herald

Thursday 19 April 2018

Despite A lapse of 37 years, the Golf GTI is still undisputed king of the hot hatchFIRST DRIVE

Call me a sentimental old fool but the Golf GTI has a special place in every 40-something's heart.

It's up there with Black Jacks, Fruit Salads and Fizzle Sticks.

Rewind back to 1976 and the beginning of this scribe's automotive love affair.

Yes, this once curly-headed, freckle-faced seven-year-old had his breath taken away by fabulous red head with a very special name.

The GTI (Gran Turismo Injection) had arrived in grubby old Ireland and was about to change the motoring landscape forever.

This was the dawn of a new era – now known as the hot hatch.

The world got its first glimpse of a future icon when she made her debut at the 1975 Frankfurt motor show.

It went on sale in Ireland a couple of years later – accompanied only by the slogan "the fastest Volkswagen ever''.

And it was no slouch with the Audi-built 1.6 litre fuel injected engine generating 108bhp; a 0-60 in just over nine seconds and top speed of 113mph.

Not only was it wicked to drive it was savage looking too with front spoiler, flared wheel arches massive tyres and the all-important red piping running around the grille where the GTI badge rested.

Inside you got sports seats covered in tartan, snazzy steering with four horn inlays (like a double breasted suit), black roof lining, a dimpled (golfball) gear knob, and an oil pressure gauge and clock nestled just above the gearstick.

A bloody oil pressure gauge... only fantasy muscle cars like Lamborghini and Ferrari had those.

The big difference here was you could take the kids to school, do the weekly shop and burn the tyres off her on the way back.

Yes, VW had struck pure gold with its heady mix of performance, convenience and affordability.

Peugeot, Ford and Opel realised the potential and launched their own efforts in the guise of the 205 GTi, Escort XR3i and the GTE but only the Pug came remotely close to worrying the Germans.

Fast forward 37 years, the hair has gone, the freckles disappeared but the love of this wondrous machine is as strong as ever.

Keeping with tradition the tartan seats remain as does the black roof cloth and indeed the dimpled gear knob.

The red piping is a trademark feature running right across the front as is the black honeycomb grille and GTI logo resting in the same spot.

Now in its seventh generation, and with two extra doors the all-new GTI is simply astounding.

Not only is it quicker, more powerful and nimble – it's greener too.

Using a modified version of the MKVI 2.0litre turbo petrol unit, it now bangs out an extra 10bhp bringing the tally to a very frisky 217bhp.

This in turn gives a 0-100kph of 6.5 seconds and a top end of 246kph while returning a decent 47mpg and road tax of €280 a year.

Handling and ride is as close to perfection as one could possibly get and it never misses an opportunity to put a smile on your face.

Best of all the new GTI costs just €34,345. The legend lives on.

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