Volkswagen Golf GTI Review
We Brits have an insatiable desire for hot hatches and they don’t come much better than the Golf GTI. But after four decades does the car still drive us wild with excitement?
- Dynamic styling with stand-out GTI cues
- Blistering performance
- Available with three or five doors
- Quite expensive
- Viewed as a ‘boy-racer’ car
- A little noisy when pushed hard
The UK accounts for more VW Golf GTI sales than any other country and after more than four decades the car still encompasses everything it set out to do when launched back in 1977. The Golf is mid-way through its seventh-generation cycle and with a choice of body styles along with two high-powered engines, the Golf GTI looks amazing from any angle.
GTI styling helps it stand out from the crowd with the likes of unique bumpers, a black honeycomb front intake with GTI badging, red brake calipers and a rear roof spoiler. Sporty alloys, tinted windows, twin chrome tailpipes and sweeping headlight clusters complete the car’s powerful road presence.
VW describes the GTI as ‘athletic, feisty and distinctive’ and that perfectly sums up this pocket rocket that can power its way to 62mph from a standing start in just 6.4 seconds and redlines at 155mph.
On the Road
We tested the Golf GTI 2.0 TSI 310PS model with six-speed manual gearbox in five-door guise. This model has had a power increase from 220PS and can complete the 0-62mph sprint in a rapid 6.4 seconds and tops out at 155mph. If those stats aren’t quite sharp enough there is a Performance model available that offers a whopping 245PS so really cranks up the power output.
The Golf GTI is seriously fast but also feels very safe at the same time. Yes, the acceleration is enough to satisfy the most demanding thrill seekers and delivers incredible grip even when driven hard into tight bends. But part of the car’s appeal is its all-round charm. By that I mean it can be driven in a composed, somewhat mature manner so after 30 minutes of exhilarating, edge-of-the-seat delinquency, you could calm things down in time for the school run.
But with all that power at your disposal, it’s hard to resist the temptation to have some fun. The six-speed gearbox is beautifully responsive and the power keeps on coming no matter how hard you push. The GTI is wonderfully balanced and although the lowered sports suspension ensures a firm-like ride, it doesn’t mean you’ll need a chiropractor on speed dial.
With excellent grip, first class handling and the guarantee of a beautifully balanced ride, few hot hatch-styled cars can compete with the qualities offered by the Golf GTI.
It is a car that feels like it’s gliding across the tarmac when driven with a relaxed right boot, but when unleashed the whole character changes quite dramatically and it’s that split personality that has made the Golf GTI such a desirable model over the decades.
It is also a car that instils confidence in the driver. That’s because power is fed through the front wheels with the aid of a super-slick transmission and the precise steering delivers excellent driver feedback. And that means you always feel you have control of the car even when driven hard.
On motorways, it’s comfortable, quiet and composed and when pottering around town, the Golf GTI is nimble and easy to manoeuvre with compact dimensions and all-round parking sensors that help to make light work of squeezing into tight parking spaces.
The interior of the Golf GTI is beautifully refined with a whole host of neat and upmarket styling cues. VW does the simple things exceptionally well with a great eye for detail such as the red door sill panels and GTI badging. The heated front seats are upholstered in Jacara Red cloth and offer height and lumbar adjustment.
The leather trimmed three-spoke steering wheel features neat red stitching and there are honeycomb black decorative inserts in the dash and door panels. Stainless steel sports pedals act as a gentle reminder that this is no ordinary Golf.
And with that in mind, there are different driving modes which alter the car’s responses so switch to Sport for a louder and somewhat less refined driving experience or select Normal when you want to settle your nerves.
In the car
The Golf GTI is a car that you get into, make a few steering wheel, seat and mirror adjustments and immediately feel at home in. The large windows offer great all-round visibility and all the instrumentation is perfectly positioned for driver usability with a wealth of on-board technology at your disposal.
It’s quick and simple to connect your phone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto which offers access to a number of apps via the car’s touchscreen. Discover Navigation Pro systems allow you to connect to the internet via your smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot to access up-to-the-minute traffic reports and other useful information.
The 9.2-inch touchscreen is easy to operate with excellent clarity and detailed graphics. It even offers gesture control and the screen can be configured to show a variety of options.
A feature well worth mentioning are the beautifully styled sports seats with a Tartan-looking pattern that really do highlight the GTI’s flamboyant character.
Although the VW Golf GTI is billed as a hot hatch, it is deceptively practical and can easily accommodate a family of four along with all their luggage for a fun-packed holiday.
There is plenty of space in the back for two adults or three youngsters to stretch out with generous levels of head, leg and shoulder room. And the boot capacity ranges from 380 to 1,270 litres with the split-folding rear seats lowered. Elsewhere there is a good-sized glovebox, cup holders and practical door bins.
The wide opening boot makes loading awkwardly-shaped objects a simple process too.
Access to the rear seats is excellent (unless you have selected the three-door model of course) and the large windows mean plenty of light floods into the cabin helping to create a bright and pleasant environment for all occupants.
The test car was priced at £29,440 although a few optional extras soon took that price-tag over the £30k bar to £32,940. The most expensive GTI Performance version costs £31,650 and the entry model in the GTI line-up is the three-door version with six-speed manual gearbox priced at £29,120. This is still more than £10,000 higher than the cheapest new Golf model but obviously, buyers are getting a performance hatchback in the deal.
And with performance comes a slight increase in running costs. The test car with its 0-62mph sprint time of 6.4 seconds could deliver combined fuel economy of 44.8mpg with carbon emissions of 148g/km. That would result in a Vehicle Excise Duty cost of £200 for the first year which is reduced to £140 after that.
The insurance group rating for the car is 32.
When it comes to reliability the VW Golf has built a solid reputation over the years that is the envy of many rival manufacturers. Admittedly, the company’s reputation took quite a hit due to the emissions scandal, but VW cars do tend to survive the test of time.
All the parts, components and software in the GTI have been tried and tested and show no signs of failing. The car is based on the standard Golf MQB platform but with a number of structural upgrades mainly in the steering and suspension departments to enhance performance.
It is well-built with quality materials and all the switchgear and on-board technology looks like it has been designed to last.
All Golf GTI models are sold with a three year/60,000-mile warranty.
The Golf GTI comes with the same maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating as its Golf siblings and features numerous airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes, a driver alert system and adaptive cruise control.
In addition, there are a number of intelligent driver assistance systems that help deal with a potentially critical situation. These include the likes of adaptive cruise control, a Front Assist system that primes the brakes if it senses a collision is likely which in turn shortens the stopping distance when the brakes are applied. This system also monitors the traffic situation in front of your car, warning you visually and audibly if you get too close and even applying the brakes if necessary.
There is a blind spot sensor along with Dynamic Light Assist which automatically controls your high beam dipping the lights when an oncoming vehicle is detected. These are just a few of the many features that make the Golf GTI a very safe and sound vehicle to be in.