26 Sep 2019

A Tale of Golf, LSD and Chinese Rubber


A couple of years ago I owned a Golf R with the DSG gearbox. I sold that and bought a BMW for a few months as an interim measure, and then in spring this year bought a 2013 Mk7 Golf GTI with manual gearbox. The GTI is a Performance Pack model and comes with a limited slip differential and a few extra hp over the standard GTI.

It has 230bhp and 258lb ft of torque which is more than enough for a front wheel drive car. I've done several thousand miles in the GTI, and did Land's End to John O'Groats in one day in it. 852 miles in 15 hours. It proved itself fast and comfortable.

Despite being less powerful than the Golf R, and only being front wheel drive rather than four wheel drive I've enjoyed driving the GTI far more than the R.

The cars are almost identical inside, though the GTI has leather seats where the R had cloth. The ride is very similar - well damped if a little harsh on bumpy surfaces. Driving at pedestrian speeds you'd struggle to find any difference in the cars aside from the gearbox.

But put your foot down and the differences between the cars show themselves. The R was insanely fast and gripped like a limpet. It was fitted with Pirelli P Zeros and would corner well with little slip. It would understeer under power but this was controllable. I toured all round Europe in it and it was never less than fast and fun.

But when I first drove the GTI I realised what the R was missing. Soul.

The GTI has more power than grip available. This means you have to work with the car to apply the power so it's not lost through slip and spin. In the dry you can be quite rough with the throttle. It would wheelspin in first and second gears. In corners you could feel a tiny slip of the inside wheel before the LSD locked the axle and both wheels would pull at the same speed.

Combined with the precise manual gearbox it was an absolutely involving joy to work with.

Until it rained. In the rain it was a menace. And this was because when I bought the car it was fitted four brand new Chinese tyres, or ditch finders. And when the roads were wet their ability to clear water and find grip was found rather lacking.

In the wet you could spin the front wheels in third gear. I've had wheelspin, and sideways slip, on an open Scottish B-road at speeds in excess of 70mph. Exhilarating and scary at the same time.

It got to the point when it just wasn't funny. On a motorway roundabout I poked the throttle on a wet day and, because the locking diff did its stuff, both front wheels just span and caused the car to understeer halfway into the next lane.

So I finally got round to fitting some decent tyres and what a difference they made!

Last weekend the GTI was treated to a fresh set of Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 5s and, by heck, they're an improvement. It's rained almost constantly since and I've driven around 100 miles largely on the country lanes between home and the office.

In the wet the Golf is now an absolute joy to drive. You can feel and control sideways slip. It still spins and first and second gear but in third it holds on to the road. You have to ease the power on, be careful changing from first to second and concentrate hard as you reach the red line - a small crest or patch of shiny surface can cause wheelspin.

But it's predictable now whereas with the ditch finders it would just be hopeless. In a corner when you push on the power you feel the LSD engage and you use it's action to pull the car round the corner. It'll still understeer if you're brutal with the throttle but that's the point. It is involving and you have to use your skill and ability as a driver to get the best from it.

The R is sold as a more prestigious model than the GTI but the R is digital whereas the GTI is analogue, and I prefer analogue.

By Matt Hubbard