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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI – First Drive

As I said before: I don’t care if you’re getting tired of me mentioning it every time I get a chance, but I love the GTI. Always have. It all started in Austria in 1981 when I was fortunate enough to be staying in the beautiful village of Nußdorf am Attersee near Salzburg. One morning I was hitchhiking to another mountain resort in Bad Mitterndorf to visit friends who were staying there.  After standing on the side of the road with my thumb out for a good hour, a black GTI (first generation Mk1) went by me and hit the brakes hard, stopping a fair distance away. I run, he backed up and rolled the window down: “Wohin gehst du?” and I got in.

The 80 km stretch of the road between Nußdorf and Bad Mitterndorf was all twisty and curvy black tops over two mountain ranges that just begged to be driven hard. The driver (a middle-aged man wearing a wool sweater), after establishing that our conversation would not get too complicated due to my broken German, decided to focus on the driving. And focus he did. I was 18, had limited experience driving fast and to me it seemed like he was trying to scare me to death while testing the absolute limits of the GTI’s performance envelope. I was terrified, but amazed at the same time and the GTI performed flawlessly. The seat held me firmly in place, the engine sang nicely almost always near redline as the car smoothly rotated from turn to turn. It was poetry in motion and I was hooked.

After I moved to Canada in 1982, I found the Canadian car market to be somewhat lacking in well-handling affordable cars. Those were the days of Cimarrons, slow Corvettes and other assorted Delta 88 Royale Brougham boats on wheels. There were some decent European cars available, but they were either expensive or notoriously unreliable. I eventually settled for a brand new second-generation 1985 Volkswagen Golf. The car was no rocket, but offered a good driving position, good handling and strong brakes. I was happy and enjoyed five other VW’s and three Audis over the next 25 or so years.
I always liked VW’s and the GTI was my favorite. So when Volkswagen Canada invited me to the 2015 Golf Driving Experience Digital Media Day, I was thrilled. We were to talk about and sample the new 2015 Golf and the GTI. The breakfast and the Q & A session were hosted by the very knowledgeable Thomas Tetzlaff, Public Relations Manager at Volkswagen Group Canada. We also had a video conference with Wolfsburg’s two VW insiders, who answered questions about the new Golf, the new MQB platform, VW’s North American production plans and future products (more on that in future blogs).
There were several cars on display and six GTI’s and 1.8 TSI Golfs on hand for us to drive. Professional race car drivers were manning the passenger seats to ensure our safety and offer guidance on how to tackle the tight course laid out at one of the parking lots at the Woodbine Race Track.
I did four laps in the new GTI first and was very pleased with the way the new car responds and feels. It is slightly lower, wider and longer than the last generation Golf was, but somehow it felt even more comfortable and roomy. The interior layout and driving position are first-grade. The car felt solidly planted with lots of grip and very little lean, brake dive or push at the front wheels. The electric steering is one of the best in the business and far superior to most systems, even with much pricier competition.
The 1.8 TSI car was of course much softer and, as a consequence, more prone to leaning in turns and diving slightly under hard braking, yet the car still felt solid and stable at all times.
Well, that was a very enjoyable 2015 Golf Driving Experience event for us. Thank you VW and all the marketing gurus who helped. Thanks also to Krystyna Lagowski of www.drivelikeagirl.ca for great company and for shooting the video of some of my shenanigans behind the wheel of the new Golf.
I’m looking forward to sampling the GTI on our streets and highways and reporting my observations. Admittedly, not too objectively, but what can you do when you’re in love with a car?


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