flow of power. The electronics predict what gear you're about to engage, depending on whether you're accelerating or braking and the result is astonishing, making every other gearbox feel distinctly clunky. The other option is to slip it into 'D' and drive it like a normal automatic. Even in this mode it's butter smooth and makes other attempts at sequential manual systems such as Ferrari's F1 and BMW's SMG appear decidedly yester-tech. The GTI's engine is special too. Fuel Stratified Injection is a system that promises the twin benefits of more power and better economy. A high-pressure fuel line mounted on the side of the cylinder head, often dubbed the 'common rail', injects fuel straight into the combustion chamber. The shape of the pistons and the clever working of a set of valves make the air 'tumble', thus creating more efficient combustion. One criticism levelled at the two previous generation Golfs was that although the cars offered a ride and refinement package that was hard to beat, they never really offered the sort of infectious handling that many rivals could boast. The fifth generation car adopts a pragmatic tactic in 'benchmarking' the suspension of the Ford Focus - and it works a treat. The body is eighty per cent stiffer than its predecessor and the electro-mechanical steering feel and composed body control are leagues ahead. As a result, Volkswagen have been able to build a hot hatch version that enthusiasts will again want to drive. Once again, with the MKV Golf, Wolfsburg could claim to make the definitive GTI.
Used prices have remained firmer than a Tory home secretary although there won't be many GTI owners who have regretted their purchase. There's not too far you can go wrong as long as you track down a well looked after car. I'll have a three-door with DSG. In white please.