Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback (2013-2020) - Engines, drive & performance
The VW Golf GTI isn’t as powerful as some rivals, but it’s equally quick and just as much fun
Given that the Golf GTI trails the Hyundai i30 N Performance and SEAT Leon Cupra for horsepower, you might think it wouldn’t be as much fun to drive. Its engine is incredibly responsive, though, and thanks to its skillfully developed chassis, the Golf GTI gets our nod for being more fun than the Peugeot 308 GTi overall, even if it can’t quite match the hot Hyundai or 308 GTi for driving thrills.
A button on the dashboard allows you to change the weight of the steering, stiffness of the suspension and sharpness of the throttle to suit your driving style. The steering weight can also automatically adapt to the road you’re on and the speed you’re doing, which can take some getting used to. Once you do, though, the car feels very precise in its movements, helping you feel more confident behind the wheel.
Really enthusiastic drivers will no doubt enjoy the extra grip the Performance Pack brings – by sending power to whichever front wheel is best able to effectively deploy it, more challenging corners can be taken at greater speed. Performance models are now the entry to GTI ownership, since the base versions have been dropped.
The Performance Pack also firms up the ride slightly, but even with it, cruising in the GTI is more akin to being in a limousine than a Le Mans car. Travelling quickly in the GTI is really very relaxing experience and this means that you’re better able to concentrate in the corners. With fabulous balance and a clever XDS+ system that gently applies the brakes if necessary to neaten your cornering line, the GTI is easy to drive fast. And while pushing too hard will eventually overcome the grip of the front tyres, easing off will have things back in shape safely.
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While we like the responsive, quick-shifting DSG automatic gearbox, the standard six-speed manual is so smooth and easy to use that we feel it makes the GTI more involving. The DSG costs another £1,200, too – although it may be the better choice if you spend a lot of time in stop-start city traffic.
If the Performance model still has you hankering for more horsepower, the swansong GTI TCR model might be more to your taste. It's a GTI with a sprinkling of touring car magic, and packs 286bhp - an increase of 44bhp. The 0-62mph sprint drops to 5.6 seconds, putting the GTI back on our list of the fastest hatchbacks you can buy, and there are plenty of upgrades to eke the most out of VW's front-wheel-drive hatchback. The suspension has been dropped by up to 25mm, the brakes are larger and drilled for ventilation, there's a new stainless-steel exhaust and two extra radiators, and the speed limiter has been removed. At full pelt, the TCR will manage 164mph.
Volkswagen Golf GTI petrol engine
The turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine in the Golf GTI Performance produces 242bhp and takes the car from 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds – exactly the same as the Hyundai i30 N – while upgrading to the 286bhp GTI TCR cuts this to 5.6 seconds. It’s a very smooth engine and feels rather less frantic than that of the Honda Civic Type R, which can be a little tiring on long motorway trips. Here, though, the GTI is as in its element as it’s tackling a twisty country road.
While the GTI is quiet around town and at motorway speeds, a great raspy sound comes from the exhaust when you put your foot down. The diesel Golf GTD is also a comfortable and fast cruiser that handles well – but not quite as well as the GTI. Plus, its engine seems rather too lacking in charisma for a proper hot hatchback.