Malaysia got a taste of the ‘modern’ Golf GTI some 15 years ago through the Mk5 version which came and caused instant mayhem. This was back when nothing from Europe had the firepower or reverence to play in the same yard with the Japanese supersedans/sportscars. If anything was not dominating rally races around the world, or didn’t make it into a little movie called The Fast & The Furious, it was simply not cool enough. Brutal acceleration on boost, pfisssttt! sound from a blow-off valve, aviation-grade GT wings, and manual boxes with granite-hard clutches were the order of the day.
The (grey imported) GTI was none of that. Apart from the larger wheels, it seemed like a normal, very nice looking hatchback. Granted, this was before Volkswagen had a set-up like we have today in the form of Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia (VPCM), so there was no baseline for the regular Golf.
It made immediate impact. One journalist I met described it as ‘magical’, telling tales of super-fast highway cruising with civil level of comfort. It was a time when I was in take-no-prisoners 300hp (at the conservative end) Lancer Evos and Impreza STIs on a daily basis, which made me curious. “Quick and comfortable? How?”
One drive in the Golf GTI and my benchmark for performance had to be changed. Apparently, fast cars do not need to look like a billboard, for instance; nor did it have to make enough noise to rival a Manowar concert.
Performance-wise, Volkswagen has since not let the ball drop. The GTI is still fast (faster than before, even), efficient, tech-rich, comfortable, and allow petrolheads to grow up and still be naughty. For this part of the world, especially, Volkswagen was the company which gave the turbocharger more depth in character. It also introduced us to the twin-clutch gearbox.
Two generations later, the Golf GTI is possibly still all the car one can ever need. It had the complete package of comfort, power, and style. Granted, it was not practical enough size-wise to be a family’s sole car but everything else was brilliant.
For that reason, the rest in the Golf range came front and centre. The facelifted Golf 7.5 will take it further, with its family of four variants and trim: Golf Sportline, Golf R-Line, Golf GTI, and Golf R.
The media drive was only missing the base Sportline; having said that a flagship Golf R was waiting for us in Johor Bahru – not enough of em’ to go around. But take a look at the extent of changes for the Golf R-Line:
Volkswagen Golf R-Line
The headlights and taillights are all in LED, so is the DRL; plus with active cornering lights. All in the Golf family (except for the Sportline) gets fancy Audi-esque dynamic indicators. The latter does nothing but look cool, something it does very effectively.
The R-Line shares the same powertrain as the Sportline, including its 150ps and 250Nm of torque from a 1.4-litre turbocharged inline-4. There’s also engine stop-start function although the R-Line ups the game with Driving Mode Selection with ECO function. From here on, you can clearly see VPCM got real generous with the spec list with a few standouts: aluminium sports pedals, driver settings personalisation, App-Connect (interface using the 8-inch touchscreen), and – wait for it – the 12.3-inch Active Info Display. At this point you may take a few steps back and rethink how the R-Line is still one of the ‘basic’ variants, for the lack of a better word.
It doesn’t stop there because the safety list is extensive which includes Driver Alert System, ESC, Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS), Tyre Pressure Loss Indicator (TPLI), and seven airbags.
Output: 150ps @ 5,000-6,000rpm, 250Nm @ 1,500-3,500rpm, Economy: 5.2L/100km (claimed) PRICE: RM159,888
Volkswagen Golf GTI
There are a few visual cues to spot the GTI – the main ones are the red trim across the grille which extends into the headlights (of course, also the GTI badge on the grille itself), or the larger 18-inch Milton Keynes alloy (the R-Line gets 17-inch), or the dual tailpipe (one pipe at each flank).
The GTI gets the same 8-inch touchscreen, but in this it also houses the performance monitor; in addition, cabin ambient lighting is standard, the seats are wrapped with perforated leather, and you get parking steering assistance via Park Assist 3.0. Not many cars in this price range has this feature, if any; the system’s sensors will scan a space as you drive by and will prompt you if it is big enough. Then all you need to do is work the throttle and brake as the steering turns itself. Perfect for people with low parking esteem. Yes, I made that term up.
Adaptive Chassis Control that was previously an option now lives in the GTI permanently, allowing the driver to choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Individual. Personally, the Individual setting is overkill because for the most part the GTI is hard and soft at all the right places.
