The Volkswagen Golf GTi is to hot hatches what Edison is to electricity and Martin Luther King is to the Afro-American community. It invented the term hot hatch and democratised the performance car.
Not surprisingly then, it was the one car that I greedily ran up to, ignoring machines like the Audi A4 DTM and even the Porsche Cayenne S. Partly because of the legend that is the GTi, and partly because it has a 2000cc turbocharged gasoline direct injection engine developed by Bosch.
To tell you the truth, this whole diesel movement is getting to me. Yeah, yeah, I know it's clean and I know it's the next generation fuel and all that, but as far as I know, there will never be an oil burner under a hood that wears a prancing horse. At least I hope so.
Back to the GTi. Such is the legend of the GTi that though the last two generations haven't even been a patch on the original, people continued to buy them. In fact, the last one had an anaemic 115 bhp motor. So when I say that the fifth generation Golf was the most important sink-or-swim model for the GTi range, I am not joking.
And as I slammed the accelerator pedal to the floor board, on the banked track of Bosch's 230-acre Boxberg proving ground, the rev counter just hit the last number on the dial while the deceptive acceleration saw me hitting a mighty 186 kph on the speed trap. Effectively blowing all the other oil burners into the unkrautwermerzen. Or whatever it is in German for weeds. And that, my dear friends, means that the GTi and the gasoline engine are back in business.
Now I might be giving you the idea that all we did was go around in circles in some of the most exciting cars, trying to set personal land speed records. But there was a lot of sensible stuff too, like technology that is life-saving, eco-friendly and that makes piloting a car easier for all of us.
Unfortunately for me and my diesel prejudices, the oil burner is getting more attractive by the day. Diesels are making a case for themselves. In Europe, people are opting for diesel engines as if it were the Pope's directive. And these systems are getting even better.
For example, by 2006, Bosch would be introducing a particulate filter that will require no maintenance or replacement for the entire life of the vehicle. Reducing operating costs even further.
However, the big eco-weenie thing these days is hybrid. And while all hybrids today use petrol engines, someone at Bosch has thought of combining a diesel engine with an electric motor. The best of both worlds, perhaps.
Will the fairer sex now please pay some attention? How many times have you rolled back into the car behind you while starting off from a steep gradient? Well, the guys at Bosch know about this, and hence have developed something know as Hill Hold Control that does exactly what it says.
That is, it detects that you are on a gradient and maintains brake pressure till you stomp on the accelerator and are ready to go. Wonder why someone never thought of this before, right? Before you ask, let me tell you that this sort of equipment is already available on cars like the BMW 5 Series. However, the next one is an absolute clincher for the ladies.
It's called Park Assistant. And if you've switched it on, all you have to do is get down wherever you have to, punch in the time you want the car back, and while you head on to have a look at the latest from Chopard, the car drives around to find a parking spot. Too good to be true, isn't it? Well, that's because it isn't. But it does the next best thing.
Now let's say you're driving around and come across a spot to park. And as if parallel parking isn't a task in itself, you don't know if the car will fit in the slot. Always the case, right? Anyway, you needn't worry if you've got Park Assistant. All you have to do is drive past the spot you think you can park the car. And while you do that, this inbuilt valet measures the length and depth of the spot as it drives past.
Then a microcomputer rapidly calculates the required steering manoeuvres. After which it advises you to put it in gear while it automatically steers the vehicle, neatly into the slot. Now that's something, isn't it? This, coming to a showroom near you in 2007.
Well, at least to a showroom near you if you live in Deutschland. And please understand that I am not being a chauvinist here. It's the whole Mars/Venus thing you see. We are good at stuff like clutch control and parallel parking, while gals generally know stuff like what colour shoelaces would match the colour of the eyes... that sort of thing.
Besides, there are systems that could be helpful for guys as well. Like the video-based lane departure warning. I could tell you how it works, but let's focus on the end result, since that's the fascinating bit. What it does is it identifies the boundaries of the lane and if the vehicle begins to wander off course, it warns the driver by tugging at the seat belt.
Something that will come in handy on the way back home after a long hard day at the, ahem, pub. But in all seriousness, these lane departure warning systems are a godsend while driving in adverse conditions, as it even warns the driver of the obstacles on the course.
As the world's largest automotive supplier (they pipped Delphi to the post in January this year), Bosch naturally spends a lot of its resources on developing safety systems. Believe it or not, but the German major actually spends more than nine percent of its sales on R&D, and with about 12 patents everyday, it certainly keeps the patents office busy.
Not surprisingly, a lot of it results in newer safety systems like Adaptive Cruise Control or ACC that controls vehicle speed. Okay, if that sounds scary, let me break it up for you. It's something that combines cruise control with a kind of radar that maintains a minimum distance to the preceding vehicle.
The good thing is that you get to set that distance, and in order to maintain the selected distance, your car will either brake or accelerate. The not so good thing is that you can't just hand over everything to the ACC and chill back. You see, it works only above 30 kph, and so you have to remain attentive at all times. Plus, you can always override the system.
In addition to this, there is PBA or Predictive Brake Assist. It uses the data from the radar, and when it detects a situation dangerous enough, it prepares for the vehicle to brake. It does this by applying pilot pressure to the brake system so that the required brake pressure is generated quicker. And the brake pads are brought up against the brake discs very gently.
In addition, it lowers the triggering threshold for hydraulic brake assist systems. Having trouble understanding? Well, me too. But what I can tell you is that it all results in giving you that extra hundredth of a second that could literally be the difference between life and death.
Now don't smirk at the fact that the car can't brake on its own yet. Because that's the next step. It's still under development though and it's called Predictive Emergency Braking. It spots an obstacle and ensures you slow down so that the impact is lessened -- though this is still some time away from making it into a production car.
All in all, it was a fantastic day. One that gave me a glimpse into the future, and more importantly, one that helped me achieve a personal land speed record. 215 kph in a Volkswagen Phaeton. Might as well mention now that it ran on diesel.