A Driving Trip: mTm-tuned VW GTI and Porsche GT3
By James Wong
Birds are chirping. A cool chill descends upon the island and the sky is still pitch-black. Most people are still in bed enjoying the sleep-in of their early Saturday morning. However, two men with petrol in their blood met at the unholy hours of the morning to go for a blast up the infamous North-South Highway (NSH) of Malaysia. Sounds like fun? Read on.
First up, let’s us introduce the cars. I will be driving the MkV Volkswagen GTI. The MkV GTI has had countless accolades since its inception in 2004, with many regarding it as the quintessential hot hatch. There’s no denying that this is an excellent all-rounder that competently combines practicality with sportiness. Its 2.0TFSI engine, when mated to the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG, VW speak for a double-clutch gearbox), works seamlessly to put down all 200 horses down on the road with minimal lag.
What we have this morning, however, is slightly different.
On first inspection, the car looks just like a normal GTI with a Vortex body kit. Shod with 18” OEM VW Khartoum rims and a subtle body kit, the car looks tame and yet unmistakably sporty as it sits dormant in the garage. On closer observation, the car’s front brakes have been swapped for 4-pot AP Racing brakes and the rear exhausts have been fitted with stock-looking mTm pipes. This is no ordinary GTI however. Packing 272PS and 370Nm from its 2.0TFSI engine, this car’s claimed century sprint is claimed to be 6.3 seconds. It’ll also do a lot of wheel spins with a careless right foot. What gives it such a big power upgrade? Namely, the turboback mTm exhausts allow a freer flow of exhaust gases out, allowing the engine to run more efficiently. There is also a mTm Stage 2 ECU upgrade which releases the potential of the 2.0TFSI. Right, with so much talk, we’ll see later how it fares on the road.
The second car in the convoy needs no introduction. The 997 GT3 has a 3.6L flat-six engine producing 415PS and 405Nm. This is in itself an amazing figure as the engine surpasses both the benchmark 100PS/L and 100Nm/L figure. Apart from this outstanding engine, the car only weighs 1395kg, which means it propels to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and can hit a 311km/h top speed. It also redlines at 8,400rpm with a good proportion of its power at the top end. It is also installed with a Sharkwerks exhaust. Most of the time, this car is rarely given a chance to stretch its legs at home – which makes the NSH its playground; one of the few times where it can truly show what it is capable of.
The NSH has always been an escape for keen drivers; built to a cost of RM 6 billion (USD1.67 billion), the NSH links the Singapore border in the south all the way to the Thai border in the north, a total of 848km. Its generally well-paved roads allow high-speed travel in relatively safety. However, older parts of the NSH are only two-lanes, making it potentially dangerous if heavy vehicles overtake on the fastest lane. Nevertheless, what the Autobahn is to Germany, the NSH is to Malaysia.
We prepared our communications set, pumped petrol at Shell (I didn’t give a full tank for the GTI; I thought the consumption wouldn’t be that bad) and then set off for the causeway. Already, suspense is already inevitably building up. The Porsche in front of me howls at any speed, and even with the GTI’s cabin fully sealed, one cannot help but notice the distant rumble of the flat-six in the background. The GTI’s exhaust pales in comparison, offering a baritone gradual boom and a ‘fart’ with each exceptionally fast gear change with its DSG gearbox. As we crossed the causeway, we gradually built up speed.
Up to a certain point, the GTI surprisingly manages to keep up with the GT3 with its turbo at full boost, offering yours truly an injection of confidence that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a great annihilation after all. However, once the GT3 reaches the upper echelons of its power, it starts to pull away with brute force and it is not afraid to shout about it. At full bore, the GT3 makes itself known with its exhaust note emanating on both sides of the highway. Even on a cruise, there is an underlying grunt that warns of its potent power within. At higher speeds, the GTI struggles to keep up as it reaches its governed speed limit. However, mid-range punch which is lacking in the stock car is all apparent here: the car pulls strongly and keenly all throughout its rev range, making its modifications show some effect here. Also, above 3,500rpm or thereabouts, the exhaust livens up and shows some muscle in its soundtrack. It is never screaming its lungs out or shows it’s hard at work: a refined, gentleman’s exhaust is what it sounds like. It is however, always overshadowed by the GT3.
At about the 50km mark, my petrol tank was already fast depleting and I was doing less than 5km/l. Surprisingly, the GT3 also posted a similar figure. 50km more to go, and after passing some ludicrously expensive tolls, we were on our way again.
One truck which overtook on the first lane looked deceptively far; however, before we knew it, it came up at an astounding pace, and some heavy braking had to be done. The GTI wiggled its tail rather alarmingly, and required some counter-steer to prevent it from going out of control. Although the front AP Racing brakes were put to good use, the rear brakes (stock) weren’t as good and hence some brake bias was observed. It was such a shocking close shave that I signaled left, already prepared to avoid collision. Thank God for those brakes.
Perhaps the one major flaw of the GTI observed in this journey is its stock suspension. While it is compliant, comfortable and forgiving at speeds below 150km/h, above that it starts to betray some of its firmness by exaggerating its ‘floaty’ characteristics. The car’s rebound on uneven surfaces was downright scary and although the chassis and engine held its head well, the suspension let down the car. It was soggy, softly-sprung and allowed a great degree of body movement on hard braking. These characteristics, however, only appeared at higher speeds which are unlikely attained on a daily basis.
Everything else about the car performed above expectations. I was expecting the GTI to lag behind until it lost sight of the GT3, but in fact it wouldn’t be out of place in the company of the Porsche on a typical run like this. Perhaps the lower-than-average ambient temperatures as well as the redundancy of air-conditioning helped the turbocharged hatch attain its full potential.
After a short breakfast at our pit stop, Yong Peng, a light drizzle started on the NSH on our return journey. We dialed the pace down by a few notches and cruised. I started to appreciate the GT3’s gorgeous looks – I was never a fan of Porsches and especially the 911 – but after today’s run, I am forever changed. The heavy-set wheel arches bulging from the rear, the wide low stance and the shape that never goes out of fashion (call it a beetle all you want..) all makes this GT3 an instant classic. Never mind that the facelifted GT3 is already out, what with its front LED lights and slight technical upgrades. Truth be told, Porsches age as good as well-cured wines, and the white example today serves as an excellent example.
I also appreciated the practicality of the GTI yet again. It can be right up there trying to chase Porsches, yet when you want it to be docile, it will do so willingly, showing none of the jerkiness, noise or sheer brutality as some of its rivals may display. This may not be everybody’s cup of tea but as a sports car for the common man, you cannot look any further than the GTI. It also has a spacious interior for 5 and, if you fancy, you could also spec it with a nifty touch screen that does everything from sat-nav to an auxillary input. I played Dave Brubeck while cruising on the NSH, and the GT3 driver noticed it over the radio.
Back to home tarmac, it seemed that we hit an invisible wall as we slowed down to the limits of the expressways: 90km/h. Well, it is these pockets of fun that keeps our driving spirit burning, and we should count ourselves lucky we had somewhere to drive a little faster than home. We reached home at 9 in the morning, gave our cars a pampering wash which concluded our short road trip. A total of about 240km, which showed that a family hatch can do a lot more than you think, and that a GT3 still reigns king, punching yet another competitor out of the ring.
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