Tag: Hot Hatches South africa

Living with the legacy of a local legend – the VW Golf 8 GTI

It takes generations to build up a near-immortal legacy with an adoring customer base at the core. In Mzansi, there are staples for different types of mobility where everything else in the segment becomes an outlier. Our go-to bakkie is the Hilux while the Golf GTI is glorified in its hot hatch segment. We lived with the 8th generation of the beloved German derivative to see if the recipe has deviated from its predecessors.

Volkswagen may not have been the first automaker to culminate the recipe of the hot hatch many decades ago, but the Giugiaro penned GTI MK1 from 1975 was perhaps the most refined option to enter the mainstream market. It gained instant success for being sports-car fun with a supermarket price tag. By definition, the GTI is a fast Golf which is inherently an economy hatch built to appeal to the masses. While the sales of normal hatches dwindling in comparison to their SUV siblings on an annual basis, the hot hatch remains a symbol of success and prosperity in South Africa in a hotly contested market. None can portray this individually better than the GTI.

But is the new generation any good? If you are dreading reading an in-depth article with tabulated statistics about the performance and engine upgrades that have been implemented in the new model you will be relieved to know that the new GTI is much the same underneath as the 7th generation. That was launched in 2012 and that was a long time ago, so naturally technology has changed quite a bit. For context, we still had Blackberry as a primary cellular device when the Golf 7 GTI was launched. The trustworthy cast iron EA888 series motor resumes its service while our test car implemented the same 7-speed DSG as transmission from before. 

The 2.0l turbocharged engine now develops 180kW with a torque peak of 370Nm, an 11kW improvement in power over its predecessor. This means it has a claimed sprint to 100km/h from stationery in 6.4 seconds which is the same as its predecessor. So, where has almost a decade of development gone into? Well, Volkswagen are at the forefront of committing to future electrification, especially after the Dieselgate scandal and reprimand. This means that budget is being channelled into optimising the efficiency and longevity of their existing powertrain range as there is little interest in developing future internal combustion engines. 

In other words, the production of the 8th generation GTI has been streamlined and the build complexity has been reduced which in turn should keep true to its identity of affordable performance. A base spec GTI is priced from R669 300 while an endless list of additional features like IQ. Light, Harman Kardon Sound and a Tilting and sliding panoramic sunroof can push the price all the way up to R800k. Our test car was fortunately fitted with all of the niceties which do improve the lavish GTI experience. The price includes a 3 year/120 000km warranty, 5 year/90 000km service plan and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty.

While performance has been slightly improved, more strict conditions over emissions have been implemented too. This means from both within and outside the cabin, the resounding and iconic VRR-PHA has been muted significantly. The entire exhaust system for that matter seems restricted by mandated filters and catalytic converters but that is nothing that entrepreneurial locals can’t resolve with a software update and enlarged downpipes. 

The underwhelming symphony is not where it ends unfortunately. It’s just not a very inspiring car to drive. Don’t get me wrong – it’s quick and has the ability to get you into a lot of trouble very quickly but it feels numb to experience, devoid of character and enthusiasm. What the experience does yield however is a forgiving hot hatch that does not have the exciting boy-racer torque steer of its competitors but a refined and comfortable drive that is more civilized for everyday use. It will also get you a lot of nods and looks from pedestrians and opportunistic souped-up cars yearning for a highway drag race while running your errands.

While this 8th generation is the most digitally advanced generation of GTI ever produced, much of the interior tech is swing and miss. They have done away with physical buttons and replaced almost every interface with touch capacitive functionality. While they instill a futuristic aesthetic to the cabin, they can be frustrating to interact with. There are buttons directly below the infotainment screen which make operation during driving near impossible without accidentally bumping the heat adjustment function and bringing up the climate control screen.

What we found particularly annoying was the heated steering button on the steering wheel, which is inconveniently placed where the palm of the hand meets the protrusion of the thumb. Regardless of how enthusiastically you yank the steering wheel, any movement seems to engage the haptic touch surface and render the steering wheel hotter than a mid-summer Pretoria day. You will be constantly fiddling with the haptic surface to view the drivers display in an attempt to disengage the untouchable steering wheel. 

