4 out of 5 4.0
Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

Hot hatch for grown ups is still a brilliant all-rounder

Volkswagen Golf GTI (20 on) - rated 4 out of 5
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At a glance

New price £34,175 - £40,715
Lease from new From £343 p/m View lease deals
Used price £26,365 - £37,290
Used monthly cost From £658 per month
Fuel Economy 37.2 - 38.7 mpg
Road tax cost £155 - £490
Insurance group 28 - 31 How much is it to insure?
New

PROS

  • Excellent handling and steering
  • Exciting performance in Clubsport form
  • Comfortable and refined at speed

CONS

  • Infotainment and controls are poor
  • Rivals offer better value
  • Expensive options jack up prices

Volkswagen Golf GTI rivals

Written by Keith Adams on

Is the Volkswagen Golf GTI any good?

It jolly well ought to be, as the GTI has been a mainstay of the Volkswagen Golf range since the late 1970s, arguably creating the hot hatch market sector in the early 1980s, then effectively reinventing it in the mid-2000s when it became a 200hp turbocharged road rocket. The Golf GTI has never claimed to be the fastest or most exciting hot hatch, but what it does so well is combine speed with maturity – and as such, it fits in anywhere.

The latest model is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that develops at least 245hp and is shared with a number of other models in the Volkswagen Group – but which has been developed specifically for this car. As such, it's fast and efficient, and still manages to sound reasonably exciting when you stir it up, and civilised when you don't want to play. That's the core of the GTI's appeal, and always has been.

As standard it comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, but most people choose the excellent seven-speed DSG automatic. It is excellent to use, responsive in Sport mode, and loses nothing in performance terms to its manual counterpart. It has a number of interesting rivals, not least the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai i30 N

Read the Volkswagen Golf GTI verdict

What’s it like inside?

The Golf GTI is what you'd expect it to be – well finished, solid and well equipped inside. It has a comfortable and supportive driver's seat, trimmed in the now-traditional tartan seat upholstery with leather an optional extra. And just in case you forget it's a GTI, the seating position is perfect, with the steering wheel and pedals ideally placed for a wide range of drivers, and if you specify the manual version, you get a modern incarnation of the traditional golfball gearknob.

There's plenty of standard equipment, and you're presented with two large screens – one for the instruments, and one for the infotainment. Sadly, it also shares the touch-sensitive controls and an over-reliance on the central screen that we've complained about in the standard Golf – you either love them or hate them, but you will have to acclimatise yourself to them.

It's the same with the steering wheel controls, which are touch sensitive and supposed to give Haptic feedback. They're vague and woolly to use and even after extended time with them, it's still a chore to use them to control the stereo or cruise control. A positive is that it's well equipped, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, as is wireless phone charging, Bluetooth and sat-nav.

Quality is up to class standards, but it’s not noticeably plusher than rivals unlike the GTI’s recent predecessors. Most touch points are as well appointed as you'd expect them to be, but you don't have to look very far to find cheaper, scratchy plastics lower down in the cabin.

Comfort

Given it's a high-performance hot hatch, the Golf GTI is actually very comfortable, with a firm, but well-damped ride that rarely jars the driver. We'd definitely specify it with adaptive dampers which offer a number of drive modes that allow you to stiffen or soften the suspension to suit your mood.

It handles motorways well, thanks to its low noise levels and refined engine (at cruising speeds), which goes a long way to making the GTI an excellent all-rounder for the family. Front passengers get a generous amount of room, and well-shaped seats that do their best to keep you comfortable on the longest of trips. Six footers will fit in the back, but will have more room to stretch out in the Cupra Leon.

Safety

Safety equipment on the Volkswagen Golf GTI reflects what's available in the rest of the Golf range, including Volkswagen's IQ LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping assist and blindspot monitoring.

Like all Golfs, the GTI scored a full five stars in the latest round of Euro NCAP tests, which puts it at the top of its class as it's a result under the latest and toughest testing conditions.

What engines are available?

Engine Power and torque
0-62mph time
Top speed
GTI 245hp, 370Nm
6.4secs
155mph
GTI DSG
245hp, 370Nm 6.3secs
155mph
GTI Clubsport 300hp, 400Nm 5.6secs
155mph

View full specs

The Golf GTI and GTI Clubsport are powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, driving the front wheels with the help of a limited-slip differential to put its power down effectively. As before, a six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a seven-speed DSG automatic as an option on the ‘regular’ GTI. The more potent Clubsport is DSG only.

The quick-shifting seven-speed DSG gearbox remains smooth, with well-spaced ratios, and is responsive to inputs from the steering wheel paddles. The six-speed manual is crisp and adds a level of involvement that's missing in the automatic version.

What's it like to drive?

The engine's performance is effective, rather than exciting, however. There's plenty of torque and it never really struggles to maintain momentum but the slow-revving nature means it doesn't feel particularly quick or eager to get going. Trying to pick up pace can sometimes feel like it's harder work than expected.

