Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback (2013-2020)
“The Volkswagen Golf GTI is the original hot hatchback and recent improvements mean it still stands up well against increasingly capable rivals”
- A great everyday performance car
- The original hot hatchback
- Hugely desirable
- Understated styling
- Rivals are cheaper & faster
- Not the most exciting car in the class
The Volkswagen Golf GTI has been available in the UK for 40 years. It’s one of the best-known nameplates in the business and is generally regarded as the original hot hatchback. Perhaps because of this, though, every generation of GTI has faced intense scrutiny, to make sure it hasn’t lost its magic over the years.
Life is therefore hard for the Golf GTI. It’s always in the spotlight and being judged against rivals, and the Hyundai i30 N, Skoda Octavia vRS and Peugeot 308 GTi offer some pretty tough competition – especially when you consider their lower price tags. With the arrival of the new Mk8 Golf earlier this year, a new Golf GTI is expected to arrive later in 2020.
While the GTI was the most powerful model in the Golf range for the first couple of decades, these days it sits below the super-powerful Volkswagen Golf R, which we’ve reviewed separately. While that model has over 300bhp on tap – enough to compete with the Mercedes-AMG A35, Honda Civic Type R and SEAT Leon Cupra – the GTI makes do with 242bhp in entry-level Performance trim. However, as you’ll see, that’s still more than enough to have a good time.
Capable of sprinting from 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds (5.6 seconds for the limited-run TCR model), the Golf GTI is far from slow – and you now get a Performance Pack as standard. This has upped the power to 242bhp and added a clever limited-slip differential for more agility. It's now the entry-point into GTI ownership, after VW dropped the 227bhp standard model. If the Performance Pack isn't enough, you'll want to sample the 286bhp GTI TCR, which has touring car influences and a few choice upgrades. including an Akrapovic sports exhaust.
Central to the appeal of hot hatchbacks is that they’re well suited to everyday life when driving fast isn’t your main concern. To that end, the Golf GTI’s impressive fuel economy figures make it easy to live with. Manual and automatic versions both return 37.7mpg, while GTI TCR cars can eke out a 36.2mpg figure. Decent numbers for a hatchback that can hit 155mph on an unrestricted German autobahn.
Impressive straight-line speed isn’t the only trick the GTI has up its sleeve, though – this is a car that you can derive real pleasure from driving at any speed on any road. Over the years, there have been criticisms that certain generations of GTI have lost their sharpness and responsiveness, but the latest one is as involving and rewarding to drive as ever. Steering is immediate and feels precise and the body barely leans in corners. Owing to a well designed chassis and wide tyres, there’s plenty of grip, and the Performance Pack helps the car hold the road even more tenaciously and brake with real bite. With the Performance Pack changes, however, the Golf GTI rides slightly less comfortably than the now-unavailable 'standard' model.
And that's a shame, because comfort is one of the GTI’s greatest – and more surprising – virtues. The ride isn’t soft, but it’s well controlled and shocks from potholes are nicely rounded off before they’re felt by passengers. This is despite the standard 18-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tyres that add so much distinction to the exterior – along with the deeper front spoiler and red styling highlights.
There’s a real sense of occasion inside, too. Every Golf displays exemplary quality in its interior fixtures – surfaces are formed from great-feeling soft-touch materials and the design is crisp and user-friendly. Equipment is generous, with a clear eight-inch infotainment screen in the centre of the dashboard, DAB radio, Bluetooth and adaptive cruise control. Seats are trimmed in the tartan-like material that has traditionally graced GTI interiors and the golf-ball gearknob is a likeably irreverent touch. There’s loads of space, too, with a decent boot, although the rear seats in five-door models are easier to get in and out of.
The Golf GTI TCR sits lower than the Performance model, and has tweaked suspension. There are also upgraded brakes, extra radiators to help cool the engine, and a pointier bodykit.
Every Volkswagen Golf holds a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating, with a host of safety equipment fitted as standard and more available optionally. The standard Volkswagen Golf was given a slightly mediocre rating for reliability in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey.
The Golf GTI is a very enticing ownership proposition, more so when you consider that strong used demand will ensure you get a high percentage of your money back when it’s time to sell on – this is one area in which the Golf definitely has the upper hand over its rivals.