While this is still in essence still as good as you expect a GTI to be, it will always be judged not only according to its competitors but also against what the nameplate signifies in terms of the previous generations. Look at the 8 GTI as a tech elevated, although slightly gimmicky version of its all-round fantastic predecessor. It does everything really well and makes important strides in refinement and technology over its predecessor, but it doesn’t give you the fizz the way previous generations have. If you are a diehard VW aficionado looking for more thrill, your money may be better spent on a low mileage 7.5 GTI TCR, or for an out of the box, fun, boy-racer inspired hot hatch then the BMW 128ti is also certainly worth a look!

The XL Italian Job – The Mini Clubman John Cooper Works

We recently got to spend a few days rapidly emptying the fuel tank of the unexpectedly fast and fun Mini Clubman John Cooper Works (JCW), a deceptive car that doesn’t look as fast as it is!

As most of our generation will already be aware, Mini’s modern day popularity can be greatly accredited to a pop culture film titled The Italian Job in the remake of a 1969 feature sharing the same name. Starring our very own Charlize Theron, her drop-dead gorgeous looks were often sidelined to the real stars of the show; the refreshed and retro-designed Mini Cooper. 

Since the film’s debut in 2003, Mini has grown their portfolio with models that have deviated somewhat from the embodiment of the brand name. In addition and contrary to Alec Issogonis original and revolutionary blueprints of a transversely mounted engine powering only the front wheels, Mini have also produced a few models with ALL4, an all-wheel-drive system that sends power to each corner of the car. 

While the recipe for some of Mini’s models has ushered in cars that seem a stretch from the characteristics that made these cars famous half a century ago, there is a market for more spacious and practical, four door models that simply could not be ignored after their takeover by profit-focused BMW. This is where the quirky, retro models like the Clubman and Countryman were intended to fill the gap. The latest generations of these models are no stranger to the world, being produced for over a decade each, they may just seem less popular than the more compact and recognizable 2-door Cooper. 

One can therefore deduce that they are lifestyle vehicles that fill a niche in the market. Sure, they still have the same funky interiors, bubbly personality and overall aesthetic of the rest of the lineup but they still lacked that purity of a Mini. The Clubman John Cooper Works is even more niche with a price tag starting from R783 840, an obese length and width of 4266mm and 1800mm respectively while its planetary mass of 1520kg is almost 3x the weight of the original Mini. 

Despite this though, our favorite Union Jack-inspired vehicle manufacturer has produced a model that feels very well powered to cope with the additional bulk and is incredibly fun to drive. This might not be the car to tackle a narrow Monte Carlo Special Rally stage but it is one that inspires confidence on a day-to-day basis of slow, tight cornering, banked highway onramps and on a loose road surface.

For this, the ALL4 system is commendable for its functionality and additional safety and assurity it offers buyers to live with everyday. But I question whether it is necessary in a car like this, as most buyers would probably never fully utilize its capabilities.

But if you do choose to head out on a spirited drive, once you flip the jet age inspired starter switch and hear the turbocharged inline-four petrol engine, it all comes to life. It is the same motor that spurs the F40 M135i xDrive forward, while the new BMW has received criticism for deviating from its lineage of in-line six motors, there are absolutely no complaints from the driver’s seat in the Mini!

The up-tuned 225kW and 450Nm is delivered via a slightly lethargic 8 speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, even in exhaust-burbling and neighbour-annoying sports mode. Cruising is an easy and comfortable task though, with engine revs below 2200rpm at the maximum national speed limit. That being said, it is also easy to make the honest mistake of going above and beyond this limit as acceleration seems as effortless as a leaf blowing in the direction the wind commands it to. 

While a combined fuel consumption of 7.7l/100km is claimed, we didn’t experience anything below 10, although sports mode dominated our time with the car. We did test its frugality in Green mode once the fuel indicator frighteningly sunk below the ¼ tank mark and efficiency was immediately improved. What remained is a comfortable car that could still pick up speed and overtake at a fraction of full throttle input.

On the inside, the narrow shaped cockpit continues the same circular theme from all other retro designed Mini’s, the part analog/part digital driver display is sufficient but small numbering on the speedometer becomes ambiguous with an illuminated display during night-time driving – a shortcoming the HUD makes up for.

