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2005 golf gti volkswagen

In a country where performance motoring has traditionally meant a large, rear-drive sedan with a V8 engine, the notion of a hot hatch has taken time to gain traction.

There have been high points over the years - the original Peugeot 205 GTI and, more recently, the Renault Sport duo of the Clio and Megane - but it's only quite recently that the whole genre has begun to attract the attention it deserves.

And the reason is simple: We now have access to the best hot hatches.

With cars such as the Mazda3MPS, there's no doubt Japan has finally caught on in a big way, yet it's still Europe that seems to have the best handle on the concept. No surprises there, the Europeans invented the hot hatch, after all.

Of the European alternatives, one car seems to hog the spotlight in Australia and, again, that should come as no surprise because the latest VW Golf GTI is the direct descendant of that first hot hatch way back in the 1970s.

The new Golf GTI wasn't just a hit when it arrived here, it was a phenomenon.

Unless you'd ordered the car before deliveries started, you faced a nine-month wait.

It was based on a modest-sized - although the Golf is family wheels in Europe - hatchback with front-wheel-drive and a hotted-up four-cylinder engine.

In this case, the engine was fitted with a turbocharger and an intercooler to bump power to a mighty 147kW, or about what a V6 Holden Commodore had at its disposal just a few years ago.

Naturally, squeezing that sort of power from a 2.0-litre engine and channelling it through the front wheels meant the thing could be a bit of a handful when you got serious. But the pay-off was a level of involvement that is hard to match.

Start revving the engine hard and it soon whistled up some turbo-boost and started making big torque too (which maxed out at 280Nm), so it was a flexible performer.

But even just bumbling around in the suburbs, the engine always made enough power to feel effortless and good fun.

In transmission terms, the GTI was right at the cutting edge.

While traditionalists opted for the six-speed manual gearbox, technophiles could option up the six-speed DSG clutchless manual box.

The pick of clutchless manuals at the time, the VW DSG did a great job, with the option of fully automatic shifting for when you were stuck in traffic or just feeling lazy.

While it mightn't be a particularly big car in Australian terms, the Golf has a fair-sized footprint, and VW was able to make the most of it by more or less sticking a wheel at each corner.

That gives the car flat cornering and a secure feel, and there's a decent level of feedback through the steering wheel to let you know what's going on.

The Golf GTI is great fun and a twisting Sunday morning drive is where it's at its best.

That said, there's enough practicality and ride comfort built in that it's good to use for the rest of the week, too. Traction control is fitted to help contain what could be an otherwise unruly car thanks to all that performance.

The rest of the safety picture is good with dual front airbags, front-side airbags, head airbags, anti-lock brakes, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.

There's a good splash of convenience gear, too, including a leather-clad steering wheel, full electrics and climate-control air-conditioning with dual zones.

And that other element that is so often missing on European hot hatches, cruise control, is thankfully fitted to the Golf GTI.

Whether you like the look of the GTI is a personal matter, but we reckon it looks tough with that deep grille and aggressive stance.

The alloy wheels help make the right statement, too, and the thing looks seriously purposeful in white with that contrasting black grille.

In times of increasing environmental awareness, cars such as the Golf GTI stand to do very nicely.

That's because you can bank on good fuel economy when the car is driven sensibly, yet it'll still be a fun way to get around in pretty much every circumstance you can think of.

Throw in the versatility of the hatchback body and, suddenly, many alternative concepts are looking a bit last-century.

Crash damage is always a risk in second-hand cars like this. Atleast the relative newness of the thing means there shouldn't be any uninsured, patched-up examples out there. Check it carefully though.

Avoid a car that's been modified. A bigger exhaust tip isn't a real worry, but radically modified suspensions or hotter engines can mean compromised performance and longevity.

More than the odd Golf GTI has seen race-track duty on weekends. Check the tyres for signs of scrubbing and hard use.