“Fast, comfy and practical, the Golf GTI is a car for every occasion.”
Introduced in 1976, the Volkswagen Golf GTI was the original hot hatchback. Since then, countless manufacturers have copied the idea, with cars like the Ford Focus ST and Vauxhall Astra VXR adding more power and faster engines to the conventional family hatchback. The Golf GTI gets all the practicality of the standard VW Golf, but with a 217bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine capable of 0-62mph in just 6.5 seconds. Outside, the car gets 18-inch alloy wheels, as well as aggressive bumpers and a sporty red line that runs across the front grille and through the headlights. On the inside, there are a set of tartan GTI seats, a sporty steering wheel and a beautifully made interior with lots of high-quality materials. In summary, the Golf GTI is a well-made, desirable and fun car with enough room for all the family and impressively low running costs, too.
Given that the Golf GTI trails the Ford Focus ST in terms of power, you’d think it wouldn’t be quite as fun to drive. However, the Golf's 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produces 217bhp and, thanks to some clever technology, feels even more enjoyable to drive. There's a button on the dashboard that allows you to change the weight of the steering, suspension and throttle response, meaning you can tweak the GTI to suit your style. It’ll do 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds – exactly the same as the Ford – and if you add the optional Performance Pack, it can cut that time further still. That package comes at a premium, but we’d recommend selecting it as the 10bhp increase and limited-slip differential (LSD) make it much more fun to drive. The LSD improves traction in tight corners and when accelerating hard by sending up to 100 per cent of the car's power to an individual wheel to increase grip. There's plenty of overtaking power, and while it is quiet at town and motorway speeds, it makes a nice raspy sound from the exhaust when you put your foot down.
Considering it's a performance-based hatchback, the Golf GTI actually does a great job of combining a comfortable ride with fun handling. It's well cushioned over bumpy roads, yet there's hardly any body roll in tight corners. This makes it a great long-distance cruiser, but great fun when you’re in the right mood. Specify the optional adjustable suspension and it improves further still. The front seats are well bolstered and very comfortable, while there's enough room in the rear for three adults and in the boot for their luggage. Interior quality is top-notch, with every switch, button and control feeling well made and built to last.
As with all VW Golfs, the GTI comes with the standard three-year/60,000-mile Volkswagen warranty, which will give peace of mind for the first few years of ownership. It should prove reliable, though, with the previous generation model coming a solid 16th in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power survey. It's safe, too, with Euro NCAP awarding the standard Golf a full five stars in its stringent crash safety tests. All models come with driver, passenger, curtain and knee airbags, as well as ABS anti-lock brakes and stability control to prevent skids. The GTI also adds VW's complex anti-collision systems that automatically brake the car if an accident is imminent.
The beauty of a hot hatchback is the fact you needn’t sacrifice practicality for pace and performance. The Golf GTI is no different – getting the same 380-litre boot as the standard car, and identical three or five-door accessibility. The five-door car is the best bet for families, with the wide door openings making it easy to fit child seats or to simply drop shopping on the back seat. That said, all models come with split-fold rear seats that lay totally flat for easy loading. Interior practicality is good, too, with plenty of useful storage and a selection of decent cubbyholes.
Value for money
The Volkswagen Golf has never been the least expensive family car on the market, and the same is true with its range-topping GTI. The Ford Focus ST and Mazda3 MPS are both cheaper to buy, but neither give the same mix of desirability, low running costs and fun as the brilliant Golf. All cars come with 18-inch alloy wheels, aggressive bumpers and all-round parking sensors as well as stylish LED rear lights and chrome exhausts. Inside there's electric windows, stainless steel sports pedals and a two-tier boot floor for hiding valuables out of sight. Used prices are very strong, with predicted resale values well above the equivalent Vauxhall Astra VXR or SEAT Leon FR, and, all things considered, the VW Golf GTI actually looks like decent value for money.
Thanks to lots of clever VW technology, the GTI is actually relatively cheap to run. Fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox, the GTI will do 47.1mpg and emit just 139g/km of CO2, which considering it’ll do 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds is mightily impressive. The Ford Focus ST will manage an identical 0-62mph time, yet will only do 39.2mpg and 169g/km, while the Vauxhall Astra VXR is worse still, at 34.9mpg and 189g/km. If you opt for one of VW's fixed-price service schemes designed to keep a lid on increasing maintenance costs, servicing shouldn’t break the bank either. Insuring your Golf GTI should be cheaper than ever before, too, thanks to the wide range of safety technology putting the car five insurance groups lower than the old GTI.