Star Road Test


From Motor Magazine, December 18th, 1976  

Homologation Special that is remarkable for its quietness and refinement as well as high performance and excellent road holding. Very good economy, so exceptional value for money. Only available in left-hand-drive.

Volkswagen have made no secret of their intention to take part in various forms of motor sport, nor have they tried to conceal the fact that the Golf GTI, the subject of this test, is one instrument of that intention. The Golf GTI is being sold to the public at least partly to conform with Group 1 homologation regulations which require that a minimum of 5000 examples should be built.

Understated Golf GTI performs extremely well.

VW are by no means the first manufacturer to do this, of course. Other companies have followed the same path for the same reasons, introducing such cars as the Ford RS2000 in consequence. The general idea is to achieve a major improvement in the performance and road holding of a family saloon which is inherently light, lively and nimble. If done well - and the GTI has been done very well indeed - the result is not only suitable for competition, but also a taut high-performance car entirely acceptable to the ordinary driver with sporting tastes.

The GTI is based on the standard Golf 1600, retaining the same all-independent suspension by MacPherson struts at the front and trailing arms at the rear. But with bowl-in-piston combustion chambers, an increased compression ratio, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and other modifications the output of the transversely mounted 1588cc engine has been raised to 110 bhp. To cope with the extra performance, ventilated disc front brakes are fitted, while to obtain the required improvement in road holding, the ride height has been reduced, an anti-roll bar has been added at each end of the car and fatter wheels and tyres are fitted. Externally the car is distinguishable by its extended wheelarches, front spoiler and rear wiper. Inside, rally-type front seats, a rev-counter and an oil temperature gauge are also among the standard fittings.

The car created by all these modifications does well in most of the areas important to a homologation special but achieves much more besides: its standard of refinement is remarkable for any small production saloon, still more so for one which is highly tuned. And at 3372 (new price in 1975) it is competitively priced in its own sector of the market, unlike most German cars which are heavily penalised by the low value of the pound. If Volkswagen are as successful in competition as they have been in developing this car they will prove formidable opponents.


4 out of 5

Volkswagen's basic sohc 1588cc engine has been extensively modified to produce the power output required. Structurally the biggest change has been the adoption of bowl-in-piston combustion chambers in place of the conventional kind, but bigger inlet valves are also fitted and the compression ratio has been raised from 8.2:1 to 9.5 :1. An oil cooler is fitted to keep down the engine temperature.

The fuel is not metered by a carburettor but by a Bosch K-Jetronic continuous flow injection system which has shown itself capable of giving outstanding results in other cars. Its most important feature is its use, in place of pressure and temperature sensors, of a direct air flow measuring device involving a floating plate which varies its position with the rate at which air is drawn into the engine and allows the fuel to be apportioned accordingly.

1.6 litre produces 110bhp and is superbly refined.

The net result of all these changes is to raise the power out-put to a claimed 110 (DIN) bhp at 6100 rpm - way above the 85 bhp of the Scirocco/Passat GLS versions of the engine, let alone the 75 bhp of an ordinary Golf 1600. Maximum torque is a healthy 10l1b ft, though developed at a very high engine speed of 5000 rpm.

As might be expected, this makes the GTI a pretty brisk car, but what impressed us far more was its combination of high performance with a level of smoothness, quietness and refinement which is quite exceptional for a mass-produced 1.6 litre saloon, let alone a highly tuned one. Even at its 6900 rpm limit, the engine sounds completely unfussed and its noise level remains remarkably low. Other manufacturers please copy!

Almost equally impressive was the low-speed torque available as demonstrated by the way in which the engine would pull without hesitation from below 20 mph in top gear - equivalent to just over 1000 rpm. It is confirmed by the good acceleration times in top gear for each 20 mph increase in speed 9.8s for both the 30-50 mph and the 40-60 mph increments, for example. We suspect this virtue, along with the complete lack of any flat spots or hesitations, to be due to clever manifold design combined with the excellence of the K-Jetronic fuel injection system.

Although our test car was certainly fast for a 1600, its speed and acceleration did not match Volkswagen's claims. The maximum speed, for example, was 108 mph as against a claimed 113 mph, and the 0-60 mph acceleration time was 9.65 compared with an expected time of less than 9.0. VW's claims in the past have been honest and realistic, so perhaps our test car was below par.


4 out of 5

Unfortunately we were unable to attach our fuel flow meter to the complex K-Jetronic injection system, but VW's claims of 50.4 mpg at a constant 50 mph and 38.2 mpg at a constant 70 mph seems entirely realistic, as do their other figures which would lead to a touring consumption of 36.7 mpg. This, incidentally, would give a range of around 360 miles from the 9.9 gallon tank.

Mk1 Golf turned street racer.

All this fits in well with the consumption values of well over 30 mpg which we obtained when driving the car gently, and with our 28.5 mpg overall figure, which is outstandingly good in view of the performance - and another of the car's important virtues.