There are some subtle Union Jack design cues placed on the headrests and embossed studs on the seats that give the car more of its own unique Mini identity. 

Where the second generation Clubman begins to show its age in the interior is the center console. Although the gear shifter and some of the surrounds have been updated in accordance with the more recent model years, crucial interaction points like the 8.8” infotainment screen remain unchanged from the original 2015 derivative. The reverse camera is also rather small as it doesn’t cover the full width of the screen when engaged, and the user interface seems obsolete. 

As we mentioned earlier, the Clubman John Cooper Works starts from R783 840 including a 5 year/100 000km maintenance plan but despite how much it impressed me, I remain to be convinced.

For the money to be spent, there are other better equipped and equally capable cars that would feature on my purchase list before the JCW. The likes of the less upmarket Golf R for example may be significantly smaller in dimensions but has a cargo capacity of 343l which is only 17l down on the much bigger Clubman. The Mercedes-Benz A35 is probably the best bet of having a potent hatchback with refined and classy interior finishes. Mini remains a lifestyle brand that is embodied by style conscious consumers and the Clubman is the bigger, more practical version of the 5 door Cooper hatch.

Hot hatch bonanza: Renault Clio R.S launched.

Renault Clio R.S South Africa

Renault Clio R.S launched in South Africa

The Renault Clio is a car that has won the heart of many a petrol head due to its boisterous attitude and nimble chassis. When it comes to hot hatches, handling is everything and that is something the fast Clio’s have always had on their side. Despite being late to the turbocharging game, the naturally aspirated Clio 3 was a car that still made grown men very happy. This was further amplified when the Clio 4 debuted with a turbocharged engine. Now with its recently face-lifted body, the new Renault Clio R.S comes out aggressively in two derivatives, LUX and TROPHY. Here’s what you need to know:

The Renault Clio R.S LUX is the more docile of the range, featuring 147 kW it still packs a punch, especially due to the fact that it’s mated to a fast changing 6-speed EDC gearbox. It rides standard on 17 inch wheels and looks just as good as the TROPHY, only a bit calmer. The TROPHY on the other hand produces 162 kW, has 18inch wheels and wait for it…an Akrapovic exhaust as standard. The TROPHY is also 20mm lower in the front and 10mm lower in the rear, compared to the LUX model – making it more eager to take corners faster. The R.S comes with a clever electronic differential to make sure you can put that power down effectively. As we all know, you’re only as good as the amount of traction you have, so if you can’t put your power down you may as well stay at home. To further aid that, the R.S has launch control so you can get off the line in a glorious manner, should you bump into a Ford Fiesta ST200.

The Renault Clio is a car that has won the heart of many a petrol head due to its

The Renault Clio is a car that has won the heart of many a petrol head due to its

Of course tech is a must in this segment and the Renault Clio R.S comes chockablock with cool toys to keep the little boy or girl in you alive. The R.S Monitor for instance allows you to play with various vehicle settings. R.S Drive lets you choose between a Normal, Sport and Race mode, the same way you would in other luxury marques. A 7-inch infotainment screen comes standard with features like USB, Auxiliary input and Bluetooth streaming too. The car also includes a keyless card system for convenient access into the vehicle. Obviously one can expect that Renault would make systems such as ESC, ABS and EBD standard, which they have, so you can rest assured that you won’t lock up into a tree under heavy breaking.

The Renault Clio is a car that has won the heart of many a petrol head due to its

 

We’ve saved the best for last – the new Clio R.S’s looks. Hands down, this has got to be one of the nicest looking hot hatches available. Who can say their fog lamps are LED’s in the shape of a checkered flag? Only R.S drivers. Yes, Renault seems to always have their bravery suits on when it comes to styling their cars. For instance, why not slap on some Gold/Yellow gloss paint? We think it’s great. Now to the serious stuff though. The question that comes to mind when considering all the features in this car is; will all this new technology not come at a cost? That cost is old school driving thrills. This refers specifically to the EDC gearbox which is the only option you have in the car. Does it leave you wanting for a good old manual gearbox? We can only answer that question once we’ve driven the car. Until then, the Clio R.S makes for some good eye candy.

Prices:

Clio R.S 200 EDC LUX: R379 900

Clio R.S 200 EDC TROPHY: R419 900