Nestled in the hillside just outside the French tourist town, the luxuriously appointed Villa Belrose Hotel presents a view that is simply sumptuous.
Overlooking a bay, the hotel offers a picturesque scene that stretches as far as the eye can see, with boats and superyachts moored off the French Riviera’s coastline, holding steady in the Mediterranean on a breezy sunny afternoon.
A schooner in the midst lent old-world charm, making for a picture-perfect snapshot.
This could be a laid-back setting for a romantic interlude but we will leave that to besotted couples. It was in such environment that Volkwagen’s international media drive of the latest Golf GTI was held.
In fact, the drive started the moment the Malaysian group touched down at Nice airport.
The cars were waiting and ready to be driven to the hotel on a roundabout route that took in the mountains of Nice and the lovely coastal roads leading to Villa Belrose.
On the surface, it looks like not much has changed with the GTI but the fact is much of the changes have taken place under the skin.
The latest version of the sportiest Golf now comes in two flavours: a standard 217bhp GTI and a 227bhp GTI Performance.
Only the standard one with a 6-speed DSG transmission will be shipped to Malaysia from VW’s Wolfsburg plant in the third quarter. And practicality dictates it be a 5-door hatch.
|The view from Villa Belrose.|
The first Golf GTI, launched 37 years ago, set the standard for dynamic performance that was arguably more precise than any other compact car.
The affordable Volkswagen also made automotive sportiness more attainable than ever for people.
Many would chorus that “everything was simply right about it – the safe and taut chassis, the agile and fuel-efficient injection engine and the car’s styling that was as unmistakable as it was timeless.”
The GTi touches are many: a red stripe around the radiator grille, a black border around the rear windscreen, a sport steering wheel like in the Scirocco Coupé, a golf ball as a gear shift grip, and well formed sport seats with a classic tartan design.
Red-painted brake callipers, two chrome tailpipes and sports suspension complete the picture.
The seventh-generation GTI boasts larger brake discs and a front limited-slip differential.
Like the base Golf, the GTI is based on the new modular transverse matrix (MQB) platform.
Both GTI versions get an upgraded 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder TSI petrol engine developing a maximum torque of 350Nm, up 70Nm from before, with the Performance version having 10 horses more at 227bhp.
They are equipped with a Stop/Start system, Hill Start assist and electric parking.
With a six-speed manual gearbox, they attain a low fuel consumption of 6 litres per 100km. This means that the latest Golf GTI offers an 18% improvement in fuel economy compared to the previous model.
With the optional six-speed DSG gearbox, the two GTI models achieve the same fuel consumption figures of 6.4 litres per 100km.
Such fuel economy is also partly explained by a lighter weight; the car now weighs 42kg less than the outgoing model.
Depending on market, specifications will also include standard bi-xenon headlights with optional LED daytime running lights, radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane assist; park assist and an all-new Car-Net satellite navigation system that sports both Google-Earth and Google Street View.
All in all, the GTI offers a very inviting space to get some frisky driving done.
High horsepower numbers don’t necessarily mean a car is quick on the ball, and many car buyers don’t really understand what torque and horsepower are.
The explanation could be an article in itself, but suffice to say that getting a vehicle to accelerate more quickly means having to crank out more torque or turning force to the drive wheels. Horsepower is the torque divided by time.
And the GTI is plenty torquey.
With 350Nm on tap and a lighter body, the standard GTI accelerates impressively fast across a broad power band, with a 0-100kph sprint times of 6.5s on the clock. It is bested 0.1s by the 227bhp GTI.
Top speed in standard GTI and Performance trims with DSG gearbox are rated at 244kph and 248kph respectively.
At idle, the engine sounds muscular, and full of vigour when on the move. The DSG is well matched to the engine, hardly missing a beat as it shifts smooth and quick to keep time with the engine tempo.
Sweet snarly notes rise from the engine as you flogged it on the straights, up narrow mountain roads and into corners. Crisp throttle blips on downshifts is but part of the soundtrack to be enjoyed.
Inclines don’t seem to exist for the GTI and the limits of performance is just a distant reminder.
The car offers admirable ride quality, rolling over road irregularities with composure. Torque steer is expected but is tamed in the latest GTI setup.
Speeding into bends is rather kart-like, akin to sweeping through on rails, reflecting the supreme confidence of the whole machinery, more so for the Performance variant which gets an improved XDS active differential to rein in understeer.
And you are doing all these from the quiet ambience of the cabin. As a hot hatch, there are no complaints about front row seats. Rear seating space is quite decent for three people though two give better latitude for comfort.
On the way from Nice to St Tropez, we had to navigate past residential neighbourhoods with stop-and-go traffic, which the GTI handled with little drama.
On the face of it, Volkswagen has a winner on its hands. It’s to its credit that it has crafted a GTI that is at once exuberant yet civilised when called upon to behave.
Few cars are built that way. Thank goodness for the GTI.