What Car? says...
If you asked 10 people to name a hot hatch, we reckon at least eight of them would come back with this car – the Volkswagen Golf GTI – as the answer.
Now in its eight generation, this powered-up VW Golf variant is very different to the original, but is still plowing the same "plenty of pace for not too much cash" furrow (although it's more expensive in relative terms than it used to be). The trouble is, the GTI has been joined in its field by lots of other car models.
So, is this undeniable motoring icon as iconic as ever, or has it been overtaken by newer rivals less weighed down by the expectations that status brings? That's what we'll tell you in this Golf GTI review.
Regardless of the conclusion, the good news is that hot hatch buyers now have masses of choice. For a little less than the price of a GTI, you could go for the Hyundai i30 N or the Ford Focus ST. Or, you might want to take a look at one of the more expensive – and more hardcore – models that compete with the GTI indirectly, including the Honda Civic Type R (our benchmark hot hatch) and the Mercedes-AMG A45 S.
Read on to find out how the VW Golf GTI compares. And once you've decided what to get, make sure you pay the lowest price possible by using our New Car Buying service.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Enthusiasts might be disappointed to learn that the Volkswagen Golf GTI no longer comes with a manual gearbox option. Instead, you have to make do with a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic.
Still, that makes everyday driving a doddle, with its smooth-yet-swift shifts, and you can take back control with the gear-shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Only a slight jerkiness when manoeuvring blots its copybook.
The GTI has a 242bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, which is not particularly powerful by modern hot hatch standards, especially when viewed alongside the 276bhp Focus ST and 324bhp Type R. Its official 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds – at least half a second down on the ST and the 276bhp Hyundai i30 N – and it feels rather breathless at the top end.
That’s just one reason why the VW Golf R feels like a more complete hot hatch. With 316bhp, it decimates those rivals in a straight line (0-62mph in 4.7 seconds), yet its engine remains just as flexible and well-mannered as the unit in the GTI. It will even embarrass the Civic Type R off the line.
Of course, with stickier tyres, a limited-slip differential and stiffer suspension, the uncompromising Type R will monster the GTI (and the R for that matter) for pace through corners, but the GTI does at least have the measure of the i30 N and Focus ST. There's buckets of grip and an even-handed handling balance that inspires confidence.
You can alter it from neutral to more playfully loose at the rear by fiddling with the optional adjustable suspension’s numerous settings, which are available through the infotainment touchscreen.
It’s not a demanding car to drive – either slowly or quickly – and with a ride that’s more tuneable than a harp if you’ve opted for adaptive suspension, it can be made immeasurably more supple than the Focus ST and i30 N. It’s also quieter than those cars at a cruise.
Does the GTI's engine sound exciting? Well, sort of: it's not as thrilling as the i30 N’s, which pops and bangs when you back off the accelerator, and nor is it as organic-sounding as the Type R's, which has no artificial tricks – just a highly tuned four-cylinder noise that’s underlined with manic turbocharger whooshes.
Instead, the GTI has a deep, gravelly note, which grows more intense when you switch the driving mode button to Sport. It's a digital sound, though, like it's been designed in a laboratory and honed by focus groups. And unlike on the Golf R, you can’t specify an optional Akrapovic titanium sport exhaust system.
Strengths Comfortable ride by class standards; quiet cruiser
Weaknesses No manual gearbox option; not the quickest hot hatch
The interior layout, fit and finish
The driver’s seat in the Volkswagen Golf GTI is figure-huggingly bolstered and keeps you in place in quick corners. It can be adjusted for height and lumbar support, and there’s plenty of reach adjustment to the steering wheel. We also love that the pedals are placed ideally in line with the wheel and seat, helping you to feel right at home.
Visibility isn't a problem: the Golf’s large windows and relatively slim windscreen pillars make it easy to see straight ahead and to the side. The rear pillars are fairly chunky, but given that all GTIs get front and rear parking sensors as standard, you shouldn’t find slotting into a tight parking space too stressful.
A rear-view camera is optional, by the way. Adaptive Matrix LED headlights and LED front foglights are also included, so picking your way through tricky conditions hopefully won't be too taxing.
So, all good so far – but then we come to the GTI's usability. The dashboard has no physical buttons, just silly touch-sensitive controls for the lights and a few other features, plus touch-sensitive sliders to adjust the interior temperature and volume. That makes everything needlessly distracting to operate on the move, because a touch-sensitive button is impossible to find unless you take your eyes off the road. All its rivals are better in that respect.
Sadly, it’s not only there that the latest GTI is short on user-friendliness. It goes without ‘proper’ easy-to-use physical buttons on its steering wheel. Instead, there are touch-sensitive buttons and they're ridiculously easy to activate with an inadvertent brush, yet downright fiddly to operate when you mean to use them.
