It was a blind 35km/h left-hander that caused my arse to clench and my hands to turn to water. Barrelling into the bend at 80km/h, the uphill southpaw, which had looked innocent, began to tighten so alarmingly that I thought: “Well you’ve buggered this up, Alex, with your fists of ham and your two lead feet.”
It was true too – I’d gone in too hot, but luckily our new GTI long termer didn’t seem to notice. After rolling off the throttle and adding more lock, the VW simply gripped and turned. No fuss, no understeer. Just poise and balance.
The Golf had landed in our garage just a day earlier, but of course, keen observers will note this is no ordinary GTI. They’ll know its bespoke 19-inch wheels, its bulging brakes and standard bi-xenon headlights mean it’s a GTI Performance – which, along with a host of other kit, gets VW’s trick new electronic front diff.
Much more complicated than a traditional LSD (see breakout below), the e-diff is the reason our GTI hustled through that 35km/h corner without breaking a sweat.
Capable of sending 100 percent of drive to either of the front wheels, the diff also has a torque vectoring effect to shuffle the engine’s twist between the wheels for maximum grip. The result is a front-driver with razor-sharp turn in, brilliant mid-corner poise, and the composure and traction to slingshot you out the other side.
As you’d probably expect, this diff doesn't come cheap. Priced at $48,490 (our car hits $50,290 thanks to metallic paint and VW’s Driver Assistance Package), the Performance is $4500 more expensive than a standard GTI, but so far is worth every cent.
Other standard kit includes the same chunky brakes as the Golf R (340mm up front, 310mm at the rear), and bespoke 19-inch alloys riding on 225/35 Pirelli P Zeros. Engine-wise, power from the GTI’s EA888 turbo four is up a negligible 7kW, while peak torque remains at 350Nm but is available over a 200rpm-wider rev range.
In the looks department, the Performance gets adaptive bi-xenon headlights, along with a sexy red stripe, unique tail-lights and inside, flashes of Alcantara on the bolsters of the iconic tartan seats.
Initial impressions, then, are positive, but there are a few foibles. The button to change the car’s Dynamic Chassis Control system, for example – which alters damping, steering weight, engine sound and throttle response – is annoyingly hidden behind the gearstick. Then there’s the gearbox itself.
Often seen as a weakness, the DSG is sharp and intuitive at speed, but slow and clunky when parking. Which brings us to the issue of reliability. When the Mk7 Golf won Wheels Car Of The Year award, the team were inundated with letters asking how they could possibly award their highest honour to a model plagued by gearbox recalls and a power-loss fault linked to the death of a Melbourne woman, Melissa Ryan, in 2011 – despite a Victorian coroner clearing Volkswagen of any blame.
The answer is simple. Wheels has never encountered any reliability issues with the Golf during testing, which is why we were so keen to procure this dual-clutch GTI. If anything falls off, breaks, or sticks in the next six months, we’ll be sure to let you know.
WHAT’S THE DIFF-ERENCE?
It sounds complicated, but the electronic diff lock is easy to understand. Compared to a mechanical LSD, which prevents the inside wheel from spinning, the GTI’s multi-plate unit monitors the car’s wheel speed, vehicle speed and yaw rate to determine which tyre has more grip. It then shifts more grunt (up to 100 percent) to the stickiest wheel, so turn-in understeer is reduced.
Torque vectoring, which throws more twist at the wheel on the outside of the bend, is then used on corner exit, allowing you to pick up the throttle earlier. The diff can even negate the ESC system. If, for example, it detects oversteer, it generates a stabilising ‘yaw moment’ to settle the car without the need for annoying ESC interruptions.