When notifications first started being sent out for the GTI Advanced Driving Academy I was not on the list. I wasnâ€™t happy! But, in the end I neednâ€™t have worried as I scored a place in the second round of offers. Even the 8am start time on a Monday morning didnâ€™t put me off. Sure, I would have to leave my home in Canberra at 5am, but the chance of sampling a fleet of new Mk6 Golf GTIs around Eastern Creek was one worth grabbing with both hands.
Hang on a minute. Iâ€™ve been to a manufacturer test day before, and have had a few mates attend similar days, as well. Surely, with the new GTI just released Volkswagen will protect their new cars and make us treat them with kid gloves.
I had talked myself into believing the GTI Advanced Driving Academy would be nothing more than a three hour sell job.
Well, I was wrong. It was nothing like I expected. Yet, at the same time I was deadly accurateâ€”it was indeed a three hour sell jobâ€”but only because Volkswagen had the confidence to let their new product do the talking.
The morning was headed by Vladan Dimic, Product Marketing Manager for Volkswagen Group Australia. He understood we wanted to be behind the wheel and kept his presentation to a minimum. It was all fairly rudimentary stuff, a bit of background about Volkswagen, their product portfolio and some further info on the day ahead.
Our session consisted of around sixteen lucky punters and after the briefing we were split into two groups.
Within 10 minutes of being dismissed from the briefing I was behind the wheel of a new GTI, lapping the Corporate Hill track at Eastern Creek. Brilliant! I even had a professional instructor (Tim Slade) at my side offering advice along the way. Even more brilliant!
Itâ€™s been a few years since I last lapped Eastern Creek, and even in this shortened version of the track, I was reminded that it really is a great facility. More to the point, however, I was experiencing what a capable and well balanced car the Mk6 GTI really is.
The â€œtrackâ€ cars were fitted with the 18â€ Detroit alloy wheels and DSG transmissions. I simply left the DSG in Sport mode and concentrated on getting the lines and braking points right. It took me a couple of laps to shake off the cobwebs, but in the end I was really getting stuck in and having an awesome time. And that is the key, we were given decent track time in the car. I didnâ€™t count the laps in all, but we would have circulated six to eight times Iâ€™d say.
Clearly, more laps would have been welcomed by all in attendance, but I was just thankful an opportunity such as this was on offer today. I wasnâ€™t really expecting the keys to be thrown to us with the track at our disposal, and certainly not as the first exercise.
Oh, judging by the smoking brakes as the car waited for their next round of drivers, these GTIs were thoroughly tested!
Our second exercise was a slalom course on Eastern Creekâ€™s large skid pan. Volkswagen was telling us that this test was to highlihght the benefits of the new electronic diff (XDL). They clearly thought this one through, as well. We were first sent out in a Mk5 GTI to see how a car without XDL handled the course at hand. We got one run as a passenger, and another run as driver, before being given two runs in a new GTI.
At face value the Mk5 handled this test with a high degree of competence. Even on the wet surface the carâ€™s electronic aids did a pretty good job of keeping things in check. The laws of physics donâ€™t give up without a fight, though, and understeer was prevalent and there was a need to modulate throttle inputs and braking in order to complete the course successfully.
While it would be lying to say the XDL fitted to the Mk6 GTI eliminated these characteristics over the same course, it was clear that this new driver aid offered a greater degree of control and allowed a higher exit speed out of the 180Â° left hander at half course distance. In short, the new GTI offered more confidence and invited you to push harder than you otherwise might in the previous model.
From here we moved to pit lane where the two groups joined together and we lined up for a couple of hot laps of a shortened Eastern Creek. Crucially, we were taken through the trackâ€™s very demanding turn one at full pace. That full pace was an indicated 200km/h. The commitment from the drivers was impressive, even more so the ability of the car to honour that commitment with four on board.
While waiting for our hot laps Volkswagen provided light entertainment in the form of Park Assist demonstrations, where you could sample for yourself the delights of reverse parking with no hands. Also on view was a new GTI loaded with pretty much every accessory available. Some worthwhile, others less so.
That brought our day to an end. After out wrap up we were given a kit bag of goodies, containing a GTI cap and polo shirt, some printed material (including a copy of the Wheels magazine special GTI lift out) and a 1:43 scale model of the new GTI. We were also encouraged to approach the Volkswagen staff in attendance and bombard them with any questions we had.
Judging by the cars in the parking lot Volkswagen may have been preaching to the converted. If this sample is anything to go by a high number of the 200 people to attend the multiple sessions across the two days are already well known to the Volkswagen brand. At least one new GTI owner was seen, I wonder how many more will make it to the the Melbourne dates a bit later in the month.
To sum up, then, the GTI Advanced Driving Academy was a very worthwhile experience and one I was glad to partake in. The event ran smoothly and the staff on all levels were helpful and friendly. A big tick to Volkswagen, and another big tick in the history of the GTI.