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From LA to Monterey in a Volkswagen Golf GTI: Road trip

By Tom Fraser, 21 Sep 2019 Car Style

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

Cross-California road trip sees us pitting a measly Volkswagen Golf GTI against the automotive royalty of Monterey Car Week

Monterey Car Week, for those that don't know, is the ultimate congregation of special cars the world over.

Car Week includes events like the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, Quail Motorsports Gathering, Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance and the penultimate event, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance – the fanciest of all car shows that's held on the famous 18th hole of Pebble Beach golf course.

It’s an event that’s held my interest for several years, so I’ve recently made it my mission to attend every year as the diversity of cars and events is not to be missed.

More than Car Week, though, I’ve made an enduring group of friends who also attend, so that was also a drawcard for heading to California in August this year.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

After flicking a message to fellow photographer and colleague Alastair Brook gauging his interest in tagging along, we plan our adventure, eventually deciding to hire a Volkswagen Golf GTI from Turo in California for our Monterey mission.

Read next: Monterey Car Week is like Forza Horizon in real life

For those unacquainted, Turo is similar to the house-sharing app Airbnb, in that you can hire privately-owned cars from locals. You’re afforded a whole lot more choice in the cars you can rent, and it can often be more affordable than traditional rental agencies.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

While you can rent anything from a beat-up 10-year-old Honda Civic to a brand-new 2019 Rolls-Royce Wraith, our decision to settle for the happy medium of a Golf GTI was driven by cost and the desire to have something fun to drive around California’s notorious canyon roads.

After coordinating with the owner of our GTI, Kameron, we meet up and take delivery of the car in Beverly Hills a day before we head north towards Monterey.

Read: McLaren teases upcoming speedster at Pebble Beach

Initial impressions immediately highlight the fact that the Golf GTI we’re offered in Australia is not like the one offered in the United States.

Plenty of creature comforts we’re used to are missing like climate control, keyless start, navigation, Active Info Display in the instrument cluster... and heaven forbid we secure the car with a manual handbrake…

While we may pay extra for our cars over in Australia on the whole, at least we have a little extra to show for it.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

That said, we're pretty impressed with our specific car as it was clean, had new-ish tyres on all four corners and had minimal damage.

Renting from Turo can be a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to damage and maintenance as the cars aren’t regulated by the company.

Read next: 10 tips for driving left hand drive cars

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

Ahead of an early start for our six-hour journey north, Alastair and I snugly fit in all our luggage and camera gear within the Golf the night before.

Despite only having to cater to the two of us, we manage to fill the boot (or trunk, y’all) quickly and ended up shoving excess gear into the rear seats.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

In an ideal world, we would have travelled along the iconic Highway 1 which snakes around the coast against the Pacific Ocean all the way north to Monterey.

But having experienced the jaw-dropping views, deathly-scary drops and frustrating caravan traffic in years prior, we elect to head straight north on the interstate highway and join the action in Monterey.

Besides, we have plans to head down to Big Sur national park which Highway 1 cuts through later in the week.

Read: Volkswagen Golf Range Review

There are plenty of nice driving roads throughout Monterey to unleash the GTI on too, so we aren’t devastated about missing the coastal route. 

Although the GTI was always going to be upstaged – in our eyes as well as onlookers – by the cars of Monterey Car Week, we needed something that was fast, economical and fun, so that we didn’t miss out on enjoying the week of driving too.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

It’s hard not to be in awe of the vast topography as you leave Los Angeles, with the massive freeway meandering its way through huge hills which almost turn to mountains. It's a world away from a fairly flat Melbourne.

READ MORE VW Golf GTI Original v Hyundai i30N head to head

A lot of it is dry and even more of it was still burnt black thanks to the 2018 wildfire season that managed to be the deadliest and most destructive in California’s history.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

Despite the state being notoriously bad for traffic (and pollution), we quickly grow fond of driving on the highway, as the locals tend to follow the flow of traffic in terms of speed, rather than be watching their speedometers like a hawk.