4 out of 5

Operated by a floor-mounted lever topped with a knob shaped like a large golf ball - but coloured black - the GTI's gearchange is a delight to use, Its light, precise action fully complements the smooth and responsive character of the engine.

The gearbox ratios are the same as the standard 1600's, but the final drive gearing has been raised from 3.90:1 to 3.70:1 giving 18.4 mph/1000 rpm in top. The engine pulls so well at low speeds, though, that this fairly high gearing is no disadvantage, and the car was easily able to accomplish a restart on the 1-in-3 slope. But because 90 mph can be attained in third, and because the engine is very quiet even at high rpm, it is easy to forget to change up when travelling at moderate speed.


4 out of 5

The GTI retains the Golf's basic suspension system - MacPherson struts at the front and trailing arms at the back - but in an extensively modified form. The torsion bar which links those rear trailing arms, for example, is augmented by an additional anti-roll bar and another anti-roll bar is fitted at the front. The spring and damper rates have been changed, the car has been lowered by nearly 1 inch and it runs on 175/70 tyres fitted to 5inch rims in place of the usual 155 tyres and 51/2inch rims. According to the VW engineers, the result is to cut the maximum roll angle from about 61/2 deg to less than 41/2 deg and to raise the maximum sustainable cornering force at a steady speed from around 0.73g to about 0.81g.

Front sports seats are superb.

In our view the result is a car which corners very well indeed and is very nimble and responsive with mild initial understeer which means that it can be driven fast along a twisty road without much effort. At higher cornering forces, though, it begins to understeer strongly, especially on tight bends in the wet. It is also a little inconsistent at times: a bump in the road surface or a high initial rate of turn can reduce the basic under steer considerably.

The steering is low geared, but light and precise with enough feel to give some warning of impending front end breakaway in the wet. Strangely, though, it becomes rather dead at the higher cornering speeds possible in the dry, and under hard acceleration from rest there is occasionally a trace of the added frictional stiffness combined with tuggings at the driver's hands from which the first VWs with negative offset steering originally suffered. Despite the front spoiler, too, the car is just a little unstable in a straight line at high speeds.


4 out of 5

To cope with the extra performance, the Golf's braking system has been up-rated for the GTI: ventilated rather than solid discs are fitted at the front and a larger servo is provided as is a pressure relief valve for the rear circuit. As for the standard 1600cc model the rear brakes are of the drum type.

This system is admirably progressive in action and also very light: a pedal force of 70 Ib was enough to send the dial of our Tapley off the end of its scale, indicating a deceleration of more than 1g. No fade was experienced during fast driving on the road, but the pedal force required rose by 15 Ib halfway through our 20 stop test. Several stops were needed before the brakes recovered from a soaking in the water splash. The handbrake held the car securely on the l-in-3 slope, even when the car faced downwards, but could only manage a 0.3g retardation on the flat.


4 out of 5

Though the Golf is little more than 12 ft long and only weighs just over 16 cwt, there's more room inside it thanks to its front-wheel-drive and transverse engine than in many a rear-wheel-drive car 2 ft longer and 4 cwt heavier. Thus the driver's seat has a range of adjustment which provides ample legroom for the tall, and even when it is in its rearmost position there is enough space behind it for a person of average size, though some sharing of the available space will be called for if both driver and passenger are tall. The nearly horizontal line of the roof means that there is also good headroom in the rear seat.

Rev counter standard on GTI.

The luggage space is not quite so generous, the boot taking 6.6 cu ft of our suitcases though, of course, it can be increased in size very considerably by folding the rear seat forwards. There are plenty of places to stow oddments, though. Apart from the hinged boot cover which lifts up with the tailgate but can be used as a parcel shelf, there are two small but useful cubbies in the central console, a parcel shelf under the facia on the passenger's side and an open glovebox above it.


3 out of 5

With anti-roll bars at front and rear, different spring and damper rates and a ride height reduced by nearly 1inch, the GTI's suspension has been tuned for handling rather than comfort, yet the ride is little different from that of a standard Golf 1600. Firm at all times, it is certainly a little restless and jiggly at low speeds and over small irregularities of cobblestone size. But it smoothes out at higher speeds and is well controlled on undulations, giving an entirely acceptable standard of comfort for a small saloon. There is some crash-through however, on man-hole covers and the like, while cat's eyes create a lot of bump-thump.


3 out of 5

Perhaps the two best features of the GTI's interior are its firmly padded yet very comfortable rally-type front seats which are attractively upholstered in a tartan cloth. Their reclining backrests incorporate head restraints and provide good lumbar and lateral support, while the range of fore-and-aft adjustment is ample for tall drivers.

The major controls, such as the gearlever, handbrake and pedals are mostly well laid out, save in one respect important to a car of so sporting a character: the proximity of the central console - totally unnecessary in a front-wheel-drive vehicle with a transverse engine - to the accelerator makes it difficult to heel-and-toe.

