Quick Drive: 2010 VW Golf GTI

By James Wong

07.27.2009

vw-mkvi-gti-01sMy expectations for the new GTI were mixed. I wanted it to be a better successor, one worthy to replace the MkV GTI which convincingly reclaimed the throne to being the benchmark hot hatch. Yet, I didn’t want it to be a complete walkover to the previous car, letting people forget that the MkV GTI was the one that revived the GTI nameplate again. There is a bit of personal bias here – I own the MkV GTI, so naturally I wouldn’t like seeing my car being pushed to the back rows of the shopping shelf. So let’s see what VW has got here – is it a MkV GTI in a new skin? Well, not quite.

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The 2010 Golf GTI sports a few changes worth noting. It still utilises the same 6-speed dual clutch gearbox (named DSG) as the MkV GTI, as the 7-speed version used in lesser Golfs still cannot handle the power output of this sporty thoroughbred. Apart from a new 2.0T engine codenamed the EA888, producing 210PS (10 more than before) and 280Nm, the car now has adjustable suspension named Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC). It has two distinct modes, Comfort and Sport, but if you don’t want either there is a normal unnamed setting as well which probably straddles in between the two. The car also features an electronic differential lock (XDS), which works hand-in-hand with the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) of the car. It applies braking pressure on the wheel which is losing traction in order to restore it, theoretically allowing the car to take corners at speeds unprecedented in the MkV GTI. The DCC and XDS alone should improve the handling of the GTI dramatically, but some critics may shudder at the thought of added electronics to a car that is supposed to be about unadulterated fun. We shall explore more on this later.

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While the MkV GTI appeared cheeky and playful, the MkVI is visibly grown-up and now sports taut, firm lines that cleans up its look. Like a well-manicured and sharply dressed man, the car is now handsome, mature and more “grown-up”. Depending on personal tastes, this might not appeal to everybody but I think the looks are more fitting of the times now. Instead of a curvy red-strip in front, there are now two horizontal red stripes encasing the revered GTI badge, as well as a large air intake vent at the bottom half of the front, flanked by two rather large vertical fog lamps. The side profile has stayed largely similar, except perhaps sporting sharper lines. The rear now has a big diffuser with two exhaust pipes on either end of it – a look I’ve yet to appreciate as I still prefer the twin left pipes of the previous car. The rear lights look lifted off from a Touareg and do look a bit too conservative – but an alternative recently shown at a Worthersee 2009 Special Edition (pictured below) looks like a great upgrade to do for this car. All in all, a good update for 2010 which freshens up the look of the GTI for a few more years to come.

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The interior is where VW has noticeably spent some effort and time in, and it is a great place to be in when piloting the car. The steering is beautifully wrapped in soft leather, stitched together with red thread and now sports some chrome bits which are tastefully placed. The new touch-screen RNS510 system is a wonderful thing to use, with a lag-free software, intuitive buttons and great graphics. The gearknob, indicator and wiper stalks are all carried over from the previous car, which is no bad thing. The controls and buttons on the car are all now endorsed with chrome, which lifts the ambience of the interior up by a notch. The plastics all feel very high quality and there is hardly anything you would call cheap on the inside. VW decided to do away with the blue and red backlighting for the instrumentation, instead opting for the classic white and black face with red needles, which is elegant if a bit conventional. If there was one complaint, VW hasn’t made navigation and Bluetooth connectivity standard in this car, which was a disappointment considering that there are very crucial options. Also, VW has strangely applied the gorgeous red stitching on the steering wheel and the gearknob leather jacket, but not for the seats and the door trimming.

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So how’s the car like to drive? Initial impressions were of familiarity. The car feels just like the MkV, in terms of where you sit, how your legs rest on the pedals, how your hands hold the steering wheel. I took only a few seconds to feel at home, but I doubt any driver of the car would have a problem feeling comfortable either. Starting the car, I was startled at how quiet and refined it is. Word is that the EA888 engine is a far more refined unit than the 2.0TFSI engine it replaces, and I can believe it. There is hardly any vibration felt from the engine on idle, and it is both quiet and smooth revving. A short drive out of the showroom also shows that the gearbox now has nearly been perfected, with little or none of the jerks and uncertainty commonly afflicting semi-automatic gearboxes. A useful feature now is a digital readout of your speed, so you don’t have to stare at the speedometer for so long and spend more time concentrating on driving.

