Don’t be misled by VW’s confusing name strategy: there is a GT model hiding in the new Golf Mk VI.
But you just won’t be able to tell your mates about it. Instead, you’ll have to explain you’ve got a Volkswagen Golf 118 TSI (the one with the red ‘SI’ letters, thank you very much!) Comfortline with the optional Sports Package and Adaptive Chassis Control.
Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily, or with as much impact, as a Golf GT Sport does it? But essentially you can create your own in the just-released-in-Oz sixth-generation Golf range.
Start with the base 118 TSI six-speed manual at $30,490 (only if you want it in white, as the rest of the colours are metallic and cost an extra $1000), then option it up with the Sports Package, which adds 17-inch wheels, bigger-bolstered seats and stiffer suspension for an extra $2000, then the Adaptive Chassis Control dampers for $1500, and you’ve got yourself a new-gen GT.
Add a similar amount for the new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission if you want, but it’s been calibrated more for fuel economy than fun as it rows itself through the ratios too quickly, droning at less than 1500rpm even in city traffic, and needing a big boot to kick down. If we need further evidence that economy is the new black, VW has even tuned out the blurt from the exhaust when it changes gears.
And because the DSG still needs to be rowed through the stubby gear lever (and the shifts are back-to-front), we’d stick with the slick-changing and well-weighted manual for the fun factor.
It works well with the revised twin-charged 1.4-litre four-potter, which, like the gearboxes, has been re-tuned for greater economy and lower emissions, reducing peak power from the GT’s 125kW to 118kW (hence the odd name) at 5900rpm, but maximum torque remains at 240Nm on a plateau between 1750rpm and 4500rpm.
Even so, it’s still a surprisingly fun and frugal little engine that, with the low-rev boost of a supercharger below 2500rpm, pulls out of the bottom end with an unexpected degree of urge. The turbo comes on stream seamlessly and drives through the mid-range with the same level of thrust, but it does taper off towards the 6500rpm redline and lacks the whistle and bark that made the GT such a cracking underdog.
Volkswagen has spent a considerable amount of effort on making the Golf VI range as quiet as possible, which is evident on well-maintained roads, but there’s still a noticeable amount of tyre rumble on harsh back-road country stretches.
It’s easy to ignore the rumble when you’re up it for the rent, particularly with the ACC switched on sport, as the chassis is nicely balanced with plenty of front-end feedback, but it does come at the expense of some low-frequency ride quality. At the opposite end of the scale, the comfort mode is a bit too soft even on smooth freeways, where it can become floaty to the point where you almost feel seasick.
But the Golf VI is still remarkably good value, good fun and retains its place as the benchmark small car.