Golf GTI has a bright future.

A pair of stalks place the majority of the minor facilities under fingertip control, but the rear wash/wipe switch is tucked rather inaccessibly under the facia. This is arranged so that it is difficult to operate the wipers without a preliminary squirt of the washer which we would prefer to control independently.


3 out of 5

With slim, well located pillars, plenty of glass and a body with flat sides, forward visibility is good and the Golf is easily aimed through small gaps. It is also easy to judge the position of the stubby tail, but the area swept by the rear wiper (an absolutely essential item of equipment, as the tailgate window gets very dirty in wet weather) is not well placed for a left-hand-drive car used on left-hand rule roads. Similarly the mirror, with its field of view necessarily angled to the nearside, does not give the best rearward visibility and the back pillars create some obstruction at angled junctions.

The light output and beam pattern of the headlamps is only fair, and the car lacks the headlamp washers we would expect to see on a high-performance sporting car of this price.


4 out of 5

In front of the driver are two well-located circular dials of reasonable size: a speedometer incorporating total and trip mileometers and a matching rev-counter incorporating fuel and water temperature gauges. These instruments are easy to read and attractively styled but calibrated in large steps. We don't like the conical glasses which cover them, but they do minimise unwanted reflections with tolerable efficiency at the expense of a little distortion.

Two dials show oil temp and clock.

In the central console are two additional and smaller instruments: a clock and an oil temperature gauge - an oil pressure gauge would be more useful in our opinion.


3 out of 5

A long travel leaver moving in a horizontal arc controls the heater temp, while two levers above it with shorter movements regulate the volumes of heated air directed to the footwell and windscreen. Symbols by this last lever rather confusingly imply that movement of it to a certain spot will bring in the booster fan, whereas this is separately controlled by a knob.

Without this booster fan the throughput of heated air is meagre, even at speed. It becomes adequate when the fan is set to its first speed, ample on the second or third, but both these are noisy. It is not easy to control the temperature finely, so the interior of the car can become stuffy when just a little heat is needed.


2 out of 5

Like all other versions of the Golf we have tested the GTI has poor ventilation. Small cheese-cutter type vents at the ends of the facia admit fresh air, but the flow is meagre under ram pressure alone and not very strong even when fan boosted. It is insufficient to prevent the car from becoming stuffy when the heater is in use.


4 out of 5

Although we expect reasonable quietness of any road car sold to the public for a substantial sum of money, we would hardly be surprised to find refinement among the less striking virtues of a car introduced largely to conform with Group 1 racing homologation requirements. But we were surprised by the Golf GTI: it's not merely quiet by the standards of direct competitors like the Escort RS2000; it's quiet by the standards of any 1.6 litre car. In particular, the very smooth and un-fussed engine isn't obtrusive even at its 6900 rpm limit. It does take on a rather insistent drone at above 90 mph in top, but at any lower speed, the car cruises in a relaxed way as there is little wind noise. There isn't much transmission noise, either, and the road noise is moderate.


4 out of 5

The GTI's mechanical modifications are complemented by an extensive list of additional fittings. The two rally-type front seats are the main feature of the fully carpeted interior, and the tartan cloth with which they are covered is also used for the bench seat at the rear. A rev-counter, two-speed wipers with delay, and a heater, washer and wiper for the rear window are all standard fittings, as is an additional central console incorporating two cubbies, a clock and an oil temperature gauge. Alloy wheels and tinted glass are available as extras.


4 out of 5

In the past we have had cause to criticise the Golf's finish, but the GTI seemed better put together than the models previously tested. There were fewer creaks and rattles from the tailgate, and apart from a vibration in the facia audible when the engine idled, there was little to complain of.


The GTI carries the same warranty as an ordinary Golf and requires servicing at the same intervals: 10,000 miles with an oil change recommended at 5000 miles. Nor does the engine's high state of tune create any clutter under the bonnet. The oil cooler fits neatly beside the radiator and the K-Jetronic injection system does not interfere with the accessibility of other components such as the brake reservoir and distributor.


When a manufacturer develops a car with competition specifically in mind, we expect the result to have taut, precise handling, unusually high cornering powers and exceptional performance for its engine size. In all these respects the Golf GTI, introduced partly to conform with Group 1 racing requirements, largely met our expectations. With a maximum speed of 108 mph, for instance, it was certainly fast, even though we have good reason to believe the engine of our test car to be below par. The GTI's gearchange is very good, too, and both its handling and road holding are excellent, while not quite matching the very high standards set by the Alfa Romeo.

The big surprise, though, lies in the GTl's unexpected and quite remarkable quietness and refinement. A certain amount of road noise is transmitted, it is true, to the interior, but there is very little wind noise and the level of engine noise even at high rpm - is extremely low. Add to this a competitive price which includes many useful extras and the result is a very fine car.



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