So, the site received an email from VW UK offering a chance to come and test the new GTI at Millbrook test facility near Bedford. Well I wasn't going to say no, so last Thursday myself and toph had a jolly old day out.
The venue itself is pretty impressive (www.millbrook.co.uk) but does have a very tight policy on camera usage due to all the 'secret' testing that goes on there. Tiff Needel was there looning around in a new Aston - tough life.
I fully expected the day to be very 'PR' - essentially selling the GTI to us and the other VW forum types that were there. However, I couldn't have been further from the truth. After some lunch, a quick introduction to the venue and a brief bit of GTI history it was straight to the cars. After muttering 'white 3 door manual' to each other we met our driver for the afternoon. Now again, I was expecting VW staff and some sensible driving - oh no! The guy was a full on race driving instructor who kept us amused with tales of all the famous rally drivers he had taught and car launches he had worked on. First thing, brief chat about the car but as the instructor happily admitted, we probably knew more about the car than he did. Off to the 2 mile banked bowl. This is divided into 6 lanes with 3 of them marked with a certain speed at which the car would sit at without steering input - the outward force I suppose meaning that it could just be adjusted in lane position by use of the throttle. So up the lanes we went until we were happily sat at 130 mph in the top lane. The thing that struck me here was just how amazingly quiet the car was - so little wind noise. Next, myself and Chris both had a couple of laps of the banked course sitting at a maximum allowed 110 mph while the instructor chatted and showed us the adaptive suspension settings. Interesting here to note that 'comfort' was the best for 110 on the slightly rough concrete track surface!
After that it was off to the 1 mile straight. Here the instructor accelerated to 130 before quickly slowing the car for the sharp right at the end of the mile. He then says, "would you believe that you can get to 100, stop, back to 100 and stop in less space that it took to do 130 and stop?" Um, probably not.... so off we go... 100, emergency stop, 100, emergency stop all way before the point at which we firstly stopped from 130! Next, we discussed how most people never actually practice emergency stops and the idea that many people would not know to be able to steer as well as brake thanks to ABS. Myself and Chris then got to do our own 100 mph emergency stops. Then as we had some extra time we did them from 130!!! The distance the car stops in was very impressive - this was also not on some wide open track but realistically marked 'normal' roads!
Next it was on to the best bit - the alpine handling track. This is a purpose built area again marked as normal UK roads but basically your dream winding hillside drive with endless vicious corners, drops, odd camber changes the lot. First the instructor took us round at a sensible pace just showing us the route then I was in the driving seat for 2 laps. Now I was expecting to be told about the corners, where to be on the road etc but it was just "off you go" - ok then!! Having a new quick car and some mad roads was brilliant fun and definitely something that I would love to go back and do again! Chris had his 2 laps, benefiting slightly from getting to know the course by now. Finally the instructor took us round again and made us look like grey haired Sunday drivers in comparison - jeeees the speed he took into the corners was crazy. It makes you realise how much of the time the car is just showing maybe 10% of its abilities! The grip through the dipping bends was incredible.
We next had a very brief chance to use our camera's - the security on photography really was very tight!
I have a short video here, the quality isn't great but it's only 1.8mb
For the end of the day, we were treated to a driving display by Russ Swift. This is the dude famous for handbrake parking into a space barely longer than the car itself. There are some other links on here to some videos of his section. The car control he has is just unbelieveable! All in all, a superb day out. I am very pleased to see VW UK being involved with it's online enthusiast community and hopefully this sort of event will be repeated in the future. :)
The new GTI looks way better in the metal than it did in the early press shots. Personally I think the 3 door in white looks superb, aggressive front styling, classic GTI details etc. 5 door model in silver looks a bit too mainstream to me - not quite special enough. The interior is a big jump on - the steering wheel is brilliant, the white lit dials are excellent and the standard seats are very, very good. The handling on the alpine course was superb, the instructor messing about with lift-off oversteer after Chris provoked him was great fun. The car certainly feels like it could easily handle even more power. Sure, it's already very quick but a really, really, very quick version can't be far off!