DID YOU know Volkswagen didn’t even bother importing the Golf GTI into Australia until 1990 – 14 years after the 1976 original (and the Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti) popularised the hot-hatch concept invented by the Renault 16TS in 1968?
That’s quite a lot of history crammed into one paragraph, but then looking back is what the GTI Original is all about. Of course, to remain true in a local context, the latter would have to pay lip-service to that ’90 Mk2 five-door with its weedy 77kW/155Nm 1.8-litre single-cam lump, five-speed manual ’box and 14-inch steelies. Hardly heady stuff. Even the contemporary Corolla Twin Cam categorically outperformed the esteemed German. Talk about over-expecting and under-delivering.
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Happily, the opposite applies with the cheapest new Golf GTI money can buy.
Extra-wide doors aside (offering unimpeded access to the rear), the comparatively vast cabin follows all Mk7.5 iterations in espousing restrained quality precision from top to toe. Superb front seats provide comfort and bracing at speed, there’s ample room for five tall adults, while the dash’s intelligent functionality remains an industry yardstick.
Cocooned in silky refinement, this GTI Original could just as well be a premium-branded luxo express, regardless of what’s been taken out to keep costs down. Just breathing in the rich aroma says all that.
But this is a hot-hatch grudge match, and here more than anywhere else, 42 years of GTI breeding shows … and shines.
Stick the slick-shifting six-speeder into first, and the turbine-smooth responses that follow as the Golf leaps off the line are formidable, with a favourable power-to-weight ratio helping keep the pace up right to the 6950rpm cut-out. Powertrains don’t come more delectable at this price point.
Volkswagen’s hot-hatch mastery shows in how commandingly weighted and balanced the steering tune is, simultaneously providing feel while seamlessly editing out imperfections. As with the more dynamic drives here, the Original traces the chosen line without breaking a sweat, remaining calm yet playfully chuckable if the red mist descends.
There’s a forgiving attitude at work here, too, enabling a margin of error that allows the Golf to be fluid and faithful, even when the driver isn’t.
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Renato’s reaction to the Golf’s feedback and precision around Haunted Hills reflects the depth of bandwidth at hand. “You feel the rear [is] sliding around and you can exploit that in places to get rid of some of the understeer you’d normally get from a front-driver over the rises,” he remarked. “An absolute ball of fun.”
Back out on the open road, there is a point where the body control feels somewhat looser than the more hardcore handlers such as the telepathically planted Peugeot. Consequently, the GTI requires a bit more effort and commitment keeping up … though this comparative sogginess is only obvious with back-to-back blasts.
Additionally, there isn’t quite the suppleness of GTIs fitted with adaptive dampers (or the 308) either, though the ride improves with more bodies on board.
Still, an overriding dauntlessness defines this Vee Dub’s dynamic character. Thrillingly quick yet incredibly composed and arrestingly refined when it needs to be, a more complete hot-hatch for the money just doesn’t exist right now.
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Welcome, then, to this Megatest’s true ground zero, the standard in which others must meet to beat. The GTI Original is both the perfect starter and all-you’ll-ever-need hot-hatch, and brilliant value to boot.
Though getting on in years now, the GTI is still never far from the top in any given field. As Molly Meldrum may have said if the Mk1 original was available here back in ’76, ‘do yourself a favour…’
Volkswagen Golf GTI Original
Engine: 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Power: 169kW @ 6200rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1500-4600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Tyres: Bridgestone Potenza S001 225/40R18 92Y
Fuel consumption: 14.2L/100km (tested)
Power to weight: 138kW per tonne
0-100km/h: 6.4sec (claimed)
Hot Hatch Megatest Contenders
12th, Score 6/10: Mini Cooper S JCW
11th, Score 6.5/10: BMW 125i
10th, Score 6.5/10: Subaru WRX Premium
9th, Score 7/10: Subaru WRX STI
8th, Score 7/10: Skoda Octavia RS245
7th, Score: 7.5/10: Ford Focus ST
6th, Score: 7.5/10: Renault Clio RS220 Trophy
5th, Score: 8/10: Volkswagen Golf GTI Original
4th, Score: 8.5/10: Volkswagen Golf R Grid
3rd, Score: 8.5/10: Peugeot 308 GTi 270
2nd, Score: 9/10: Honda Civic Type R
Winner, Score: 9/10: Hyundai i30 N