Thankfully, the manual version's additional interaction means that it feels like a more exciting package more of the time. Like all GTIs, it has a dual personality – on B-roads, it's great fun feeding through the gears, but when you want to just make progress, it cruises reasonably quietly – given the choice between DSG and manual, if you're an enthusiastic driver and don't live in the middle of the city, the manual is the better choice.

This effectiveness applies to the sound it makes, too. You don't hear anything from the two large exhausts inside the car - which is best sampled outside, where it makes a pleasing note - but instead relies on artificial engine sound piped through into the cabin. It's quietest in Eco drive mode, and incrementally gets louder as you work through Comfort and into Sport.

Thankfully, it's not too digitised a sound or particularly annoying even at its loudest, but it's not particularly evocative. Clubsport 45 models get a lightweight titanium Akrapovic exhaust that generates some light popping on when you come off the accelerator pedal in the sportiest modes, but it’s still a bit monotone and certainly not worth the extra cash.

The GTI Clubsport is even more exciting. It's well endowered with turbocharged power, happily spinning its tyres in first and second gear. This does generate a noticeable thump from the front wheels as they struggle for traction, but the 5.6 seconds in the benchmark 0-62mph sprint is far from slow. Although the four-wheel drive Golf R and Toyota Yaris GR launch off the line far harder, you’re unlikely to feel disappointed by the Clubsport’s pace when you’re on the move.

Top speed is pegged at 155mph (apart from the Clubsport 45 which can do 166mph) but what's more relevant is the breadth of abilities this car has - the standard GTI is arguably the easiest hot hatch to live with, if not the most exciting, and the Clubsport loses little in this department despite adding considerable poke. That's mostly down to the standard-fit seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox, which offers smooth shifts when you're driving normally and faster, more physical changes when you're in a hurry.

Handling

The Golf GTI continues to manage the balance between sporty handling and everyday comfort. Except now, you feel much more involved in the process. Not only does the steering feel heavier than the Skoda Octavia vRS, but you sense the limited-slip differential hooking up to provide huge grip for those front tyres. For those who found the previous generation a little lifeless to drive, this is far better than it used to be.

It has always been about effortless performance, some of us found the experience and driver controls to be a little detached. Thankfully, this generation is a step in the right direction without feeling aggressive. The Golf GTI still isn't as playful as rival cars from Ford or Renault, but the way it actively gets stuck in and shows a fun side is enough to draw a smile now.

Switching to Sport mode sharpens up the throttle and weights up the steering without being too heavy.

The firm, long-travel suspension deals with mid-corner bumps well while containing bodyroll, while the brakes are strong with a reassuring level of weighting from the pedal. The Octavia vRS remains the softer version to tackle really bumpy roads in comfort, while this Golf GTI has added an extra layer of fun that was missing before.

While the standard Golf GTI has always prioritised everyday ease of use, the Clubsport caters for drivers who don't mind a firmer ride and noisier exhaust in exchange for a greater capacity to put a smile on your face. Key to this appeal are stiffened and lowered suspension and a tweaked limited slip differential. It needs this to make the most of the extra power from the 2.0-litre engine, but it also makes the car corner with more grip and poise.

As an added bonus VW's chassis engineers have also coaxed a sense of humour from the Clubsport - no longer does the front simply slide wide when grip levels drop, the Golf feels balanced at the limit and can even be persuaded slide safely at the rear, perfect for the hooligans out there. These tweaks make the Clubsport significantly more fun to drive than the GTI, itself no slouch, but it still misses out in the driver involvement department. A Honda Civic Type involves you far more.

Ownership costs and maintenance

Figures for the GTI's fuel economy and CO2 emissions are 37.2-38.2mpg and 168-173g/km on the WLTP testing programme, while on the Clubsport, those numbers change to 37.7-38.7mpg and 166-170g/km. If you're looking for significantly better MPG and CO2, you'll need to look at the Golf GTE plug-in hybrid.

Volkswagen reliability reputation is better than the reality, but the situation is improving and the Golf 8 is doing well. Customer service is also rated highly, and in the 2019 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study, Volkswagen scored 113 faults per 100 cars, which puts it behind sister brand Skoda, but ahead of SEAT and Audi.

Volkswagen offers Service and Maintenance Plans, too, which should take the sting out of servicing costs. The advantage of these is that they will protect you against any future increase in prices, and all work carried out comes with two years warranty and fitted by Volkswagen trained technicians.

What models and trims are available?

There are a number of GTI variations currently available. The standard car is available in manual form with a DSG automatic version available too. It comes well equipped with Travel Assist, Emergency Assist and Side Assist safety systems as standard as well as the usual GTI trimmings of red piping, a golfball gearknob and twin exhausts.

The Golf GTI Clubsport adds red brake calipers with GTI lettering and 18-inch alloys as well as a high-gloss black roof spoiler, widened side skirts and the diffuser ensure even more adrenaline – as well as that all-important 55hp and tweaked chassis. There's also a GTI Clubsport 45 limited edition model available, which gets special 19-inch ‘Scottsdale’ Gloss Black alloy wheels and an Akrapovic titanium exhaust system.

Click to find out whether we think the Volkswagen Golf GTI is worth going for...

Volkswagen Golf GTI rivals

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