Volkswagen Golf GTI review
Our review of the VW Golf GTI - the original hot hatch, and still one of the very best
For many, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is the go-to hot hatch. It covers all bases thanks to its practical body shape, strong engine and engaging drive - and this Mk7 version is the most comfortable and most efficient yet.
A punchy and powerful engine with terrific manual or automated DSG gearboxes is mated to a chassis that’s smooth riding yet grips tenaciously through the corners. Go-faster options like the Performance Pack and Clubsport versions increase the fun factor – at a cost.
Underlying everything is the original GTI promise of genuinely exciting performance in a practical package. It’s a recipe that keeps on getting better.
The iconic Volkswagen hot hatch has been around since 1974, and is now in its seventh generation. While it created the hot hatch genre – or at least popularised it – the model faces a raft of entertaining and engaging rivals like the Ford Focus ST, Renault Megane Renaultsport, and the Vauxhall Astra VXR.
The VW Golf GTI is based on the regular hatchback’s MQB platform, but thanks to lowered and stiffened suspension, quicker steering and a 217bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine it's a lot more than your standard Golf.
There are essentially three versions to choose from. The standard car gets 217bhp, which for most people is more than enough power, especially when you consider the super-tight chassis and responsive steering.
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Buyers can also add the Performance Pack, which adds 10bhp, larger brakes and an electronically-controlled mechanical limited-slip differential. This automatically increases grip to the wheel on the outside of the corner - and it makes the car really easy to drive fast.
The final option is the limited-run GTI Clubsport, which ramps power up to a Honda Civic Type R fighting 286bhp, while also improving aerodynamics and performance. It sits above the Performance Pack-equipped car but under the range-topping, four-wheel drive VW Golf R. It's by far the best to drive, but you'll pay for the privilege.
The GTI comes in both three and five-door versions, so those needing the extra practicality that rear doors offer aren't left behind. There's no estate version just yet, unfortunately. Running costs are much better than they were before as well, and a wide range of finance offers on the car means it's more affordable than you might think - just ask your local dealer or go to the VW website.
Really frugal buyers can go for the Golf GTD; its 2.0 TDI engine produces 181bhp, but it has more torque than the petrol car and the fuel economy figures are more favourable as well. The Volkswagen Golf GTI's insurance group has been lowered as well, thanks to extra safety systems on this new model.
Engines, performance and drive
With the optional adaptive dampers fitted, the VW Golf GTI is a very comfortable car on all but the roughest roads - it's an option we really recommend. In comfort mode the car glides along so serenely that you’d never guess it features lower, stiffer suspension than the regular hatch. Even without the adaptive damper upgrade, however, the Golf is one of the smoothest hot hatchbacks out there.
It doesn't seem to compromise the handling either, as the GTI once again proves that it's a brilliant all-rounder with the standard set-up. The £980 Performance Pack is another great option to tick, adding a superb limited-slip differential that improves traction out of corners as well as delivering an extra 10bhp.
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The Golf GTI also gets variable-ratio steering, which senses the amount of lock that is being applied to the wheel and adjusts the steering accordingly. It takes some getting used to but makes the car feel very agile, stable and responsive - adding a lot of confidence for the driver.
The 217bhp 2.0-litre engine is a little underpowered compared to rivals like the Renault Megane RS 265 and Ford Focus ST, but with 350Nm of torque it still feels really fast. With the bulk of the power being available from 1,500rpm, the on-road performance is excellent. Both the manual and DSG automatic gearboxes are excellent, so it's a matter of personal preference which one to go for.
Those wanting the ultimate GTI, though, should go for the limited-run Clubsport model, with an extra 59bhp (over the Performance Pack version), as well as improved aerodynamics and a tweaked chassis.
Acceleration for the standard GTI is pretty rapid as you’d expect, with 0 to 62mph coming up in 6.5 seconds. Opt for the Clubsport version though, and that drops to 5.9 seconds. Top speed is limited at 155mph.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The officially quoted economy figures for the VW Golf GTI are very impressive for a performance car; it returns 47mpg and emits just 139g/km of CO2, a massive improvement on the previous model. However don’t forget those numbers are the best ones VW’s engineers are able to massage from the car on a theoretical driving cycle on the test bench – real life figures will be a lot lower if you use the available performance in anything like the manner those same engineers intended.
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Spec the brilliant Clubsport version and you'll suffer more at the pumps too, with that car returning around 41mpg and 162g/km CO2 emissions. The Golf GTD is a much better bet if you want low running costs, as it is said to return more than 60mpg in mixed motoring. It’s not as quick, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch either.
If you can cope with the day-to-day costs, the fixed-price servicing and VW’s large dealer network mean it shouldn’t be too expensive to keep on top of servicing and maintenance either.
Thanks to the emergency city braking technology, the GTI is cheaper to insure as well - it's actually five insurance groups lower than the previous model with a group 29 rating.
