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VW Golf GTi vs BMW 130i

Broadcast date : 19th March 2006

We’ve made no secret of the fact that the Car Torque team is seriously smitten by the Golf GTi. We’ve run one as a long term test vehicle for a number of months now and still feel it’s the pick of the bunch of cars launched in 2005.

The BMW 130i, however, comes to this shoot-out on the back of a rather mixed reception to the original 120 models launched just over a year ago.

Part of the controversy surrounding the one Series is its packaging. BMW believes that a true driver’s car has to be rear-wheel-drive. It’s a policy from which they’ve never shifted, although where that quite leaves the Mini Cooper S – also built by BMW – is not quite clear.

But the fun is in the driving of the beast – especially now that it’s got 195 kilowatts of "real" BMW power.

There again, there’s a whole generation of drivers out there – those that have cut their wheelsmanship on the likes of Citi Golfs and Toyota Tazzs – that have never really got to grips with rear-wheel-drive.

The GTi is a front-wheel-drive car, which means that it’s basically an understeering car. Too much speed into a corner and the front wheels drift out. Back off the throttle and the nose simply and safely tucks back into line.

Price and status differences not withstanding, both cars are classically formatted for the sporty driver.

Both are fitted with nose and tail sporty add-ons, optional 18 inch wheels and ultra low profile alloy wheels, and racy tailpipes.

But we aren’t too concerned with visuals here today. It’s all about on-track performance, the way the cars handle and how quick they are in terms of outright speed and handling.

For a front-wheel-driver, the GTi has amazing chassis balance. 

It’s grip levels are extremely high, its progression into understeer so gradual that it doesn’t spoil the fun unduly.

So what’s this fascination with rear wheel-drive, with oversteer? 

Quite simply, there’s a greater sense of achievement in dealing with oversteer. When the rear tyres step out there are two ways of dealing with the situation.

One is to lift off the throttle – and usually this tucks the tail back in. The other, fun way to do it is to stay on the throttle and turn into the skid, also known as countersteering or applying "Opposite lock".

This is how you get those big, smokey, grand-standing powerslides.

At the Reef the Golf’s two-litre turbo motor sees it lose just 5 per cent of its coast-level power. Whereas a naturally-aspirated engine like the BMW’s straight six loses 17 per cent of its coastal urge.

If you do the calculations, the BMW weighs in with an effective 161 kilowatts, while the Golf has 140 kW at The Reef.

In addition, according to Car Magazine’s independent tests, the BMW is a somewhat surprising thirty kilograms lighter than the Golf.

Even at sea level, the extra 38 kiloWatts of the BMW’s 3,0 litre six-cylinder engine only gave it a three-quarter of a second advantage over the GTi, according to Car Magazine’s benchmark 0-100 tests.

But on top speed it’s no contest. At least at the coast. The BMW runs to its rev limiter at 250 km/h, whereas the Golf tops out at 225.

We would expect the Golf to be quicker on top end in the thin Highveld air, because of its turbo assistance and wind resistance being such a factor in top speed running, possibly achieving 230 or even 235.

The motor is not nearly as acoustically charismatic as the BMW’s, but in some ways it’s more pleasant in day to day driving, not as incessantly urgent.

The Golf engine is quite conservatively profiled, with maximum power achieved at a mere 5100 rpm.

The 280 Newton metres of maximum torque is achieved at a low 1800 rpm.

But in thin air, 1700 metres above sea level, you sometimes need to slide the clutch a tad to get off the line.

Despite the low power peak, power drop off is extremely gradual and this turbo motor revs to seven thousand with admirable smoothness.

We ran the two cars against each other in a couple of impromptu drag races at Wesbank, to test our altitude and weight calculations.

Being rear wheel drive, the BMW had an advantage off the line and the average time advantage to the Beemer was about half a second over 400 metres.

By sticking to the rear-wheel-drive format, BMW has ended up with a rather strange device. The north-south lay-out of the engine has dictated a nose rather on the lengthy side and rear seat space a bit of a joke.

By BMW standards, the cockpit is not that classy in terms of plastics and other trim materials. Yet it still pips the Golf on appearance because the Golf too is a little on the plasticky side when measured against previous models.

Yet the Golf is easier to live with on a day to day basis in terms of not only cockpit space, but overall ease of driveability.

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