Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 30
by David Finlay (13 February 2007)
The Golf GTI Edition 30 combines celebration and anticipation in one package. As its name implies, it marks the 30th anniversary of the original GTI, but it also hints at what the ultimate Golf might be like in the near future.
The 1500 examples of the Edition 30 which will be brought to the UK are distinguished visually from other GTIs by a few styling modifications including a new front spoiler, body-coloured front and rear bumpers, silver sill plates with Edition 30 branding and unique "Pescara" alloy wheels. Inside, the body-hugging sports seats are unique to this car, and in a nostalgic throwback to the very first GTI the gearknob has the approximate shape and indentations of a golf ball.
This is all very nice, but at the same time trivial. Of far more importance is the fact that the Edition 30 is also the most powerful production Golf that Volkswagen has ever built. Its two-litre turbocharged direct injection petrol engine is essentially the same as that in the regular GTI, but it has been tweaked to produce power that takes it into a different division of the increasingly complex hot hatch market.
Volkswagen was roundly criticised for applying the all-but-holy GTI tag (which it was the first manufacturer to use) to about half the cars in the MkIV Golf range. With the introduction of the current MkV came a significant change of policy. No Golf, it was decreed, would be described as a GTI unless it produced at least 200PS - the continental European equivalent of 197bhp. That's why there is no diesel GTI; the only diesel which could reasonably be made to fit under the bonnet falls well short of the target at 168bhp.
Even the 2.0 T-FSI GTI barely qualifies, though, since it produces exactly 197bhp. The Edition 30 is a different matter. Volkswagen has coaxed 15% more power out of the engine, so that in this application it gives a maximum of 227bhp. That's enough to put it ahead of the Ford Focus ST, and bring it within hailing distance of the Vauxhall Astra VXR, the Mazda3 MPS and Volkswagen's own 3.2-litre V6 Golf R32 (which, however, is more nose-heavy than the GTI and has poorer balance as a result). Without question, the Edition 30 is a serious player.
As well as being just over £1700 more expensive than the standard GTI (and, at Group 18, one insurance level up the scale), the Edition 30 is also appreciably quicker. The three-door car with manual transmission tested here improves on the GTI's 0-62mph time by 0.4 seconds, setting a new mark of 6.8 seconds, and its top speed is 6mph higher at 152mph (DSG cars accelerate even more briskly but have lower maximum speeds).
Straightline performance isn't everything, though. A hot hatch has to corner well too, so what has Volkswagen done in that respect to make the Edition 30 cope with this extra power? Nothing whatever. The suspension, I'm assured, is exactly the same as it is on the 197bhp GTI. That's a fine-handling car, no question, but can the same set-up really cope with all that extra grunt?
The simple answer is that yes, it can. Easily. Oh, I won't waste your time by pretending that everything is rosy. Despite the large number of contenders these days, and the dizzying power outputs some of them can achieve, I don't think this is a golden age of hot hatches. I don't believe that any manufacturer does the job as well as it can be done. With the current GTI and Edition 30, Volkswagen comes closest, but there's room for improvement.
Regular readers will be familiar with this argument to the point of stupefaction, but here goes anyway. The single worst thing about the Edition 30 is that those unique 18" alloy wheels are fitted with low profile 40 section tyres. I suspect that this is a marketing ploy which was not enthusiastically received by the chassis engineers, since the rubber clashes horribly with the relatively soft suspension (a little too soft in extreme circumstances, but nicely judged apart from that). There should be - but isn't - a smaller wheel, taller tyre option for customers who rate driving experience higher than bling quotient.
Much as I'd like to change the world by spreading the true faith about this sort of thing, I might as well try to quell a hurricane by spitting at it. And in any case, none of this alters the fact that the standard GTI suspension is more than a match for the Edition 30's extra power. Even applying a bootful of throttle at the apex of a steep uphill hairpin on a damp surface produces only the mildest protest. In less violent but still strenuous conditions, the car seems to suggest that even 227bhp isn't enough to cause it any sleepless nights.
Supercar enthusiasts probably won't agree with this, but in most categories - certainly the hot hatch one - a high-performance road car is only really satisfactory if it can also be driven slowly. With the Edition 30, the ride quality from those bleeding tyres gets worse as the speed drops, so it's a pig of a thing to drive through town. Putting that complaint to one side for the last time in this article (promise), I have to say that the car is otherwise superb in this respect.
The key example during this test came when I came round a tight right-hander in a Yorkshire village at 20mph, and accelerated gently to 30 up a very steep hill. It was only once I'd done this that I remembered the car was still in fourth gear. There wasn't the slightest hint of a struggle from the engine, which I later established must have been turning over at as little as 1200rpm.
From this speed - not much higher than tickover - it keeps pulling and pulling and pulling until the revlimiter spoils the fun at 7000rpm. Even in these days of clever turbocharging techniques and intricate electronic control, this is impressive stuff from a unit which pumps out more than 110bhp from every litre.
It's also one of various things which might work against the Edition 30 (and indeed the standard GTI). If you want a screamer of an engine, which provides thrills only at the top end and makes an incredible noise while doing so, the Golf will disappoint you. If you want hairy, on-the-edge handling, you've come to the wrong place - the car is just too sure-footed for that. Extraordinary dynamic ability strengthens the hot hatch experience, but to some people it may also bleach the more vibrant colours out of it.
Not to me, though. I want a car to do what I tell it to, and the Edition 30 does that while also providing greater acceleration than has been known of any previous Golf. As modern-day hot hatches go, this one is a very fine piece of work - and despite the lack of official word on the subject, I can hardly believe that it won't one day take on the duty of being the "real" Golf GTI, and not remain as a limited-availability teaser.