Interview: James Wong

James Wong is a well-known figure among car guys and girls in Australia – before he became an automotive communications consultant at Pulse, he worked as an automotive journalist for caradvice.com.au. You have probably watched one of his video reviews or read some of his many articles, so we thought it would be interesting to have a chat with him about hot hatches since he recently became a proud owner of a Golf GTI!

James, first of all, congratulations on your latest purchase, I am sure everyone would like to know more about the reasons you chose the Volkswagen Golf GTI VII facelift as your first car.    

Thanks so much! Well, my love for the Golf started a little while ago when I first started at CarAdvice. As many readers would know, the company owned a pre-facelift Mk7 GTI for a number of years, and that was one of the first cars I drove on the job. When I sat in it for the first time I immediately felt like the car was for me, and even years later it was always one of the very few cars I could see myself driving. So, once I left CA and required to actually buy a car of my own for my hectic new daily life, I just had to have one. The 7.5 facelift mixes the retro styling and trimmings with the famed GTI heritage and the latest technology. I’m all about throwbacks with a modern twist, and the latest Golf embodies that completely. The MY19 GTI comes standard with the 12.3-inch Active Info Display (love) and all the requisite driver-assist features that will become the norm in the coming years. But even with all the new tech, you can still get the tartan seat trim and punchy hot hatch performance the GTI name is known for. Long story short, it was a no-brainer. 

Having driven almost all of the hot hatches in recent years, which one was the most exciting to drive and which would make the best daily driver in your opinion?

It’s an interesting market these days, because there’s so many different models that offer so many personalities. To be honest, there really isn’t a bad choice in the current field, but I think the most exciting to drive would be a tie between the Hyundai i30 N and the Ford Focus RS MK3. Both just had an edge and soundtrack to them that made you chuckle regardless of the speed you were going. However, the firm ride and manual transmissions of both those cars aren’t necessarily suited for peak-hour commuting unless you’re a die-hard stick-shift enthusiast. Best daily would have to be the Golf, which is why I bought one.

If you had the chance to get behind the wheel of any hot hatch in history for a weekend, which one would you choose? 

That is such a hard question. If I was to get the keys to something that I could readily get right now it would probably be the Ford Focus RS MK2 – preferably in that eye-searing metallic green. I read so much about it as a teenager and loved the colour, so I’ve always wanted to drive one. But, there are two very special ones that I’d love to try – the Renault Clio V6 and the VW Golf GTI W12 Concept, because they’re both wild, mid-engined petrol head fantasies that somehow made it to real life.

You worked as a journalist for Caradvice for more than three years, so you have a very good feel of the car industry. In that context, do you believe that driving pleasure is still something relevant when SUVs are dominating the global market?

I think so. Many of those older buyers that used to drive sports sedans or sports cars will have moved on to SUVs still with driver engagement as a priority. Case in point is the success of vehicles like the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne/Macan. Just because you drive an SUV doesn’t mean it has to be wallowy or boring behind the wheel. That said, I think there’s less of a focus on driving pleasure in the mainstream segments, though there are still companies trying to provide fun options.

How do you see the future of hot hatches in the hybrid/electric and semi-autonomous era we are slowly heading to?

I think it’s interesting, exciting, and concerning all at the same time. The move to electrification is inevitable, as is the increasing amount of driver assists required as standard to score top safety ratings. However it presents an opportunity for manufacturers to demonstrate their ability to bring the best of both worlds – offering driving pleasure while also being environmentally conscious and prioritising occupant safety.

You represent the youngest generation of petrolheads. Do you believe that the love for the automobile and the urge for driving is gradually fading away as the years pass by?

Yes and no. Plenty of young people love cars and love driving. But I also think it depends on where you live and your circumstances. A lot of people don’t need to drive anymore, and access to convenient transport like Uber or family members/friends means that a lot of urbanites don’t really care to own a car – plus, it’s quite expensive these days. That said, I can’t tell you how many times I’d pick friends up in expensive press vehicles and get heaps of interest even if they weren’t ‘car people’. It’s an interesting time.

Thank you James, enjoy driving your GTI! 

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