Output: 230ps @ 4,700-6,020rpm, 350Nm @ 1,500-4,600rpm, Economy: 6.4L/100km (claimed) PRICE: RM225,888
Volkswagen Golf R
If you insist on carrying the biggest stick in the family, this is what you go for. This car is not unlike the Batman from the 1960s TV series – not particularly strong-looking, but does pack a punch that goes ‘Kapoww!’.
The inside looks far more intense than the exterior with the ‘Carbon Touch’ decorative inserts and a sombre R ‘Vienna’ perforated leather upholstery in dark grey colour. The touchscreen grows to 9-inch with ‘Discover Pro’ navigation infotainment system. It also sports a massive 10Gb hard drive for music. Seems it’s got Gesture Control too but I did not have the time to test it.
Unfortunately, the Golf R’s 343 litre of boot space loses out on the GTI and R-Line’s slightly larger 380 litre capacity. With the seats folded, you get 1,233 against 1,270 litre. Our test car came with the 19 inch ‘Pretoria Black’ Volkswagen R alloy wheels but there is an optional ‘Spielberg’ diamond-turned surface alloys in the same size too. We like the design of the latter, really.
The Golf R also has all the same extensive safety features as in the GTI, including the Automatic Post Collision Brake System featured in all four Golf variants. What this does is automatic apply controlled braking post-collision to help avoid or mitigate a secondary impact.
Output: 290ps @ 5,500-6,500rpm, 380Nm @ 2,000-5,400rpm, Economy: 6.9L/100km (claimed) PRICE: RM278,888
Fortunately, there really is very little difference to the driving feel in reference to the pre-facelift Golf (if any). And this is good news because there is little to fault to begin with. There is a little bit of firmness to the ride but nothing really to moan about during the long drive from KL to Johor Bahru. Okay, the Golf R might be a little too hard thanks to the 35-profile tyres; I’ll give you that.
There was a touge moment when we went up and down Bukit Putus with the R-Line. 150ps seemed just about adequate, with a slight turbo-lag after a sharp corner. Even then, for a car that’s for the most part is a kitted version of the base Sportline variant, it is impressive; because on the highway and city driving, or indeed going through such hill climb, it’s such a polished ride.
You’ll find that you’re carrying a conversation at the same volume regardless of vehicle speed. This goes for the GTI too, not that we were going at, urmm, legal speeds. The sound system rocks, and I am happy to report that ApplePlay works even with third party cables. It doesn’t seem like a big thing but there are some systems, for whatever reasons, which demand only original cables. And on long solo drives, a big (preferably streamed) collection of music is what you need.
Such is the balance of performance and feel, that there really is very little need to change the Driving Mode Selection setting. Most people will probably set it at Comfort, or Normal, and eventually forget that other settings are there. There real big difference anyway is in Eco, where the throttle response is distinctly rounded and takes away some fun.
I can say the same about the Active Info Display too. It’s a major feature, certainly a good talking point but after a while you sort of get desensitised of its presence. That’s what the Golf is about, it’s almost cold in the sense that it’ll go as fast as you can take it without breaking a stride, but also without a heart-tugging soundtrack or a great deal of presence. Probably the same reason why a lot of owners tend to go to great lengths in making it their own with customisation, aftermarket exhausts, and re-chips.
The Golf R is a different beast altogether – its trump card being that 290ps output and all-wheel drive. There was only one unit available, so instead of a long drive on the open road, VPCM made a decently-sized autocross track in JB for us test the R. To start with the sound was very different because the quad tailpipes include sports flap valves that help to make things interesting.
Unsurprisingly, the power and AWD system made acceleration much better but it’s the gain in traction that helps most in making the car feel faster in such a condition. Turn-ins were much sharper and you can get on the throttle again earlier. Not that the R-Line and GTI felt loose over this slightly-gravelled course, but the R was also clearly more composed.
As amazing as the Golf is, and has always been, everyone is still thinking about the elephant in the room. Volkswagen has taken major flak for one thing or the other. Some of global concern, some more localised. The truth is, the brand has made progress with reliability; but perhaps its impact has yet to undo the mistakes from the past.