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I placed the DCC on Sport, put the gearknob on S and took a right at a junction. Immediately the wheels screeched as I applied more throttle than what the tyres can take; however, after a few milliseconds you can feel the XDS working – instead of cutting power, it now brakes the wheels lightly so you can put the power on the road more efficiently. This loosening of the noose around the power allows you to utilise it far more effectively, and the car simply goes on full throttle. It feels more lively and torquey than the Scirocco 2.0TSI I tried just a few weeks ago, and miles ahead in terms of response and feel. Not sure if I can explain why…

The gearbox shifts flawlessly and downshifts are always accompanied by blipping on S mode. On upshifts, a distinct but faint “fart” from the exhaust can be heard; a very addictive sound that is now usually associated with the DSG gearbox. It’s a pity now that the MkVI is made to be so refined because, with all the windows up, the car is simply serene. Even at 7,000rpm, where the engine should be screaming its heart out, all you can hear are muted noises, which speaks volumes about its noise insulation. It’s absolutely brilliant, a massive improvement over the previous car, but I’m not quite sure if it’s a good thing on the GTI. It sounds a bit too civilised and I would have appreciated more interior sound. You can filter out the unpleasant road noise, but keep the great exhaust note please. Then again, nothing a new turbo-back exhaust can’t fix…

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I took a U-turn with the car at the usual speed I took with the MkV GTI and it felt more planted and composed with its firm suspension. I could definitely feel the difference in ride comfort, the stiffer settings allowing some spirited driving but never too uncomfortable for the drive back home. The car instills a lot more confidence in the driver in the knowledge that the suspension is tuned specifically for sporty driving; previously, the one-size-fits-all solution was a bit worrisome as the car tended to roll too much if you tested its limits.

Toning down and putting the DCC on Comfort, and the gearknob to D, the car felt incredibly easy to drive. In fact, it’s not unlike any other car; it’s quiet, it’s comfortable, it feels as if it can do hundreds of kilometers a day without breaking a sweat. It is true to its values as a family hatch; driving it sedately, you can never tell how much of a sports car it can really be.

If I were to point out one clear improvement it made over the MkV GTI, it would have to be the refinement. The car on the whole feels much better put together, a solid quality product that puts it a step above its predecessor. You can feel VW trying to perfect the GTI formula, and has to a large extent been rather successful. But it has also taken some edge of the previous model, now with it being much quieter and somehow, less frantic. Like how its looks have matured, it also has taken a rather cooler demeanor with its drive. Not a bad thing, but just a different take on the formula. But is it a massive jump over the MkV in any other way? Not really. I don’t see owners of the MkV GTI urging to change to the new model, not because the MkVI GTI is not good, but because the MkV GTI is so brilliant VW had a real hard time making it better. So the changes made are welcomed but not essential, and if anything this model is more of a facelift than a new model. Still, no bad thing.

So that’s the story of the GTI. Replicating the successes of those before it, the 2010 GTI ticks all the right boxes – transporting the family in refinement, being quick when you’re in a rush, or being totally devilish when pushed all out. It may not capture the immediate attention of a passerby with its exhaust note or looks, but to any discerning car enthusiast, it is as complete a car as far as cars come by. Aptly put in an advertisement VW put out in the papers over the weekend, the GTI is a car that men drive and boys dream about.

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Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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9 Comments

  1. Is there a better sports car to own than a GTI if you drive your car every day?

    I don’t think there is.

  2. yes but is it geting too refined?

  3. Couldn’t agree more with Ganoor. The GTI is such an excellent car that balances power, handling and drivability superbly.

  4. How about the Subaru WRX STi? That is a very practical sports car and has more grunt than the VW GTI.

    That would be a contender if you needed performance and practicality.

  5. James, You’ve just gotten me to do something I haven’t done in over 10 years: I went to the VW website. They only had the ’09 still posted, but I was surprised to see that if you go lightly on the options, it’s priced a lot better than I had expected. I was also happy to see that you aren’t forced into a DSG. Some of us still like to use our left foot! 🙂

  6. The GTI really only had one bad generation, and even that wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t up to GTI standards, that’s all.

  7. Steven, I do hope you will get yourself a GTI and then have many years of enjoyment with it to come. It’s a car you don’t merely buy and then sell for another car; it’s likely going to stay with you for long because it’s so difficult to find a replacement that can do so much for that amount of money. And I don’t say this by random – I’ve got many friends who are still shopping for their GTI replacement, and can’t find one. For myself, I reckon I’d have to pay a lot more if I want something worthy to replace it.

    An interesting alternative to the GTI is the Civic Type-R FD2R (which I believe is branded as the Civic Si in the States). A more focused driver’s car, but with a boot and 4 doors.

    An STI is also a credible alternative, but some people may not like the image it portrays. Well, at least here in Asia anyway…

  8. I WANT ONE!

  9. Knowing that the MkVI GTI would be available soon, after seeing pictures of it I opted to buy the MkV. To my eyes the MkV has an aggressive looking front end style that I like where the MkVI does not. I would though like to have the MkVI instrumentation.

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