Borrowing the GTI from Alex last month proved quite a humorous experience, for me anyway. He’d expected me to turn up and swap his GTI Performance for a Mercedes ML63 AMG, in all its 500-horsepower V8 glory. But the office big-wigs had suddenly allocated the AMG elsewhere, which meant it was no longer available. Instead, I arrived to swap the Golf for something slightly less powerful: a Kio Rondo.
Thankfully, Alex wouldn’t be home when I handed the keys to his fair lady. Yet as soon as the seven-seat people-mover from Korea rolled up instead of a German steamroller, she sensed something was amiss. The alarm bells (my phone) soon rang, but Alex had to accept the decision was set in stone.
A drive to Sydney for Robbo’s farewell dinner was a 2000km round trip I’d done in reverse in a Mk5 GTI five years ago, with the same girlfriend alongside. So I stopped thinking about the possible advantages of a Rondo over an ML63 (umm, fewer fuel stops, less extrovert…) and instead reminisced about the good old days. Did the newbie shame the Mk5? Not at all.
Maybe I’m getting used to GTIs, because I like this car, but I can’t love it like I did that stubby red three-door in 2009. Perhaps that’s because the old one was a manual whereas the new one has fallen foul of fashion with its DSG – a gearbox I’ve never liked because it occasionally leaves you high and dry when you mash the pedal.
The larger Mk7 easily swallowed several super-sized mounted posters in the back, and should humans have wanted a ride they would’ve been comfier in the newbie, too. Yet the extra space didn’t make an ounce of difference up front and, despite the newer MQB architecture, the Mk7’s economy of 7.2L/100km didn’t touch the 6.2L/100km of the old Mk5, even with the new bypass for Holbrook (and its eerie submarine).
Both generations are brilliant on a winding road, and the Mk7’s harder punch is a welcome trade-off for the fuel economy difference, but it was hardly needed on this trip. What was a boon was the adaptive chassis – I wouldn’t buy a new GTI without it – but then there’s the price…
I was shocked to learn, having just returned to Oz, that this car costs nearly $50K. Sure, coffee is a million bucks now, and houses cost your first-born, but when there’s an all-wheel-drive Golf R in showrooms for $51K, the GTI has just been ousted in my ‘realistic’ fantasy garage.
The Kia Rondo, of course, was never in it.
Click here to read the full review on the Volkswagen Golf range.
This article was originally published in Wheels November 2014.