I have indeed seen the light.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is universally known for being the best all-round car for the money, an indefeatable combination of power, sports, and utility. If you need one singular car to do everything in, and you’ve only got around $30,000, the GTI is the definitive answer.
Which explains my excitement a year ago when my brother brought home a brand new 2018 edition of the GTI. I’ve never driven one up until then so I was eager to get a taste of what everyone’s been raving about. For sure it seats four adults in comfort, and the boot can swallow a surprising amount of gear; but does the Golf GTI really live up to its sporting acclaims?
Initial impressions were a bit of a disappointment. Yes, the power from the 2.0-liter turbo four is wholly sufficient, and the torque shove is tremendous fun on urban routes. However, it’s when I took the GTI through some corners where it started to baffle me: it’s very quick through the turns, but to my hands it felt numb and sterile. It was as if there’s a filter between my inputs and the car’s reactions. The GTI is an adequately fast car, but as is from the factory it’s curiously lacking in driving thrill.
It turns out, the culprit was the tires.
A few months ago my brother had an unfortunately run-in with a serious pothole, and the left front tire got obliterated. A perfect opportunity to swap the stock all-season tires for a set of proper summer performance boots. I recently got a go in the new setup, and the GTI’s dynamics have been utterly transformed. The car was simply let downed by the stock tires.
I finally got to experience the genuine joy of driving a hot hatch. Armed with a sticky set of tires, the GTI becomes incredibly playful and alive. The turn-in is just mega: jerk the steering wheel with abandon, and the front-end responds with seemingly endless grip. Mash the throttle out of a corner, let the limited-slip differential do the work of finding purchase, and the GTI rockets out with the gobs of available torque. The amount of confidence in the front axle so high, it beggars belief it’s front-wheel drive.
Combined with a good manual gearbox and nicely spaced pedals for heel-toe maneuvers, the GTI, when fitted with good set of tires, is an absolute revelation. I can now see why people adore hot hatchbacks; I might need one of my own.