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 is a big name when it comes to hot hatchbacks - the original model is considered to be the first car associated with the term. This new mk7 model is the most comfortable, efficient and fastest version yet - and thanks to all of the improvements, it's probably one of the best all-round hot hatches you can buy today.
The VW Golf GTI is based on the 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. You can also spec the Golf GTI Performance Pack upgrade, 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 GTI comes in both three- and five-door versions, so those needing the extra practicality that rear doors offer aren't left behind. 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 and the 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.
Our choice: Golf GTI five-door manual Performance Pack
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 it glides along so serenely that you’d never guess it features lower, stiffer suspension. Even without the upgrade, however, the Golf is one of the smoothest hot hatchbacks out there.
This doesn't seem to compromise the handling, however - the GTI once again proves that it's a brilliant all-rounder. The £980 Performance Pack is another great option to tick, adding a superb limited-slip differential that improves traction out of corners.
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.
Despite being technically excellent, the GTI does lack an important ingredient - it's not that fun to drive. While the Ford Focus ST and Renaultsport Megane 265 are very involving and entertaining, the Golf just feels a bit too plain to really get a keen driver excited about taking it for a spin.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The official 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. You can probably expect about 37mpg in normal driving, however - this is a hot hatch, after all. The Golf GTD is a much better bet if you're desperate for low running costs, as it returns around 47mpg in the real world.
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.
The VW Golf GTI will likely hold on to more than 50 per cent of its value after three years, too. Fixed-price servicing and a large dealer network mean it's not too expensive to keep on the road, either.
Interior, design and technology
The new GTi's design is certainly evolutionary rather than revolutionary - it looks virtually identical to the previous model. There are a number of subtle design elements that set it apart form the standard Golf, 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 interior continues the red theme, creating a sporty atmosphere. The flat-bottomed GTI steering wheel, aluminium pedals and classic golf-ball-inspired gearknob are cool touches as well.
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.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The five-door model will make up about 70 per cent of all GTI sales - it's the more practical body style, so it suits the GTI better than the three-door. The GTI is virtually identical to the standard Golf in terms of size, so it's just as practical as the standard car.
There's a solid 380-litre boot with an adjustable floor, making it better for luggage than the Ford Focus ST, but it has less space than the Honda Civic (a Type R model is coming soon) and Skoda Octavia vRS.
With the rear seats folded flat the load area becomes even more practical - it's completely flat and the low lip makes it easy to get things in and out. The rear seats are definitely large enough for most adults and there are plenty of storage cubbies around the cabin.
Reliability and Safety
The Golf GTI gets the same Euro NCAP rating as the standard Golf, the full five stars - that's partly thanks to the curtain and driver's knee airbags and stability control, which are both standard. Plus, there are systems in place that automatically brake for you if it senses a low-speed collision to stop you getting too close to the car in front.
The VW Golf has had a solid reputation for reliability for over 30 years, and the company also scored a respectable 16th place finish in our 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. The car comes with a 60,000-mile warranty as standard, too.