I should be used to it, after witnessing six previous generations of Volkswagen Golf, but somehow I still kid myself that the next one will be different.
It never is, although perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, because the Golf GTI remains the one car that every other car maker aspires to beat, and thus far it remains the benchmark sporting hatchback that does everything well, and some things exceptionally well.
To coincide with the launch of the seventh-generation Golf in Paris, Volkswagen has revealed what they describe as “a concept of the GTI Golf” on the same stand. Of course it looks like the real deal – in recent years German car makers have taken to describing their almost-ready production cars as ‘concepts’, then surprise us four months later by revealing an identical production version.
Just like Santa, we’ve come to realise that it’s all just a ‘pretence’ (sorry kids!), but we play along anyway in a suitably good-spirited manner.
So, let me introduce you to the new Mk7 Golf GTI Concept (nudge-nudge). It’s powered by an advanced engine from the existing EA888 series, which we understand is different to the latest 2.0 TFSI as fitted to the new 296bhp Audi S3.
In Volkswagen’s Golf GTI, the 2.0-litre turbocharged direct-injection petrol engine produces 217bhp (10 bhp more than the outgoing Golf GTI), but for the first time in the car’s history, the GTI will also be available, direct from the factory, with a ‘performance pack’, boosting the car’s maximum power up to 227bhp.
That’s still a long way short of Renault’s 261bhp Mégane RS, Ford’s new 246bhp Focus ST or even Vauxhall’s 276bhp Astra VXR, but the GTI has nearly always lagged behind its competitors in terms of pure straight-line performance – its strength lies in the breadth of its abilities.
In the base 217bhp Golf GTI, maximum torque has been increased by 52lb-ft (70 Nm) to 258lb-ft (350 Nm) – the same as the previous Golf R, which translates into a zero to 62 mph time of 6.6 seconds, or 6.5 seconds when fitted with the performance pack. The GTI’s top speed is quoted at 153mph, or 155mph when propelled by 227bhp.
Fuel economy improves, not only because the new Mk7 Golf weighs up to 100kg lighter than the Mk6 thanks to its lightweight MQB platform, but also because Volkswagen now equip it with their Stop/Start system as standard.
With a six-speed manual gearbox, the GTI is expected to return 47.1 mpg (an 18 per cent improvement over the Mk 6), with carbon dioxide emissions of 140 g/km. A six-speed DSG gearbox is available as an option for both power levels, which should improve those figures even further.
The performance pack doesn’t just increase the GTI’s power output, it also adds larger diameter front brake discs and a front axle differential lock that reduces understeer.
Both GTI models now use a variable ratio steering system, which reduces steering input perceptibly when manoeuvring and parking. On a twisting country road, the steering becomes more direct and predictable at higher speeds.
As with recent generations of the Golf GTI, the Mk7 is distinguished by familiar styling details including red brake callipers, honeycomb grille with double red stripe detail, smoked LED rear lights and LED licence plate illumination and chrome 80 mm diameter tailpipes.
Inside, there are tartan sports seats, a flat bottomed steering wheel, GTI golf ball gear knob and GTI-specific red ambience lighting – all of which harks back to the trend-setting original.
As if to further reinforce my earlier point of this not ‘really’ being a concept – Volkswagen has already confirmed that the new Golf GTI will go on sale throughout mainland Europe in early 2013, with UK customers receiving their cars from summer 2013.