Volkswagen Golf GTI review
Our review of the VW Golf GTI - the original hot hatch, and still one of the very best
The Volkswagen Golf GTI was the original hot hatch. With the mk7 model, launched in 2013, VW has made the car quicker, comfier and more efficient. Combine this with the GTI's desirable image, and you have one of the best all-round hot hatches you can buy. The GTI shares its MQB underpinnings with the standard Golf, which is a very good starting point, but it adds lowered and stiffened suspension, quicker steering and a 217bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. You can also buy a Performance Pack upgrade, which increases power by 10bhp and adds larger brakes plus an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential – a first for the GTI. Three- and five-door body styles are available, and the starting price comes in at just under £26,000, which is a slight increase on the old car. However, improved efficiency means running costs are lower, while the addition of the new Volkswagen active safety systems has lowered the insurance group for the new GTI, making it cheaper to insure than before. The firm is usually keen to promote the finance deals offered by Volkswagen Finance, so if you’re interested in buying a Golf GTI on a personal contract purchase plan or getting one on lease, head to VW’s website to see what offers are available. Finally, if you want hot hatch performance with more affordable running costs, you should take a look at the Golf GTD – its 2.0 TDI engine produces 181bhp, which is some way short of the GTI’s power output, but its 380Nm of torque is 30Nm up on the petrol model’s figure.
Our choice: Golf GTI five-door manual Performance Pack
The new Golf GTI looks pretty much the same as the old one – but that's because Volkswagen has, once again, gone for an evolutionary rather than revolutionary design. It retains the model’s classic dimensions, and there are all the usual GTI trademarks and accessories, such as a roof spoiler, GTI badging, a subtle body kit and a sports exhaust. And there's the traditional red stripe across the grille, only this time it extends into the headlamps. Various red accents and shiny bits of trim throughout the interior help create a sporty feel, as does the flat-bottomed GTI steering wheel, aluminium pedals and classic golf-ball-inspired gearknob. Standard tartan cloth seats also make a welcome return, and raise the question of why anyone would pay for the optional leather upgrade. it also comes with a decent haul of standard kit, including a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and adaptive cruise control. Overall, the GTI looks like a very desirable machine. It may lack the in-your-face attitude of some rivals, but none can match its breadth of appeal.
There are two sides to the Golf GTI. The first is comfort. While other cars in the class trade ride quality for handling, the Golf somehow manages to effortlessly combine both - especially cars fitted with the optional adaptive dampers. In comfort mode it glides along so serenely that you’d never guess it features lowered and stiffened suspension. That’s until you point the car at a few bends and realise just how well it handles. It's even better when fitted with the limited-slip differential that comes as part of the £980 Performance Pack, as this improves traction and slingshots you out of corners. New variable-ratio steering, which progressively increases the effect on the front wheels as you apply more lock, makes the car feel very agile and responsive to inputs, while excellent stability provides you with lots of confidence to make the most of the performance. The GTI's 217bhp 2.0-litre power output is below that of its main rivals, but the 350Nm of torque it produces isn't. And because it's available from 1,500rpm, performance is instantaneous whether you go for the Performance Pack or not. Both the manual and DSG automatic transmissions are efficient and responsive, too. Yet there's something missing from the GTI: fun. Unlike the Ford Focus ST and Renaultsport Megane 265, the Golf simply isn't that involving to drive. It provides staggering grip and few cars are faster through a series of corners, but you're unlikely to take the VW for a spin just for the hell of it.
The Volkswagen Golf has earned an impressive five-star rating from Euro NCAP, making the GTI one of the safest hot hatches around. All models come with curtain and driver's knee airbags, while stability control is standard. The GTI also gets VW's anti-collision systems, which can prevent you getting too close to the car in front and will even automatically brake the car to a complete halt to prevent a collision at low speed. Then there's the reliability – the Golf's reputation for solidity has been one of its key selling points for over 30 years. Nonetheless, the GTI gets a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty. VW also scored a respectable 16th place finish in our 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey.
The GTI is just like any Golf, so that makes it a very practical performance car. Obviously the five-door is the easiest model to live with, and that's why it’ll account for 70 per cent of all GTI sales. Both it and the three-door have a good-sized 380-litre boot with an adjustable floor - that's bigger than the Ford Focus, but significantly smaller than the Honda Civic and Skoda Octavia. There’s also a low load height and a completely flat boot floor when the rear seats are folded. Add back seats which have enough space for adults, as well as a selection of useful storage spaces throughout the car, and the Golf GTI is very easy to live with indeed.
Volkswagen says the Golf GTI can return up to 47mpg and emits just 139g/km of CO2, which is a massive improvement on the previous model. Drive it how the engineer's intended though and you can expect around 10mpg less than that in the real world. The car's insurance rating is lower, too. The addition of various active safety systems as standard, such as emergency city braking, means the GTI sits five insurance groups lower than before. When you also consider that the GTI will hold onto around 50 percent of its value after three years, and the fact that VW offers fixed-price servicing and a large dealer network, you can see why it’s one of the most affordable performance cars available.