The King: Back From the Brink
The VW Golf was going the way of Elvis Presley. Once a finely honed and lithe machine that punched well above its weight, the once hot hatch became increasingly fat, dull witted and less respected as the years went on. Had it continued, one of the best selling cars in the world would have died in, not on, the toilet.
Someone at VW saved the slide just in time, though, and sent the Golf in for liposuction. The MK5 was a taut, lean animal, in modern terms at least. The tuners were delighted, finally they had a machine crafted from muscle, not lard, and the most famous of the lot, Abt Sportsline, set to work with vigour.
Abt is more notorious for winning the DTM Championship before Audi muscled in on the programme to take all the glory as a works team, but the Golf has always remained close to the heart of the company. A quick spin in a turbocharged 1.8-litre Mk1 GTi, which had heavier steering than most modern agricultural machinery and 160bhp spinning the rear wheels, was the appetiser and able demonstration of Abt’s skills.
While they ran rampant with the original GTi, though, the Kempten-tuning firm was determined to keep its new car cost effective. So fiddling with the boost pressure via the ECU and a new rear muffler, replete with four chromed exit pipes, are the limits of the power mods.
They add up to 230bhp and 228lb/ft extra torque, which isn’t a great deal. But, having driven a 250bhp Alfa Romeo with the steering capability of an oil tanker recently, it’s easy to see why they stopped short of more grunt.
When a front driver gets up and above those kind of figures you need to start thinking Limited Slip Diffs, and they’re expensive. This whole car comes in at €37,000, direct from Abt, and bigger power would have meant a fanciful price tag.
Still, with a claimed time of around 6.2s, Abt has managed to strip 0.5s from the standard Mk V’s 0-60mph time thanks to the 33bhp and 22lb-ft that Abt has found under the bonnet.
That extra torque and wider curve makes itself felt in-gear, too, where it matters most. Any gap in traffic became a legitimate overtaking spot, Abt have injected that last bit of zest into the GTi package and turned it from a rapid shopping wagon into a borderline front-drive sportscar.
The suspension has to take some of the credit and undoubtedly plays its part in the car’s newfound accelerative force, too.
Abt has fitted a fully adjustable kit that can drop the GTi by 55mm, embracing the 8.5x19” wheels wrapped in 225/35 Dunlop tyres. Less pitch and roll means the car bites into corners harder than ever before and, while you can do it with a hefty stamp on the brakes, it takes an awful lot of doing to snap this car sideways. You could hand the Golf to your girlfriend without a lengthy lecture on car control and, possibly, an eye-blackening argument.
If anything this machine is more user friendly than the original at sane speeds and pushed to the limits, where VW’s effort would be spinning towards oncoming traffic, this one just keeps cutting in.
Of course handling always comes at the expense of ride quality and the Abt car is firm, transmitting rather than soaking up ruts and expansion joints, but it carries so much more speed at the apex that jangling teeth are a price worth paying.
Replacement carbon lips on the front splitter every few weeks wouldn’t be, though, and that’s a real risk. Abt’s PR rep Marieke Teunissen asked us to take care on rough roads as more than one test driver had reduced the low-slung spoiler to its component shards on rippled tarmac. A little more lift on the front end would obviously cure the problem, but compromise the pin-sharp handling and that’s something they clearly just weren’t prepared to accept on the demonstrator.
As for the looks, it’s certainly wild enough and it’s mostly down to the fact there’s more carbon on this car than in the average South African diamond mine. That beefy front spoiler, side skirts and rear apron transform the car, hunkering it down to the tarmac and making the most of the dropped suspension. And that carbon-fibre bonnet, well it’s just hardcore.
That dazzling centrepiece looks like it’s part of a drastic, sporting, weight-saving programme. Sadly it isn’t, it’s all about the cosmetics as the full kit adds 100lb to the overall weight of this car and the MkV now tips the scales at a sturdy 3203lb. Still, with the hood up on a sunny day it reflects the red dressing in the engine bay to perfection.
Abt has now made gullwing doors for this car as well, which might look cool but will add serious pounds in the worst possible place – at the top of the frame. If looking slick down the local cruise is your priority, get them, if cornering speed even comes into the equation then whatever you do leave that expensive extra box unchecked.
Looks aren’t enough, of course, it has to sound good, too. Kempten’s finest has turned the VW’s efficient revving into a gruff roar, thanks to that sports exhaust. It’s louder than the civilised and conservative tones of VW’s base car, but it’s a seductive noise that makes the most of the four-cylinder turbocharged unit.
It was never going to be an aural spectacular, without weight reduction and insulation going out the window. It’s still loud enough to put a smile on your face, though, and draw admiring glances from the aerobicised girls of Southern Germany.
As did Elvis, when he was posted there in his GI days. Sadly his decline was well documented and his end rather embarrassing, but the Golf has come back from the brink, left the burgers alone and hit the gym. And with the help of Abt’s tuning programme, it has scored yet another hit.