I’m a cheating, adulterous bastard. There, I’ve said it. Ever since the Volkswagen Golf GTI P landed in my garage, I’ve been keeping a big, fat, dirty secret – this isn’t my first long-term GTI experience. I’m actually a GTI owner.
My GTI is a 2007 Mk5 DSG with 71,000km on the clock and, despite most of my driving now being soaked up by newer press cars, I’ve kept it for the occasional weekend punt. Until now, it’s been the perfect hot hatch companion. In five years of ownership, nothing has gone wrong, bar a faulty oxygen sensor that cost $100 to fix.
The arrival of the Mk7 GTI P, however, has not been good for our relationship. Every time I drive the Performance, it feels like I’m jumping into bed with the Mk5’s younger, hotter sibling. It’s more fun, looks better and, thanks in part to its electronic front diff, is sharper, too.
Given the Performance is seven years younger and bristling with Volkswagen’s latest tech, you’d expect this. But there are some things the older car does better.
I prefer the Mk5’s tartan-trimmed front seats for one. Unlike those in the Performance, they’re made by Recaro and have better lateral support. The Mk5’s seating position is lower, too, and I favour its slightly cushier ride on taller 225/45R17 tyres. The Performance rolls on bigger, stickier 225/35R19 hoops. You can also turn the Mk5’s stability control off completely, something you can’t do in the track-focused GTI Performance.
That’s where the positives stop, though. The Performance is undoubtedly safer, faster and smoother (thanks mostly to its updated and more intuitive DSG gearbox), and it’s also more flexible. Unlike my one-size-fits-all Mk5, you can change the Performance’s character at the press of a button. Hidden (annoyingly) behind the gearstick on right-hand-drive models is the Drive Mode Select system, which offers Normal, Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual settings.
Each mode alters the car’s adaptive dampers, the weight of the electric steering and the shift points for the six-speed DSG. So far, most of my time was spent in Normal, but this month I ventured into Eco to save some juice. One tank and 560km later, the Golf returned 8.9L/100km – a figure that’s one litre better than my best so far in Normal.
But there was a price to pay. Unlike Normal mode, and even Comfort, which both strike a sweet balance between a comfortable ride, suitable throttle response and precise gear shifts, switching to Eco was like clubbing the Performance over the head. Its rorty engine suddenly felt too docile, while its throttle response became doughy and the gearbox frustratingly jerky in traffic. It’s a mode best left for the freeway.
Sport, too, is a step too far for regular driving due to its sharper suspension, but it’s perfect for the track or the occasional weekend punt – where the GTI P will continue to usurp my Mk5’s honest, but ageing, performance.
Click here to read the full review on the Volkswagen Golf range.
This article was originally published in Wheels October 2014.