Out of all the hatchbacks out there, one has always stood out as the hot hatch that started it all. That’s the Volkswagen Golf, which started out in 1974 as the Rabbit – remember the ones that had “Wabbit” plastered on the back? Yeah, me neither. I just read about it on Wikipedia.
Anyways, the Rabbit somehow became the Golf. Sounds like an Aesop’s fable, doesn’t it? But it was the introduction of the GTI version, with its va-va-voom power and sporty feel, that captured the imagination and wallets of driving enthusiasts everywhere. Think about it. A light, sturdy car with room for passengers, groceries, that’s quick on its feet and smartly styled. Small enough to park anywhere, but more than assured and solid enough for the highway.
For 2015, Volkswagen introduced its seventh generation Golf, and I was lucky enough to get my hot little hands on the GTI version in Tornado Red. It was the kind of red that packs a one-two punch – pow! And you’re ready to go. With a set of 18-inch (!) wheels, I could hardly wait to get smouldering down the road.
But when I opened the door, I was greeted by a set of plaid seats. Yes, plaid. I hesitated for a moment, then sat down. Hm, comfy and supportive. The plaid kinda reminded me of a thermos my father took to work at Westinghouse. Andrew Lagowski was very particular about his coffee – he liked a bold, dark roast, and drank it strong and sweet. Not like the insipid slop served in the cafeteria! So one day, while shopping for screws and fasteners at Canadian Tire, Andrew spotted a black plaid thermos with a bright red cap. Every morning, he would stand in the kitchen, clenching a pipe between his teeth, and pour steaming hot coffee into the black plaid thermos. He’d load it up with sugar – usually seven or eight teaspoons, screw on the top, and then the bright red cap. And then he’d turn around, put his pipe and thermos in his briefcase, grab his hat and coat, kiss me on my sleepy head, and stride out the back door to the car. Whenever I smell a pipe, I think of my father. And evidently, whenever I see plaid, it reminds me of that thermos.
So who knows, maybe the plaid was the official Volkswagen tartan? Anyways, I pressed “start” (I ❤️ keyless ignition) and got a nice snarl from the engine. Inside, the car was cleanly and stylishly laid out. VW does design like no one else, I’m sure even the guy who does the door handles has a master’s in graphic design. There was bright red stitching on the steering wheel that carried on around the seats, and red accent strips along the door.
Every edge was squared off and clean – even the driver info on the dash came up in small perfect squares. On the 5.8 inch touchscreen, radio stations paraded by in tiny, beautifully designed boxes. The technology was simple and straightforward, with buttons clearly designated by purpose – media, navi, traffic, voice, and so on.
Backing up, I could hear something click in the back, and knew from my VW Golf experience earlier in the year, that the VW badge on the trunk had twisted aside to reveal the rear-view camera. Not only did the screen display what was behind the car, but when I shifted back into first gear to move forward, it asked me if it was safe to proceed. That’s German efficiency!
But speaking of first gear, I was disappointed by a glitch that had the car stalling every other time I stopped. It felt like it was in third gear when it was actually in first gear. At first, I thought it was me. Still, I’ve driven VW standard shift before, and in fact, have been driving a stick for over 20 years with no problems. So when I got stuck on a slope trying to get out of a parking garage and did a spectacular burnout just trying to move the car forward, I realized – it wasn’t me, it was the car. I’m not enough of a technician to diagnose an issue like this, so I just avoided hills for the rest of the week.
Fortunately, I could drive down the Don Valley Parkway, which was lined by a flamboyant forest that almost took my breath away. Our fall season is all too short for this annual spectacular display of red, gold and burgundy leaves. It’s when Mother Nature puts on a magnificent show to cushion the departure of summer, and bolster our spirits for the frigid days ahead.
Down by the beach, the colours continued to dazzle, and the red VW fit right in. Planted firmly on the concrete, we lapped up the kilometres, leaning into corners with the confidence of a car twice the price. The Fender sound system carrying the catchy R’n’B rhythms of Soul Town urged us on, rocking out down and around the marina, where the boats perched awkwardly like beached whales in drydock.
Stopping for a coffee, I rolled down the windows and drew back the sunroof, where a screen discretely protected me from the afternoon sun. And sipping a sweet, strong latte, I wondered what my dad would have thought of the GTI. He had never been a big Volkswagen fan, but admitted the Germans knew their way around a car. I tried to think of what Andrew Lagowski would say if he saw me in the bright red hot little hatch.
He’d probably take a short drag on his pipe, and his blue eyes would twinkle mischievously.
“So now the car has to match the hair, eh?”
Father knows best, and he always did …