FORTY years ago, Malcolm Fraser was at the helm of Australia and Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was mid-way through his reign and petrol prices were in the realm of 60 cents a litre.
The year of 1976 also saw the beginning of a Volkswagen dynasty, the Golf GTI.
Designed as a jack of all trades, the GTI was always a combination of performance with practicality.
Those hallmarks have continued to the modern day, and this year Volkswagen is celebrating in true style. Becoming the most powerful and fastest production Golf GTI ever produced, it's a celebration with serious fireworks.
Only 500 examples of the 40 Years will come to Australia, and 100 are manual. There are already signs it's a modern classic.
Buyers have quickly snapped up the $46,990 manual and there is also massive interest brewing for the $48,990 automatic.
For those who find the traditional GTI tartan trim an assault on the eyes, the sports cloth and Alcantara combination is a more modern interpretation of the historic styling.
Maintaining the Golf bones, the extra 40 Years flesh includes GTI door sills, three-spoke Alcantara sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, along with contrasting red stitching on the seats, gear shifter, floor mats, door inserts and seatbelts.
Across the centre console are shiny piano- black finishes, and there are also what Volkswagen calls "Honeycomb 40" inserts on the doors and across the dash.
Everything else is essentially utilitarian Golf, smartly laid out, but nothing is too advanced or difficult to navigate. Even the colour touch- screen is simple to find your way through, while the driver has a nicely crisp and clear combination of analogue and digital instruments.
The cabin also offers space for five, although four adults are a better fit.
On the road and track
Beneath the Golf skin is some serious weaponry.
Fast and nimble, it's a brilliant combination.
When on boost, this anniversary model actually produces seven more kilowatts of power than the much-lauded all-wheel-drive "R" model, which incidentally is also about 60kg heavier with a manual box (78kg with the auto).
The key to getting the most from the GTI 40 Years comes via the Adaptive Chassis Control button. The Normal and Comfort modes show signs of its ability, but it's not until you opt for Sport that things take an exciting turn.
Jump on the accelerator and it's quick, offering composure and deft response to pushing the boundaries. When tackling the twisty stuff on some climbs outside Brisbane its was impressive, yet it quickly became sublime on the track at Lakeside Raceway.
Down the main straight it managed to pull 190kmh through a dipping and challenging left hander, while bigger brakes over the standard GTI (340mm at the front compared to 312 and 310mm over 272 at the rear) provide ample anchoring when it's time to slow.
You can really feel that extra shove from the overboost which comes into play above third gear when you flatten your foot.
It hangs on remarkably for a front-wheel drive, with the electronic mechanical differential lock enabling the driver to maintain higher cornering speeds while the steering remains predictable. Understeer, when the car slides and fails to turn, is virtually non-existent.
Pirelli P Zero tyres offer impressive grip, and they get a workout in the bends as the Golf shifts power to the outside wheel under high load.
What do you get?
Volkswagen has thrown some kit at the anniversary model, with 19-inch alloys, 16.5cm colour touch-screen, eight-speaker CD stereo, and full Bluetooth functionality, along with smartphone-mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as an impressive array of safety equipment like such as radar cruise control, driver fatigue detection, rear view camera, blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert and an emergency braking function which can help avoid or lessen a frontal accident.
There is only one option, $1850 for the panoramic sunroof.
Running on premium unleaded, it should deliver about eight litres for every 100km…depending on how hard you drive.
Expect to pay about $400 per corner to replace the 19-inch Pirelli P Zero rubber, which is pretty good for a performance tyre of this quality as prices have almost halved in recent years with the competitiveness of the market.
Maintaining the ethos of the original, this is a car that can do daily family duties and then prove its own on track days. You get dual cup holders front and back, 60-40 folding rear seats, and a boot good enough for a couple of suitcases.
There are three top-tether points for kids seats, and two Isofix points on the outer seats on the rear pew.
Distinctly Golf in character, there are still some skin changes which set this hot hatch apart from its cold and lukewarm stablemates.
Apart from the badging and 40 Years side decal, the glossy black honeycomb inserts in the lower air intake are a pointer to its ability. Front air fins replace fog lights, two-piece rear spoiler, and the unique bumpers at both ends ensure it receives the most changes to a limited edition model ever.
There are only three colour options, white or red with a black roof, along with metallic carbon steel.
We've always been a fan of the Golf GTI. The Jekyll and Hyde personality is brilliant for those who like to steer, but can't forgo family or daily runabout duties.
So how do you make the GTI better? Make it go faster and stop harder.
Model: Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years.
Details: Five-door five-seat front wheel drive performance hot hatch.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol generating 195kW @ 5350rpm-6600rpm (213kW overboost) and peak torque of 350Nm @ 1700-5600rpm (380Nm overboost).
Transmission: Six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic.
Performance 0-100kmh: 6.3 seconds.
Consumption: 7.1 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $46,990 (m), $48,990 (a).
What matters most
What we liked: Exhaust soundtrack actually sounds mean, kickdown overboost function, outstandingly capable.
What we'd like to see: Digital performance readout to show overboost figure rather than topping out at 195kW.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, with roadside assist for the same period. Capped price servicing available, prices are about $530 per service with maintenance every 15,000km or annually.
Driving experience 15/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 15/20
Value for money 16/20
Style and design 18/20
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