KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 9 — Ever since I received a decent hike in my car allowance at my day job, I’ve been on the lookout for another decent set of wheels to sink my oversized buttocks into. Not that my current drives are in any way deficient, mind you.
For all intents and purposes the nippy (if a bit rough around the edges) Gen2 and regally teutonic E39 parked in my driveway serves me pretty darned well. It’s just an automotive itch that begs to be scratched, if I’m to be entirely honest.
So for the past six months, I’ve been jumping in and out of demonstrators at various dealerships, in an attempt to find me that ideal sub-300k car to add to my happy family of cars.
Now, if you’ve ever shopped for cars between RM200k and RM300k, you’ll quickly realise that (1) it’s a price-point where the Japanese stop making financial sense; and (2) the Europeans look a bit stingy when it comes to the metal-for-money equation.
For a 1.905 metre bloke like me, on the wrong side of 90.7kg, the aforementioned equation is crucial for two reasons. Firstly, I hate looking like an elephant stuck on a tricycle when I’m driving. And secondly, I’d still like the option of fitting a few friends in the car with me for road trips and such.
Many European models at this price range fail one, or both of the above requirements. The Mini is an awfully desirable set of wheels, but a distinct underachiever when it comes to accommodating blokes like me. The term “Kereta Badut” comes to mind when I try to imagine myself in one. Sure, there’s the larger 5-door Countryman if I was really, really desperate for a Mini, but I rather reckon the car looks like a confused guppy at feeding time. So no. I’ll take my chances elsewhere, thank you very much.
The Audi A1 is another car which I rather fancy, but won’t ever pay good money for. It looks and goes like a million bucks but rather unfortunately, it’s really sized to accommodate homosapiens of a more petite stature. I tried to get into one at the Audi hangar once. With the driver’s seat set for my height, only dogs and small pets would fit comfortably at the back.
Then one day, I had an epiphany of sorts. Although the locally assembled BMW 3-series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class were within reach — just — one car caught my attention. The Golf GTi.
In many ways, the GTi is a minor league supercar in its own right. It’s a practical, spacious hatchback with a suitably posh image and a heady mix of performance driving dynamics. Although it looks compact, it’s as accommodating inside as many crossovers twice its size. When I sat in a Golf TSi at VW’s showroom in Glenmarie, I was pleasantly surprised that with the driver’s seat set to my driving position, I could still fit a good sized adult behind me. One with proper legs. And arms. And a nasi-lemak infused gut.
It has a stonking 210bhp turbocharged engine up front, a sequential gearbox in the middle and burbly twin exhausts at the rear. It has all the mod-cons you’d expect of a luxury car — cruise control, leather seats, glass sunroof — you know, stuff that makes life in a car just that little bit more relaxing — but it goes like stink, has a top speed high enough to worry the boys in blue and handles like a wet dream. All this for just a bit over RM210k. What a bloody bargain, I thought.
So I popped by the VW showroom in TTDI for a look-see. And rather unfortunately, here’s where it all goes a bit downhill.
First I was told that there were no demonstrators available. There hasn’t been one for a while now, as VW is in the enviable position of having far more orders on its books than it has cars to actually sell. So no test drive. Boo….
Nonetheless, I could live with not testing the car. I mean, the GTi is one of those cars that even Jeremy Clarkson approves of, for chrissakes. If Jeremy says it’s good, who am I to question him, right?
But just for the sake of asking, I queried the sales consultant if there was any way I could just have a poke in one of the GTis in their service centre. My concern here wasn’t about the car’s handling or performance, both of which have been well documented and proven quite exceptional. It was, of all things, the driver’s seat.
The GTi, you see, has front seats that are quite radically different from its garden-variety TSi brother’s. They are racy bucket numbers with aggressive-looking bolstering, red stitching and the hide of a few dead cows spread across its cushion and backrest.
Looking at pictures of the seats on the Net and in magazines, my thought had always been that they looked just a wee bit narrow. Which of course would be a concern to anyone built like a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Nonetheless, I comforted myself with this thought — “If Jeremy Clarkson fits in the seat… I should be pretty ok.”
As luck would have it, the dealership did indeed have a Golf GTi in the service centre when I paid them a visit. The metallic grey, six-month old car was brought in by a used car dealer for an inspection. Its previous owner had traded it in for a Mercedes, apparently, and the dealer was just giving the car a once-over before putting it up for sale. So with no owner to call its own, I thought it was a rare but perfect opportunity to poke around a GTi and see if it was worth putting a downpayment on.
After a quick introduction and chat with the used car dealer, who was waiting in the dealership’s lounge, both he and the sales manager escorted me down to the service garage where the GTi sat idle, just waiting its turn for some VW TLC.
It was a gleaming piece of Wolfsburg art, to be honest. Gleaming alloys, unsullied paint. I poked my head through the open window and the interior still looked and smelt like a brand new car. I was, if I’m to be entirely honest, half tempted to see if there was any way I could take this car off the dealer’s hands, seeing that it was the quickest way to bypass the six-month-plus wait for a new GTi.
But rather wisely, I decided to first see if the seats were going to accommodate my lardy behind.
I opened the door, pushed the seat as far back as it would go and plonked myself down into them. At this point, I have to point out that, whilst I may not be the fittest, trimmest person to ever walk the face of the earth, I do still fit into sub-size 38 jeans (at a squeeze, admittedly) — so I don’t think I’m much larger than the average beer-guzzling, bratwurst-munching German.
But having settled into the GTi’s heavily bolstered front seat, I felt like I had dropped myself into the automotive seat equivalent of compression clothing. You know, the ones that make you look like an overstuffed spring roll and sends all the blood rushing to your head as you struggle to breathe.
The side bolsters on the backrest were epically intrusive, digging, quite literally, into my armpit. The amply sized bolsters on the cushion on the other hand, squeezed my thighs together with the alacrity of a clamp, causing — and I’m not kidding here — a subtly numb feeling in my... urm… nether region. And no matter how much I adjusted the thing, I simply could NOT get comfortable!
Tilting the backrest backwards relieved my armpits from the burrowing habits of the offending bolsters, but it also resulted in a driving position more commonly found in Cheras, where fluorescent-painted Satrias parade about with loud Canto-pop blaring from their stereos and drivers are more accustomed to laying horizontally across their perches than driving upright.
And with those large, protruding, thick, firm bolsters on the sides of the seat cushion, getting in and out of the car required my limbs to circumnavigate the rolls of cow hide with the dexterity of an acrobat. I literally had to fling my right leg over the cushion bolster to avoid squishing the thing and creasing the leather permanently. Give it a few years, and I reckon the right-side bolster on the driver’s side would start looking like a rain-soaked popiah.
No joy to be had here, to be honest.
I know some people love their GTi and its vice-like seats to death, but I for one, wasn’t a fan. I like my car seats to be subtly supportive, and more importantly, non-intrusive when it comes to ingress and egress from the car. The seats on the racy Golf didn’t quite fit the bill for the latter. Sure, they keep you in place with a dominatrix-like conviction if you’re really giving the car the beans on a race track, but honestly, how many of us drive our RM210k car like that? Ninety-nine per cent of the time, we’re more likely to be stuck in rush hour traffic, where I reckon the seats would drive someone like me mad.
And so it was that my “ideal” sub-300k car proved to be not-so-ideal after all. The perfect hot-hatch, undone by a driver’s seat with over-enthusiastic bolstering. Sigh….
VW, if you’re reading this, could you please please please NOT model your next GTi seat after a boa constrictor? I’d be eternally, eternally grateful.
A GTi fan who can’t fit into your GTi seats.