Imagine the board meeting when the idea of the hot hatch was first mooted. ‘Sir, we’ve done some in-depth market analysis and determined that not everyone has the ability to own both a practical hatchback and a sports car. Let’s build a hatchback that looks tough and is also a hoot to drive’. ‘Jones, well done. Gents – to the production line!’
It’s an idea so plainly obvious today, but back in the day it was a revelation. For decades before there had been practical cars that were fun to drive, such as the original Mini and the Alfasud, but their brio was an almost incidental byproduct. It wasn’t until the 1975 launch of the Volkswagen Golf GTI that a hatchback was specifically engineered and marketed to also be a sports car. The hot hatch category is oversaturated today, but when the GTI was launched the term didn’t even exist. The GTI is one of a very small group of cars that actually created its own market segment.
The white Mk1 you see here is an immaculate example of the first true hot hatch, owned by a local Adelaide enthusiast who campaigns it regularly both in the hills and in club motorsport events. Its 1600cc, Bosch K-Jetronic injected four makes 80kw which is respectable for the day, even more enticing considering it has just 810kg to pull gleefully around. The black fender flares make it look that little bit tougher, and the GTI hallmarks of a red grille surround, tartan seat trim and a golf ball shifter knob are there for the first time.
The Mk7 GTI next to it has just been launched to critical acclaim, and this particular example is the closest in specification we could organize – it’s the same shade of white, a traditional three-pedal manual, and it has the trademark GTI hallmarks of a red grille surround, tartan seat trim and a golf ball shifter knob.
Modern cars have grown in size, although you don’t really notice it until you park one against an old car. The Mk7 is physically huge compared to the Mk1; its wheel rims almost the same size at the entire arches on the earlier car. The now turbocharged Mk7 has more than twice the power at 162kw, but it carries 460kg more heft. Where the original GTI came with only basic trim for weight and cost saving reasons, the contemporary GTI now comes with comfy leather seats, climate control, sat nav, Bluetooth phone system and all the other gizmos expected of the modern car.
You’d struggle to get a new Mk7 GTI on the road for under $45k, so one could argue that it doesn’t exactly fulfill the cheap part of the hot hatch equation anymore. The Mk7 GTI has traded the bargain basement attraction of old for the ability to sub as an acceptable family car, in addition to still being a practical shopping trolley and a fun sports car.
If you’re reading Any Given Reason you’re probably not interested in family car and shopping trolley attributes, so in light of this we took the Mk7 for a decent run through the hills. The biggest revelation of this particular car is its six-speed manual, a brilliantly slick gearbox that brings out the best in the GTI. Volkswagen have lulled us all into a state of DSG zombiness to the point where the Direkt-Schalt-Getriebe seems the only option when buying a GTI, and indeed it is for 75% of buyers. But as good as this technology is getting for city driving, a conventional manual is still the proper choice for smile-inducing hills drives.
Despite the added weight and complexity, the GTI still feels like a good old hot hatch. Maximum torque (350nm) and power is found all the way from 1500-4400rpm so there’s a good shove available when you need it, and the new electro-mechanical steering delivers good feel and weight as well as doing a reasonable job of telegraphing the road surface below. It’s no Lotus, but then again it is a Golf after all.
The Mk7 GTI is a car that you can just get in and drive quickly right away. Within a few kilometers you’re ready to grab it and work it, which is instantly gratifying but ultimately not as rewarding. There’s no challenge, and I did get the feeling that the car was masking my little mistakes, showing me as a better driver than I actually am. For a lot of people this will be a major selling point and likely something the folks at Volkswagen have spent a lot of time and money engineering in, but it leaves me a little hollow. I’d rather the challenge of striving for the perfection that the original Mk1 demands – enter a corner a little too hot, and pay for it on the next straight.
However, where the Mk7 GTI comes into its own is in excelling at exactly what a hot hatch should be – a fun car that covers as many bases as possible. Despite my reservations about it being a touch too mechanized, it’s still a hoot to drive. And the Mk7, more than any other GTI before it, doubles brilliantly as a practical family car.
Thanks to Michael Chapman for the use of the Mk1 in the photos.Adelaide Hills #Basket Range Road #DSG #Golf #GTI #Mk1 #Mk7 #Norton Summit #Volkswagen