What isn’t controlled via the touch-sensitive buttons on the dashboard is controlled from the infotainment touchscreen, and that's no better.
The system’s software is clearly designed to look good, but VW forgot to make it intuitive. That means you find features buried in locations that make no sense – for example, the Traction Control icon is hidden behind a sub-menu for the brakes. Even when you can find what you want, the software is often unresponsive. We much prefer the systems in the Focus ST and the i30 N.
There's an optional natural speech voice control system in the GTI that lets you speak commands, but it's hit and miss at the best of times. On the plus side, the screen is mounted high up, it's a decent size (10.0in) and high definition, while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included, along with wireless phone-charging, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and sat-nav.
The interior quality is another slight bugbear. It's not up to the high standards set by previous GTIs, with a lot of cheaper-feeling plastics more liberally scattered about. However, it has to be said that among its current rivals, it is still one of the plushest hot hatches, and far better screwed together than the Focus ST.
Strengths Decent driving position; reasonable interior quality
Weaknesses Infotainment is unintuitive to use; climate controls are not backlit
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There's loads of space in the front of the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The interior is broad, so you sit with breathing room between you and your passenger, and there's more than enough head and leg room to accommodate someone tall.
In the rear, things are less generous. The latest VW Golf has dropped behind the leaders for rear seat space, so both the Focus ST and the Civic Type R will offer your rear passengers more space to lounge about in. Mind you, the GTI isn't cramped, and you can still sit two tall adults in the back, but there's not a surplus of space – and even less if you want to squeeze a third in the middle seat.
There's lots of storage space, with compartments and cupholders in the front for pretty much every need, plus a decent-sized glovebox and door bins to boot.
Speaking of which, the Golf GTI boot offers 374 litres of storage. That's fine but, like the rear seats, not mammoth by the standards of other rivals. It'll fit a pushchair but will struggle to fit a set of golf clubs lengthways.
In our suitcase tally test, a Golf swallowed five carry-on suitcases under its parcel shelf – one less than the Ford Focus and the Honda Civic. You do get a height-adjustable boot floor, for added flexibility, plus 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks and a ski hatch, to create extra room when required.
Strengths Decent rear seat space; plenty of storage cubbies
Weaknesses Honda Civic Type R has a bigger boot
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The previous-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI was very much positioned as an attainable hot hatch with a premium image. Volkswagen gave the more powerful, range-topping Golf R the responsibility of doing battle with more expensive 300bhp+ hot hatches including the Honda Civic Type R.
Well, times have changed. This latest GTI costs more than the Ford Focus ST and the Hyundai i30 N, and is now not much less expensive than the Golf R. If you go down the route of PCP finance, the gap is surprisingly small: on a three-year term with a 10% deposit, the difference in monthly cost between the GTI and the R is roughly the price of a tank of petrol.
Speaking of filling up, the GTI should at least be relatively cheap to run. On our mixed test route, it averaged 36.8mpg, compared with 32.9mpg for the Golf R and 27.6mpg for the Type R. It’s also relatively affordable to service and has a slower predicted rate of deprecation than the Focus ST and the i30N.
Equipment levels are pleasingly high. The GTI comes with 18in alloy wheels, twin exhausts, adaptive cruise control, three-zone climate control, sports front seats, a heated steering wheel, power-folding door mirrors, privacy glass and keyless entry and start. The Focus ST and Civic Type R offer a similar chest of toys.
VW gives you a three-year warranty, but didn’t perform brilliantly in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, finishing 22nd out of 32 brands overall. That put it below Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.
The GTI gets automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance, a driver fatigue monitor, traffic-sign recognition and something called Car-to-X. That allows all cars fitted with the same feature – not just VWs – to share information on traffic conditions and hazards so you get an early warning.
The Golf achieved a full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, with excellent category scores that all but matched the best cars in the class. In fact, it's a lot better than the Civic at protecting adults in the front and children in the back.
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Strengths Fairly slow depreciation; well equipped; relatively fuel efficient
Weakness Expensive for the performance on offer; Golf R is a more complete package
No. The VW Golf R has significantly more power than the GTI and benefits from a four-wheel-drive system that gives it better traction in all conditions. The GTI has an official 0-62mph time of 6.2sec, but the Golf R can complete the same run in just 4.7sec.
The Golf GTI used to be available in two iterations: the ‘regular’ GTI and the more driver-focused GTI Clubsport. However, the Clubsport was recently discontinued, making the regular GTI the cheapest – and only – version available new.
|RRP price range||£39,575 - £39,575|
|Number of trims (see all)||1|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||40.4 - 40.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£514 / £3,198|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,029 / £6,396|