Volkswagen Golf GTI (2012-2019) review
Constant updates keep the hot hatch originator near the front of the performance car pack
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a hot hatch that truly covers all the bases. Over four decades of history has made the seventh-generation car the most complete yet, and faster rivals can't dent its appeal.
The swift and flexible 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is great whether you spec it with a manual or DSG automatic gearbox, while the Golf GTI also uses a chassis that manages to be comfortable, yet grips tenaciously through the corners.
Underlying everything is the original GTI promise of genuinely exciting performance in a practical, high-quality package. It’s a recipe that hasn't always succeeded in the past, but in the last few generations, the hot Golf has truly returned to form. There are quicker and more track-focused hot hatches around, but few are as complete as this hot hatch original.
While small, fast cars were nothing new when the Volkswagen Golf GTI first arrived, it did set the template for hot hatchbacks in the decades to come. While the Golf GTI has transformed beyond recognition from the 1976 original, it's still a relevant and rewarding hot hatchback to own and drive. In many ways, it is the true all-rounder.
Volkswagen’s latest Golf GTI first went on sale in 2012, and was facelifted at the start of 2017 as part of the wider Golf range update. In 2018 the lesser-powered version of the GTI’s engine was removed due to more stringent emissions regulations so that only the “Performance” and “TCR” models now remain.
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The current Golf GTI range is powered by a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine regardless of which version you go for. The cheaper Performance model produces 242bhp, while the newer GTI TCR gets 286bhp. Performance-spec GTIs come with the choice of either six-speed manual or a twin-clutch DSG, whilst the TCR is only available with a DSG.
Under the skin, the Golf GTI benefits from VW's tried and tested MQB platform to deliver rewarding handling. There is no four-wheel drive GTI – you’ll have to step up to the Golf R for that – but the basic chassis offers a good blend of handling and comfort. The GTI's suspension has been lowered by 10mm over the standard Golf, while stiffened springs and dampers and revised geometry enhance the driving experience.
All versions of the GTI feature VW's XDS electronic diff lock, which lightly applies the brake to the inside wheel when cornering to boost turn-in. There are additional options available to boost the GTI's handling further, including adaptive dampers that are part of the DCC Dynamic Chassis Control package.
One area where the current Golf GTI overshadows the original is with the standard kit on offer. Full LED headlights, 18-inch alloys, big brakes, front and rear parking sensors and sat-nav are all included as standard, while larger wheels, leather trim and an upgraded infotainment system can be added at extra cost. But the Mk7 Golf GTI still pays homage to its ancestor, with red detailing inside and out, tartan cloth trim as standard and a Golf ball-inspired gearlever in the manual model.
The GTI isn't the only performance Golf on sale. It has formed the basis of the diesel-powered GTD and the plug-in hybrid GTE, while at the top of the range is the aforementioned four-wheel drive Golf R. Unlike these derivatives, there are just two body styles offered for the Golf GTI, either three or five doors (the GTD and Golf R can be had as estate cars, too).
Prices for the Golf GTI Performance start from around £31,000, with the DSG gearbox commanding a premium of around £1,000. The TCR version costs a little over £2,000 more than the standard GTI, while choosing the five-door body on either car will bump up the price by around £660.
Rivals for the Golf GTI have come and gone, but today there are two distinct ranks of performance hot hatchback on sale. The GTI falls into the front-wheel drive class, where it fights for sales against the Renaultsport Megane, Peugeot 308 GTi, Hyundai i30 N, MINI Cooper JCW, Vauxhall Astra VXR, Ford Focus ST, Skoda Octavia vRS and SEAT Leon Cupra, the latter two share running gear with the GTI.
It also rivals the Honda Civic Type R and BMW M140i, although these two straddle the gap between the front-drive hot hatches and more extreme hatches such as the Ford Focus RS, VW Golf R, Audi RS 3 and Mercedes-AMG A45.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingConstant updates keep the hot hatch originator near the front of the performance car pack
- 2Engines, performance and driveSuperb chassis set-up makes the GTI both comfortable and agile. The engine is responsive and punchy too
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsThe Golf GTI proves that running a performance car needn’t break the bank
- 4Interior, design and technologyIt’s no surprise the latest Golf GTI looks like the last… but the onboard tech is a leap forward
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe Golf GTI once again fulfils its promise by offering genuinely practical performance
- 6Reliability and SafetyThe Golf has a top five-star crash rating and performs strongly in our Driver Power survey