The Golf GTI has always offered a slightly more understated alternative to the wild styling that’s prevalent in the hot hatch crowd, and this generation strikes that note perfectly. It manages to make some of its rivals look a little fussy and cluttered. It’s sporting without being over-the-top; grown-up without being dull; chunky without looking heavy. There are some fantastic detail touches, too, such as the outer grilles in the front bumper, and the way the red stripe that runs through the upper grille is continued into the headlamps. For many people, it’ll be the most appealing option of all the current hot hatches on offer.
Where normal Golfs feel a little dour inside, the GTI’s cabin is perked up nicely by the tartan seat fabric and golf-ball-esque gearknob, both of which have been inspired by the original Golf GTI. Burnished metal inserts, red stitching on the flat-bottomed steering wheel and seat bolsters, and a plethora of scarlet-hued mood lighting all add further splashes of interest. The rest is as per the standard Golf: beautifully-built, eminently classy, and both slick and easy to use; and the way the dashboard in this latest version has been angled slightly toward the driver feels very appropriate in this more sporting context. As you’d expect, too, the driving position is easily adjustable to whichever position you prefer, and visibility is as good as in any rival.
One of the Golf’s strongest suits is its practicality. Its 380-litre boot is equivalent to most of its rivals’, with a low load lip and a well-sized, square opening that makes loading easy, too. Some rivals have a touch more elbow room in the front seats, but you won’t really notice as the Golf feels perfectly spacious enough. Meanwhile, in the rear, there’s plenty of room for three adults. The fact the Golf is available as a three- or a five-door, too, is very useful, as few rivals offer a five-door option. And its ‘stepless’ doors, which stay open no matter what angle they’re at, are a great touch.
Ride and handling
Anyone who’s choosing a hot hatch will be doing so because they want a car that’s exciting to drive, and in that regard the Golf GTI certainly doesn’t disappoint. A sharp turn-in, a huge amount of grip and faithful responses make it a joy to hustle along a back road. Specify the optional limited-slip differential, and the way it pulls itself into a corner under power will truly astonish you. Admittedly, the GTI feels precise and sophisticated, rather than raw and visceral, but that’s not to say that it isn’t an exciting thing to drive. It’s just that a couple of rivals offer a wilder, more exhilarating driving experience, and if you’re looking for a sheer adrenaline hit, the Golf might not be for you. Most people will love it, though – and we suspect they’ll also love the Golf’s ride quality. It cushions bumps exceptionally well, making it just as comfortable as the standard car when trundling around town or on a long run.
At the heart of the GTI’s driving experience sits a fantastically punchy four-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engined. It’s a cracking engine that delivers an excellent glob of low-down torque, yet also loves to rev if you let it, giving you the flexibility to drive it however you want. Peak power is 217bhp – which, it must be said, is quite a bit less than most of the GTI’s rivals. However, because the engine offers so much grunt right through the rev range, you don’t really find that the GTI feels significantly slower, which is to its credit. In both manual and automatic GTIs, 62mph comes up in 6.5 seconds, which is on a par with rivals. The optional Performance Pack raises power to 227bhp, which gives a fraction more of an edge in a straight line, but the difference it makes isn’t really worth the extra it costs.
The Golf GTI is impressively cheap to run. When you consider it gives similar performance to most other hot hatches, the fact that it offers significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption than many of them is a real achievement. All versions better 44mpg and none emits more than 147g/km of CO2. And, while the Golf isn’t the cheapest hot hatch to buy, Volkswagens are renowned for holding onto their value well, so it’s likely you’ll see a good proportion of that initial outlay back when you come to sell it on.
This generation of Golf is still too new for us to have any accurate reliability data, and specific information on the GTI is difficult to pin down. However, the majority of our Owner Reviews rate the Golf very well, and reliability reports on previous generations of the Golf are decent enough, if not outstanding. It’s worth noting, though, that Volkswagen’s ranking in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index is average at best, with quite a few rival manufacturers scoring better.
With a full five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP, it seems Golf GTI occupants will be well-protected in an accident. A full complement of airbags, as well as some great safety kit – such as systems to detect imminent impacts and apply the brakes, to control stability and prevent skids, and to prepare the vehicle for a crash by closing the windows and sunroof – all come as standard. That’s an impressive arsenal, which most rivals struggle to match.
Because it provides less power than many of its rivals for a similar price, the Golf GTI might not look like such great value. However, it makes up for this with plenty of equipment. The standard specification includes a well-sized, 5.8-inch touchscreen to control the audio and navigation systems, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, a digital radio, bi-xenon headlamps, and front and rear parking sensors. What’s more, there are some very reasonably priced options available, too, with which you can beef up your GTI’s specification even further for relatively little extra outlay. The only slight regret we have is that electric rear windows don’t come as standard on five-door models – but this is a very small fly in a large and unctuous vat of ointment.
The Golf GTI was designed to be all things to all people – and it fills that role perfectly. If you’re looking for a hot hatch that’ll provide you with a cossetting place to sit on long trips and plenty of practicality on the school run, but still get you grinning when you throw a tricky B-road at it, you’ve found it.