THE D_TRB GARAGE: VW Golf GTI CLUBSPORT 2nd report
I love those moments when you discover that you’ve been doing it all wrong. I read a piece in a newspaper some years ago (it must have been some years ago, otherwise I would have read it on a list on a website with the words ‘life hack’ in the title) that instructed me to go to the drawer in the kitchen where the rolls of foil and cling film were kept. It told me to look at the ends of the long foil or film box. And what did I see? A semicircular line of perforations is what I saw. Press these in with your thumb and they hold the roll in place inside the box so that it will spin freely like a loo roll on its holder. This blew my tiny, mostly car-filled mind.
I had a similar moment when I spent a few days with a Ford Escort RS Cosworth recently. It was lovely old thing and if you look on Tribe Nation you’ll find the video that we did with it. However, it was only after a couple of days with it that I had a tin foil epiphany and actually discovered how quick it was. I hadn’t spent 48 hours in traffic or with a nervous passenger, it’s just that I hadn’t pressed the throttle pedal down far enough…
You might think that this was a pretty fresh sort of error to make, so let me explain. The thing is that modern hot hatches generally have much shorter travel in the throttle pedal. What's more, modern cars often only require you to use a fraction of the travel to unleash most of the performance. Try it. By about half way through the pedal’s arc the engine has little or no more performance to give. Introducing pedal to metal, Axminster, polyester or whatever else is in the footwell is pointless unless you particularly need to give your leg a good stretch.
In essence, my right ankle had got lazy from driving around in my long-term Golf GTI Clubsport Edition 40 and so when I got into the old Ford I was treading too lightly. I got surprisingly good fuel economy for the first two days but not a great deal of performance. Part of me just assumed that this lack of zip was a case of inflated 1990s numbers combined with an inevitable mechanical entropy over the intervening couple of decades. Then, on a particular stretch of the B660, I put my Achilles through a full range of motion like I was searching for a kick down in an automatic, the turbo actually woke up properly and the Cossie demonstrated that, yes thank you, it is still decently quick. It turns out the RS has a throttle map that is the exact inverse of most modern cars, with the performance back-loaded instead of front-loaded in the travel.
With the Garret T3 chuffing like an Olympic rower instead of an asthmatic ant wheezing its last, there was (after a momentary pause) that lovely deep, sustained shove that you get from old-school turbocharging. It’s a markedly different feel to the zippier, more instantaneous response of my Golf, yet both cars claim very similar 0-60mph times (6.1sec for the Escort, 6.0 sec for the Golf). A candid demonstration of why you should never read too much into numbers.
In these days of seven, eight, nine or even ten forward ratios in a gearbox, the relatively high rpm-to-mph ratio at motorway pace in the six-speed Golf can feel slightly strange. But not as strange as going back to the mere five-speed ‘box in the Escort. The slightly impatient level of revs at 70mph in the Ford meant there really was a strong temptation to go hunting for a calming sixth (thankfully I didn’t, because bottom right is where reverse resides).
Turn off the motorway and onto B-roads and you might have expected the steering in the older car to have been brimming with a bucketful of feel compared to the new VW, but not so. It had more weight, perhaps, but if you listen to some people harp on about the old days they claim you used to be able to run over a woodlouse and know what it had for breakfast. That’s simply not the case in this instance and the Golf’s Alcantara-clad wheel certainly feels nicer to hold than the now rather slippery, polished leather rim of the Escort.
CarPlay versus cassette/CD is an interesting comparison too. As is 16-inch Pirelli Assymetrico versus 19-inch Pirelli PZero. But the biggest surprise is the difference in sound emanating from the exhausts. While the GTI has undoubtedly learnt from the Golf R in terms of generating an interestingly guttural noise from its EA888 engine, there is simply nothing interesting about the noise the Escort makes. Sam Riley was actually really concerned when we shot the video because there’s just nothing to hear as the car goes past the camera.
Parked next to each other, I suspect that most people would still expect the Cossie to be the more aggressive car. There might be 25 years between them but the Ford’s a homologation special, it has the splitter, the wing, the four-wheel drive… surely it must be the more hardcore? Yet in the same way that the ‘mild’ Group A cars were soon quicker down WRC stages than the ‘wild’ Group B cars had ever been, the tamer-looking front-wheel drive Golf is undoubtedly more exciting to drive than the extrovert Escort. The old Ford is still wonderful and still quick (if you use all the throttle travel…) but unless your glasses are heavily rose-tinted, the Golf is the one you’d take every time.