Volkswagen Golf GTI Review
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is the original hot hatch – a car that’s pretty quick but also practical, although it’s now overshadowed by the seriously rapid Golf R
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Great to drive
- Sporty interior
- Surprisingly good on fuel
What's not so good
- Octavia vRS more spacious
- Rivals are more focused
Volkswagen Golf GTI: what would you like to read next?
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a sensible family car with space for four people, a well-built interior, a decent-sized boot and the performance to worry sports cars. It’s available in a practical five-door form, or a sportier-looking three-door version – either way, the Golf’s red exterior highlights and familiar badge mean people who might not spot the Golf R will recognise the GTI.
The current Golf GTI came out in 2013, and was updated in 2017 with a power increase from 220 to 230hp, new bumpers and lights, and a new infotainment system with a larger screen.
It’s not as quick as the Golf R – which has 310hp – but because the GTI doesn’t have the faster model’s grippy-but-heavy four-wheel-drive system, it feels nimbler in corners. The GTI isn’t as focused as models such as the more extreme Ford Focus ST, but its suspension is more comfortable and it’s quieter inside.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but if you live in town it’s worth considering the six-speed DSG automatic that will give your left leg a rest from operating the clutch. Whichever you choose, the VW Golf GTI should be able to return more than 40mpg, which is fine for a quick car.
The Golf GTI is a fantastic performance car with very few compromises
You’ll be safe in a GTI – the Golf was awarded five stars when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP and, although that was under 2012’s less-strict testing regime, standard features such as automatic emergency braking and active cruise will lower the chances of you being involved in an accident at all.
The Golf’s interior feels better built than most models costing the same price and GTIs get tartan seats and manual cars get a golf-ball style gear knob that is a throwback to the 1970s original – little touches that add character that’s missing from other Golf cars. The sensible stuff remains, though – there’s space for four people, plus a boot that’s a decent size and full of useful hooks.
The best thing about the GTI is that it’s a Golf – so it’s well built, practical and comfortable – the GTI part means it’s also quick. Other hot hatches will be faster round a track but they’ll struggle to match the VW’s ability to be brilliant to live with everyday.
The Golf GTI’s very like the standard car and well designed, but its tartan seats and golf-ball style gear knob give it more character
Inside, at least, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is as practical as any standard Golf hatchback, so it has room for four adults and a decent boot, although you can find even bigger alternatives
The Golf GTI isn't the biggest car of it type, but the boot is still full of useful little features and is more than capable of taking a set of golf clubs
The Golf GTI’s front seats hold you in place much better than the ones offered in the standard car, but they offer the same wide range of adjustment so you’ll get comfy whether you’re large or small. Both front seats are height adjustable so you can sit high up for great visibility or drop down low for a sportier feel.
You can have the GTI with three or five doors, and it’s worth paying an extra £655 for the latter if the back seats will be in regular use, just to save your passengers from having to squeeze behind the front seats and to make it easier to fit a child seat.
The back seats themselves offer your passengers more head and legroom than you’ll get in a Ford Focus, although if you want a hot hatch with a really spacious interior then the Skoda Octavia vRS is bigger than both. The hump in the middle of the floor means that a third passenger will have to share footwells with the other passengers but shoulder room should be fine.
The VW Golf GTI is a pleasure to use even when you’re not hooning around corners, thanks to Volkswagen’s masterful use of storage spaces around the cabin and helpful features.
The felt-lined door pockets stop your change from rattling around, for example, and are big enough for a 1.5-litre bottle of water, and the air-conditioned glovebox can swallow a big water bottle and opens with a classy damped motion.
There’s a liberal sprinkling of other smaller cubbies including two cupholders in the front and the back, a lidded cubby under the front centre armrest, and a tray with a USB and Aux plug in front of the gear stick.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI has the standard model’s 380-litre boot capacity – unlike the faster R which has a 343-litre load bay thanks to its space-eating four-wheel drive system. But, if raw capacity is what you’re after, the Octavia vRS’ 590-litre boot makes them both look piddly.
The GTI’s boot is full of useful features – you get tie down hooks in the floor for luggage, hooks under the parcel shelf to keep your shopping upright, a 12V power socket for powering electricals and a hatch in the middle of the back seat to load long items through.
The feature you’ll find handiest is the adjustable boot floor. In its higher setting you only have a little load lip to carry luggage over, and with the 60:40 splitting rear seats folded down you get a completely flat load bay big enough to swallow a mountain bike with one wheel detached.
The VW Golf GTI is a hot hatch you can easily live with every day, but it lacks the excitement of other faster and sharper-handling hot hatches
The way the Performance Pack’s limited-slip differential drags you out of corners has to be experienced to be believed
The VW Golf GTI has a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces 230hp, or 245hp with the optional performance pack.
It produces all its torque from just 1,600rpm – a geeky fact that means it has instant get up and go, along with great flexibility, so you don’t find yourself constantly having to change gear to make brisk progress.
Put your foot all the way down and the Volkswagen Golf GTI can get from 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds, emitting a pleasing muted scream as it does so. That’s pretty quick, but a car like VW’s Golf R offers next-level performance that may prove too hard to resist if you sample it first hand.
A six-speed DSG automatic gearbox is optional, but has no effect on performance and, fitted with either manual or auto, the Golf GTI should be able to return around about 44mpg. Not too bad for a quick car.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a quick car you can enjoy without having to make compromises.
It’s much like the Golf R, in fact, but while the R is a good bit quicker and grippier in corners, the lighter GTI feels nimbler, although you would have to drive both cars back to back to notice the difference.
It’s worth specifying the £1,360 Performance Pack to make your GTI as fun as possible. It gets you bigger brakes and can be spotted by it’s red ‘GTI’ badges but the change you’ll notice most is the addition of the limited-slip differential. It sends power to the front wheel with the most grip when you speed out of corners, and in practice feels like the tyres have sprouted claws that dig into the road – firing you out of bends in a way that’s quite unnatural. It’s a feeling that even the Golf R can’t replicate.
But the GTI is a car you can still appreciate being in, even when you’re not blasting down your favourite B-road. It’s quiet and comfortable on the motorway in a way the buzzy Honda Civic Type-R can only dream of, so there’s no need to dread long-distance drives. To further develop its dual personality, it worth spending £830 on VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control. It allows you to stiffen up the suspension for less body roll in corners, or a softer setup for wafting down the motorway.
The GTI has a five-star NCAP safety rating and automatic emergency braking comes as standard. For an extra £630 you can bundle together Lane Assist, Light Assist and Traffic Sign Recognition – which means the car can warn you if you’re drifting out of lane, highlight road signs on the infotainment screen and even dip its headlights automatically to avoid blinding other road users.
In town, the GTI is as easy to drive as any other Golf – VW’s avoided fitting a big rear spoiler so you don’t have to worry about obstructions across the back window that stop you seeing out. All-round parking sensors are fitted as standard so parking is easy, and the Golf’s light controls mean you’ll have no problem making low-speed manoeuvres.
That goes for the gearbox, too, it doesn’t have the short racey action you get in a Honda Civic Type R but it’s easy to use, to the point that you can do without the £1,415 automatic gearbox, although its quick shifts mean it’s a very popular option and worth considering if you want to give your left leg a rest.