First UK drive

The world is going green, and car makers are doing their bit. Alternative fuels are the best bet, but they’re a way off yet.

What’s needed is something we can get to grips with today – something like the clever new Golf GT; a car offering 2-litre performance from a 1.4-litre engine. Stuart Milne investigates.

I’ve seen this all before. Sitting in a presentation with VW’s top brass, I thought: ‘yeah, a 1.4 making 168bhp? That’ll be the day.’

And then I drove the Golf GT…and simply couldn’t believe what a strong performer it was.

I’d expected its 1.4-litre engine to be wheezy, and fail to live up to its sporty GT moniker in every way.

But I was wrong.

I recalled some of the presentation, where Volkswagen’s head of engine design had told us the new engine in the GT had been given a turbocharger and a supercharger.

The new TSI engine – which will find its way into the Polo soon – has incorporated VW’s know-how from its excellent diesel engines, and shoehorned it into a petrol lump.

That means fuel is injected directly into the engine’s cylinders, which makes it more economical and more powerful.

But the really clever bit is the way the turbocharger and supercharger work together to create a smooth and punchy drive.

Traditionally, turbocharging means there’s a delay before the power kicks in – which is known in the industry as turbo lag. But by incorporating a supercharger, which has all the benefits of a turbo without the lag, the TSI engine gives instant acceleration wherever you are in the rev range.

Put simply, the TSI engine makes for a smoother drive, with instant power on tap – perfect for nipping through urban traffic, or blasting along B-roads.

The benefit for most drivers is the reduced fuel consumption. It’ll manage an impressive average of 38.2mpg, against 35.3mpg for the slower, less powerful 2-litre-engined Golf.

That’s the technical stuff over with; so what’s it like to drive.

Pulling away, you’ll have to keep telling yourself it’s a 1.4. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn I was piloting the 2-litre model which it’s replacing.

Its possible to hustle the GT along at a fair lick, in the same way you would in a far bigger car – there really is no indication you’re driving anything unusual.

It will hit 60mph from standstill in 7.9 seconds and head on to 137mph.

We tried the manual and the marvellous DSG semi-automatic system and found it well worth the £1,300 premium.

The GT corners with aplomb, although there is a fair bit of bodyroll, despite the stiffer sports suspension. And although not in the same league as the fantastic Golf GTi, the chassis is communicative enough for you to know what the wheels are up to.

It’s a bit of a sleeper too, marked out from lesser Golfs by 17 inch alloys, twin exhausts and slightly lower suspension, so blink and you’ll miss it.

But that’s the fun of a plain-but-fast car.

Inside things are reasonably sporty, but without going the whole hog like the hot GTi and R32 models. Our test car featured climate control, six airbags and racy chrome bits.

It also had a load of expensive options, including the satnav/armrest-mounted CD autochanger/rear airvent/cupholder combo (£1,845), electric mirrors (£180), electric leather sports seats (£1,645), fancier climate control (£695), multifunction steering wheel (£350) and electric glass sunroof (£495)

And there’s the rub. The bog standard GT is more than £18,000, which is a lot of money to pay for a 1.4-litre car, and even more when you spec it up with the desirable leather and satnav.

But the GT punches well above its weight, and will be a wise option for those who can choose their own company car. But an engine this good in the cracking Golf means it’ll stand up as an excellent purchase in its own right.

Key facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Golf GT 1.4 TSI
On the road price: £18,095
Date tested: July 2006
Road tester: Stuart Milne