IT’S a bitter pill that I’m not rich. There’s no silver spoon stuck to my tongue, I have no diamond mines to inherit and sadly no trust funds to collect. But yesterday I experienced a problem usually reserved for the wealthy – which performance car to take to the track.
Wheels magazine had a day booked at the tortuous, twisting piece of tarmac that is the Haunted Hills circuit and, happily, I had two hot hatches sitting in the driveway – my long-term GTI and a Renaultsport Megane.
I’d booked the Renault for exactly this opportunity. Widely regarded in the Wheels office as the hot-hatch benchmark, I wanted to test its renowned razor-sharp dynamics against the Golf’s. But with two cars and only one person to drive them, I had to choose.
In the end, the fact I had yet to take the Golf to its limit won out over the Megane’s promise of old-school manual gearbox fun.
In any case, after a week at the wheel of both cars, I was almost convinced the Golf is the better hot hatch. While both cars ride well considering their big 19-inch wheels, the firmer, more focused Megane jars where the supple Golf is compliant.
It’s the same story inside, with the Renault’s hard Recaro bucket seats growing uncomfortable over long distances compared to the Golf’s supportive, Alcantara-trimmed pews. Interior quality is better in the Golf as well, as are its ergonomics. Sure, French cars should be quirky, but I’d grown tired of having to lean forward from the driver’s seat to reach the dash-mounted touchscreen. And the instrument dials point at the roof, not the driver.
Then there’s the sound. Compared to the Golf’s tasty note and DSG crack on upshifts, the Renault’s exhaust is virtually silent. It redeems itself in RS mode, where it produces a strong induction noise at high revs, but the Renault’s soundtrack just isn’t as involving.
The burning question, though, was could the GTI keep its nose in front on the track? Well, after a day belting around Haunted Hills’ unforgiving bends, it would appear not. I have no doubt the razor-sharp manual Megane would have been faster and more fun at the limit than the Golf. But only just.
Supple and rewarding, the Golf’s playful chassis and strong, willing engine make it a hoot at 10-tenths. Throw the Performance at an apex and you can feel the electronic front diff reducing understeer before the tyres grip and the chassis pivots behind your hips into benign oversteer. It’s predictable and fun at the limit, yet has one inescapable flaw – its electronic nanny. Even with all the computers turned off, the GTI’s safety net intervenes, meaning moments of fun are swiftly and brutally shut down.
While annoying, the VW’s heavy-handed stability control can’t sway my overall decision. In my opinion, the GTI Performance is the better hot hatch. Yes, the sharper, more involving Megane trumps it at the track, but it can’t match the Golf’s liveability. A hot hatch should be everything to all drivers and, while the Renault decisively nails the hot part, I prefer the Golf’s more complete skill set.
Click here to read the full review on the Volkswagen Golf range.
This article was originally published in Wheels September 2014.