Hot birthday present
LAST year Volkswagen celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Golf GTI, a fiery hot hatchback that rewrote the rulebook and (thankfully) killed off lingering automotive swamp donkeys like the MGB.
I mean, why on earth would you want to buy an ill-handling, rust-prone British "sports" coupé when, for similar money, you could enjoy an almost perfect merging of pace and practicality all wrapped up in the classlessness of a classic Giugiaro design.
Exactly. It was the no-brainer that caused a motoring revelation; a shift in power that made the GTI a blue-collar performance hero.
Of course, as time went by the world's most popular Golf would grow bigger, more powerful and, predictably, more expensive.
There were also some mistakes along the way (will the lardy Mk3 and Mk4 please stand up) but, on the whole, few cars have remained so iconic, so uncannily desirable.
Anyway, obviously lost deep in the throngs of self-congratulatory bliss, Volkswagen decided to honour this enviable little fact by last year unveiling the GTI Edition 35 you see in the adjacent picture.
A birthday present to its successes, the 35 has finally landed in South Africa and it comes jazzed-up with all the cosmetic tinsel you'd expect to grace the sheet metal of a bona fide special edition:
A bold new front apron design incorporating LED daytime running and bi-xenon lights;
Lightweight, 18-inch "Watkins Glen" alloy wheels;
Blade-like skirts that wouldn't be out of place on a production car.
These are some of the things that'll help you stand out from the regular GTI-driving hoi polloi. Inside you will find a classic golf ball textured gear knob - a throwback to the original that first debuted back in 1976 - as well as a pair of front sports seats covered in unique Alcantara honeycomb-patterned upholstery.
Apparently this is supposed to match the radiator grille. They smell fantastic too and do a fine job keeping your frame in check through high G-Force corners.
To further remind you that you're climbing into something special, VW has bedazzled the doorsills with some "35" logo kick plates. Subtle, yes, but enough to spice up what is usually a pretty sombre cabin.
But the Edition 35 is so much more than just an exercise in exhibitionism. Indeed, pop that bonnet like it's hot and you'll find the real meat in this makeover sandwich.
Similar to that found inside the range-topping Golf R, a heavily modified two-litre turbo engine ups the kilowatt ante by 18kW. Maximum torque has swelled by 20Nm.
Now I know this doesn't seem a lot on paper but, out in the real world, the 35 feels noticeably more urgent than the standard GTI.
It sounds meaner too; that revised engine cracking out a thoroughly intoxicating soundtrack once you get past the 4000rpm mark.
It encourages you to drive hard, to whip that tachometer needle into the red with every feverish gear change.
Speaking of which, my test car came equipped with a six-speed manual 'box that made cog-swapping a real pleasure.
Yes, the DSG is awesome but in my world there's no substitute for the art of heel and toe, and with a large, floor-hinged accelerator pedal, this art thrives in the 35.
Handling-wise it behaves like its less expensive brother, the only noticeable differences being extra mechanical grip from those fatter takkies and improved cornering precision courtesy of the standard issue Electronic Differential Lock (EDL).
The latter prevents the inside front wheel from spinning when putting the power down through tight corners.
My test car also came equipped with the optional Adaptive Chassis Control (ACC) system that allows you to tweak suspension damper responses to suit real-time road conditions.
Programmed with three modes (Comfort, Normal, Sport) and costing R10680, it is something I would recommend speccing if you plan to garage a 35 of your own.
So, does this special edition do justice to the GTI badge? Is it the right way to rock the jade anniversary of the original, mainstream hot-hatch daddy? You're damn right it is. More exciting than the dearer R and just that little bit more mental than the regular GTI, the Edition 35 is perhaps the best performance Golf you can buy for the money.
Engine: 1984cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 173kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 300Nm at 2200rpm
0-100km/h: 6.6-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 247km/h (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 8. litres/100km (claimed combined), 11.1 litres/100km (achieved combined)
CO2: 189g/km (claimed)
Price: From R370900
Looks the business
Extra muscle makes a difference
We don't like:
Certainly not cheap
Irks on the side of thirsty