Friday, 31 December 2010

More Golf

Season's greetings to you, fair reader.

A few weeks ago I started a new contract. While the client site is in the same county as Shoestring Towers, getting there actually involves a 130mile daily round trip. Inevitably there is no sensible train option, and just as inevitably my existing personal transport options (Specialized Sirrus bicycle, a BMW GS motorbike and a 10 year old Golf Cabby) don’t tick the sensible box either. As least, not as far as doing 25,000 miles a year go.

I didn’t have a lot of time, nor much enthusiasm, for the search for commuting wheels, so after trying a couple of alternatives, plumped for a rather obvious answer for a chap looking for practical motoring combined with a decent level of performance; a Golf Gti.

In this case, a 5 year old 3 door, in red. Not only had the first, and only, prior owner kept meticulous service and fuel consumption records, but he’d somewhat pushed the boat out where it came to options, with the result that the list price in 2005 was over £27,000.

Oh, and its an ermmm, ahhrr. Eeeer….. Hum.

Well, ok, its an automatic.

In this case the clever (and heavy) DSG double clutch gearbox. I figured that I needed all the gentle wafting possible after a long day at work – or flogging up to London for meetings.

I’ve had it about 6 weeks now. So far it’s proved a decent place to be for a long commute, the supportive heated leather seats, Xenon lights, good music system and electric doodah’s have helped make the rush-hour drive as painless as possible, and the DSG box is pretty good.


But last week I had the opportunity to benchmark the car on a familiar route.

Some observations: first off there’s actually not a massive difference in straight line performance between the Golf and my old 2.7l Cayman. In some flat-out sections the Golf was only 5 mph behind the terminals I’d get with the Porsche, and overtaking required similar gaps. The mid-range turbo boost helped, you’d need a fair few revs up on the Cayman to get the same level of shove.

The ‘Sport’ mode on the Golf's DSG box is very aggressive; it will hold gears until the red line + a bit more even when cruising. which is great for when you’re in maximum attack mode and planning an overtake, or when there’s no other traffic around, but its just too much when any other vehicles are in sight. A buzzing 6000rpm in 2nd in an suburban 40mph limit attracts a fair amount of unwanted attention . In fact, as a transmission map it’d work pretty well on track, but for road use there’s definitely room for an interim ‘Sport’ mode as well as a ‘Race’ one. Oh, and a ‘Snow’ map might help too. Perhaps you could select the modes via a knob on the steering wheel.

Oh wait...

But while similar journey times were achieved, the hours’ drive was simply nothing like as satisfying or as much fun as it was in my old, basic Cayman.

There’s nothing like the information coming through either the Golf's steering or the seat of the pants; by comparison to the Cayman it is numb and withdrawn, beyond a bare minimum of feedback. And of course full torque in the lower gears corrupts your chosen course; you can feel the steering stiffen under the load, and any road bumps produce tugs and thumps through the wheel. And of course the chassis is biased towards understeer, you tend to slither across the road coming out of slow and medium corners, and slither into the fast ones. Its’ ‘safe’ but just doesn’t light my candle.

And while the gearbox behaves itself up to about 60% effort, it stops co-operating after that. But I suppose its not fair to expect the ‘box to know the difference between slowing for bends, slower traffic (with or without an overtaking opportunity), the start of a 30mph zone, or a looming hill. You can use the paddles(small switches behind the spokes at 3 and 6 o'clock in reality), but the gear indicator isn’t big enough. Flip down one gear and you’re not sure if you’ve gone 6-5 or 5-4 for example. Also, a short while after manual intervention the ‘box reverts to its usual full-auto mode. It also thumps a full throttle down change in kick-down.

Even in my advancing years I can still work a gearbox better than Bosch and ZF.

There’s still a proper sports-car shaped hole in the garage, but the Gti will definitely do for now.