The VW Golf GTI will likely look after your investment, too, but it’s not an exceptional performer on the used car market. Used car valuation experts CAP reckon all variants will be worth 49 to 50 per cent of their new cost after three years and 30,000 miles of ownership. Those figures are actually a couple of percentage points higher than the GTD models, and the same amount lower than the Golf R – which CAP reckons will be the most valued at 51 to 53 per cent.
Interior, design and technology
The new GTI's design is certainly evolutionary rather than revolutionary - it looks virtually identical to the previous model, but that won’t be a surprise to VW enthusiasts.
As usual, there are a number of relatively subtle design elements that set the hot model apart from the standard Golf hatchback, including a roof spoiler, GTI badging, a bodykit and a sports exhaust.
The most noticeable feature is the red stripe that runs across the grille and into the headlamps.
The range-topping Clubsport model is the lariest version on offer, with a deep front splitter and sizeable rear wing leaving other road users in no doubt about its sporting aspirations. It also gets graphics down the side and unique body-hugging bucket seats. It's not all for show though, as VW insists the aero changes help to make the Clubsport the fastest GTI to date.
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The GTI’s interior picks up the theme from the grille, with discreet red highlights helping to create a sporty atmosphere. The flat-bottomed, three-spoked GTI steering wheel has red stitching, there are aluminium pedals and the classic golf-ball-inspired gearknob is a pretty cool touch as well. The rest of the cabin is standard Golf hatchback fare. That’s no bad thing, as it means you can expect a clear and concise design with a large centrally mounted touchscreen, and a top quality feel.
You can spec the car with leather seats, but we'd always go for the chic tartan cloth seats that come as standard. Other standard equipment on the GTI includes DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and adaptive cruise control.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The GTI comes as standard with a 6.5-inch touchscreen system with Discover navigation, including 3D mapping and traffic updates. It also gives you access to Car-Net which streams traffic, fuel prices, parking space availability, weather and news feeds. There’s an optional App-Connect function to allow on-screen mirroring of your smartphone, and you can upgrade to Discover Pro navigation for voice activation and a larger 8-inch screen.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The GTI is virtually identical to the standard Golf in terms of size and packaging, so it's just as practical as the standard hatchback. The five-door model makes up about 70 per cent of all GTI sales, which makes sense as it’s the more practical body style and we think that suits the GTI’s agenda of offering practical performance much better than the three-door. You might choose the three door for style reasons, but unless you rarely use the back seats there’ll be plenty of opportunities to regret the compromise.
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Whichever version you choose though, the Golf’s cabin is spacious and easily able to accommodate five adults. The car is also very well thought out from the point of view of oddment storage, with a large glovebox, big door bins and storage under the front seats.
The Golf GTI is 4,268mm long, 1,790mm wide and 1,442mm tall. The Vauxhall Astra VXR is 1,446mm long and the Ford Focus ST is 4,362mm.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The rear seats are definitely large enough for most adults, and there’s plenty of head- and legroom in the rear. The transmission tunnel reduces foot space for a central passenger though. Isofix child seat mounts are standard, and access to the rear seats is excellent – unless you’ve picked the three-door.
The Golf GTI is identical to its less sporting stable-mates in the load-carrying department. It gets a solid 380-litre boot with an adjustable floor, making it a better bet for luggage than the Ford Focus ST. However if you’re looking for the ultimate load volume the GTI has less space than the Honda Civic Type R and Skoda Octavia vRS.
With the rear seats folded the Golf’s load area becomes even more practical – the floor is completely flat and the low boot lip makes it easy to get things in and out.
Reliability and Safety
The Golf GTI gets the same Euro NCAP rating as the standard Golf, the full five stars – a result that’s partly thanks to the curtain and driver's knee airbags and stability control, which are both standard. Plus, it has an autonomous emergency braking system that will automatically apply the anchors if the car senses an imminent low-speed collision.
The Golf was independently crash tested in 2012, when NCAP awarded it 94 per cent for adult occupant safety, 89 per cent for child occupant safety, 65 per cent for pedestrian safety and 71 per cent for safety assist systems. The Ford Focus tested in the same year scored 92, 82, 72 and 71 per cent.
The VW Golf has built up an enviable reputation for reliability over the 30 odd years it’s been in production, even if the emissions scandal has tarnished the image more than a little.
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The company also scored a respectable 30th place finish in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, which is down a little from the year before but still a great result out of 200 cars. However, while the Golf performed very strongly in many areas, reliability was one of its weakest rankings in our survey. Our readers rated reliability at 75th, above the halfway mark in a survey of 200 cars, but not as high as we might have expected. Oddly the SEAT Leon, which is a VW Group stable-mate to the Golf, finished fourth overall and had a top 10 finish for reliability.
The Volkswagen Golf comes with a fairly unremarkable warranty offering three years of cover with a 60,000-mile limit in the third year. It’s pretty standard fare, but the Renaultsport Megane does better with four-year cover and a 100,000 mile cap.
Pick one of the fixed menu-priced schemes from your VW dealer and you can cover basic servicing costs from as little as £16 per month. If you want to extend cover to include consumables like spark plugs and tyres then you’ll have to pay a bit more. All prices look competitive though.