It comes down to more lenient police who, in our experience, are fairly laid back unless you behave stupidly on their roads. Locals are also more forgiving if you need to change lanes.

The best way to describe their traffic flow is that the effort is a whole lot more ‘active’ than the traffic we endure in Australia, which is categorically ‘passive’.

Read next: London to Italy in 13 hours in an Audi RS6: European road trip

As we continue north, the traffic thins, allowing us to settle down and experience the Golf. Powering through the interstate is easy, with overtaking easily dispatched by the GTI’s tractable power delivery from its two-litre turbocharged engine.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019After leaving behind the mountains and canyons of Los Angeles, the drive tapers off in interestingness and before we know it, we’ve arrived in Monterey.

First port of call is to head towards the Pebble Beach Golf Course to get the lie of the land. We pick up tickets and make a bee-line to a hotel where two Bugatti EB110s are sitting idly out front next to a Koenigsegg Agera and Lamborghini Miura. Not a bad welcome at all.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

From there, we catch wind of whispers of a McLaren P1 being photographed on the iconic 17 Mile Drive waterfront. No need to tell us twice! We jump in the Golf and thread our way down to the shoot, just in time to catch a sunset shot.

Not that any particular car is difficult to just jump in and go, but we would learn to love the Golf’s proportions, visibility and rear-view camera set-up – super helpful for those quick U-turns and three-point turns.

The following days are spent exploring Monterey, taking photos and making friends. While Volkswagens are often praised for their jack-of-all-trades abilities, they invariably also get called out for being the ‘safe’ choice and sometimes devoid of character.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

Talking specifically about the Golf GTI, we’d argue that its character is exactly that: it is the jack-of-all-trades car that can you can rely on.

The more and more we drive the thing, both Alastair and I continually remark that we’d picked the perfect car for the road trip.

Despite finding itself in Monterey along with classic car royalty, it keeps up with anything we were following, it returned an economical 7.5 litres per 100km and was accommodatingly utilitarian, too.

Read: Everything we know about Volkswagen's MK8 Golf GTI

As handy as it was around town though, we couldn’t fault the driving experience along the twists and turns through the forests of Monterey.

Hearing the turbo spool up through open windows, the exhaust popping as your shift up through the gears... it all just adds to the accomplished drive.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

If there’s one criticism we can level at the Golf GTI it would relate to its gearbox. While definitely one of the better dual-clutch transmissions available, it can still behave like a manual at times, occasionally rolling backwards after taking off, for example.

You just have to be wary of the issue and drive the car accordingly.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

The quality of the car is top-notch as well. This example we rented through Turo had been through nearly 40,000km of driving – rental kilometres, no less – and was still in great shape.

It could have done with another set of tyres, but that’s not the car’s fault.

Read: Do I need an International Driving Permit?

After spending a week driving the Monterey peninsula and photographing the world’s most expensive cars, we high-tail it back to LA for our return journey home.

It wasn’t a direct route home thanks to a navigation error, but the road we stumble upon out of Monterey through Carmel Valley is a twisty one, so there are no complaints.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

Once back in LA, we wash and refuel the Golf GTI before settling into the harsh reality that is Los Angeles traffic. After returning the Golf to its rightful owner we expressed our gratitude and parted ways.

Although there are some horror stories of rental hosts trying to pin damage of their car on you without cause, our Turo host is friendly and professional. He's just happy to get his car back and equally stoked that we’d enjoyed it.

volkswagen golf GTI 2019

In Los Angeles, it's easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the supercar culture. But really, you never need much more than a Golf GTI. It's the perfect car for the perfect week spent chasing down some of the automotive world's finest

We can't recommend this trip enough if you're keen on cars. Nothing we did was unachievable for the average Joe, so mark it in your calendar for 2020 and we'll see you there!


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