Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Bad luck for car enthusiast

As a car enthusiast, sometimes luck simply isn’t on your side. I’m not talking about the big sorrowful events like horrible accidents, but rather mundane annoyances that strikes at random (like a scraped bumper), and should you be so unlucky, a cluster of them seems to hit you all at once.

Mind you I am not talking about me, thank heavens, though back in April just about the biggest rock chip I’ve ever seen was thrown into the upper portion of the GT3’s bonnet. Actually, there was also that rear tire puncture as well, which turned out to be quite the chore to fix. But no, compared to my brother’s year with his mark 7 Golf GTI, I’d consider myself fortunate.

Indeed, said brother have only had the car for one year, and within that time-span the following misfortune occurred to his precious little hot hatch. First was the time during his move back to university for the Fall semester, and my clumsy dad absentmindedly scraped the rear quarter panel when he attempted to stuff the mini fridge into the rear passenger compartment (it didn’t fit through the aperture, obviously). Shortly after that, the GTI got broken into whilst parked in the lot of a restaurant, necessitating a replacement of the rear passenger window, plus that annoying tiny triangular glass at the corner that doesn’t really do anything.

California saw its wettest rain season in many years, so road conditions this winter was not very good. My brother drove over a set of light-rail tracks thinking nothing of it, but lurking adjacent to far rail was an enormous pothole. It obliterated the front left tire, requiring an emergency trip to the nearest tire shop. Now my brother did take this opportunity to swap the crappy stock all-season tires with a solid set of summer performance boots, which I have to say utterly transformed the GTI’s character. However, I’m sure his wallet holds a different opinion.

Lastly, a month ago an errant stone chip to the windshield proved a bit on the too large side, causing two parallel cracks to form at lower left quadrant, directly in the sight-line of the driver. My brother is still in the process of getting that replaced, which is another chunk of change that with better luck could’ve been avoided.

That’s all part of owning a car, isn’t it? To keep a car pristine, stuff in a garage forever; otherwise, it’s simply things a driver has to deal with. A person could go for years without a puncture, then suffer multiples of them within a short time. I jokingly told my brother that he doesn’t have to deal with any of this if he’d only take the bus instead.

Like I do. Sort of.

A veritable jungle on campus.

Hot hatches are awesome

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.

Gum spots.