2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years Review

Rating: 8.5
$30,430 $36,190 Dealer
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The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years is much more than a bodykit and sticker pack – in fact it's a faster, sharper, more powerful GTI.
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The name might be a little long-winded, but the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years is almost the Volkswagen Golf GTI you’re familiar with – just with a hefty sprinkling of added spice. It’s called a Volkswagen Golf Clubsport overseas, but HSV already owns the Clubsport moniker here, so 40 Years it is. Name aside, on paper at least, this tuned GTI is a fitting 40th anniversary celebration for a humble hatchback that has become a global automotive performance icon.

While there’s no mistaking the $48,990 (plus on-road costs) GTI 40 Years as a Golf no matter which angle you approach it from, Volkswagen calls this ‘the most bespoke Golf ever’ thanks to some specific styling changes. Those exterior highlights include gloss black trim, special 19x7.5-inch ‘Ruby’ alloy wheels, a unique front bumper with larger air intakes, ‘40 Years’ decals on the flanks and new, extended side sills.

Those aforementioned 19-inch rollers won’t be available on any other Golf in Australia. At the rear, there’s a revised rear bumper, larger diameter exhaust tailpipes to match the new exhaust system, a two-piece, larger rear roof spoiler and a black-red LED tail light design.

While subtle, the exterior changes and additions combine to deliver a more aggressive, sharply-profiled Golf, one that is certainly identifiable as a special model. “This isn’t just a sticker kit and bodykit package,” said Todd Ford – Product Planner for Volkswagen Golf. “It’s an iconic car, a special badge and we want to properly celebrate 40 years.”

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While Volkswagen doesn’t quote downforce coefficient figures, it does refer to the body additions as adding ‘small’ amounts of downforce to the front end and ‘significant’ downforce over the rear axle. This promises to be an even more stable Golf at speed – keeping in mind the hatchback body style isn’t ideally suited to high speed stability to start with.

Inside the cabin, VW started with the equipment familiar from the GTI Performance specification and added a little more to it. As such, there’s a high quality, bespoke sense to the cabin once the door thuds closed.

Cloth/Alcantara seats are matched by an Alcantara steering wheel with 12-o’clock marker, Alcantara door inlays and shift boot, decorative inlays in ‘Honeycomb 40’ and piano black, and featured red stitching. When you open the front doors you’ll also notice the tasteful door sill strips complete with GTI emblem.

Volkswagen also fitted as standard a full suite of safety tech including Active Cruise Control, Front Assist, City Emergency Brake, Blind Sport Monitor and Rear Traffic Alert. Three exterior colours are available – white, red or carbon steel metallic, the latter a colour that has proven popular with GTI owners, while the first two are colours Volkswagen considers ‘iconic to the GTI’.

Under the stubby bonnet, the engine specifications read impressively – 195kW is on offer between 5350-6600rpm, while there’s 350Nm between 1700-5600rpm. In third gear and above, when the conditions are right, there’s an ‘overboost’ feature which releases an extra 18kW and 30Nm for a maximum of 10 seconds. That means the GTI 40 Years will run from 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds. Reiterating its duality across performance and usability, the GTI 40 Years consumes only 7.1L/100km on the ADR combined cycle.

Initially confirmed as featuring a DSG only, Volkswagen Australia has managed to secure 100 examples with a manual gearbox, while 400 will make their way to Australia with a DSG, bringing the ultimate total to 500 and no more. It’s a fair bet then, that the 40 Years will be an exclusive machine among GTI enthusiasts.

Standard inclusions are impressive all told, but the electronically controlled, mechanical differential lock will be the standout feature for performance enthusiasts. Volkswagen claims the differential will work from zero to 100 per cent clamp and is infinitely variable in between those parameters. In short, it promises more alacrity from an already well-behaved front end.

According to Volkswagen, ‘adding a diff lock to a FWD platform like the GTI 40 Years is all about delivering improved driving response, less understeer, higher concerning speeds, and more predictable, more agile steering, by increasing the drive power on the outer wheel’. Some FWD fans don’t like the idea of a fancy diff diluting the purity of their hot hatch, but there’s no doubt it makes the already impressive GTI a sharper tool – especially at the outer limits of its performance envelope. If you’re happy working a bit harder, while having more fun, but going slower (as we’ve often claimed to), then you need not apply here.

Volkswagen has added a progressive steering system, which reduces the work required at low speeds, and loads the wheel up at higher speeds. The GTI 40 Years gets bigger brakes all round too, up from 312mm to 340mm at the front and 272mm to 319mm at the rear compared to a standard GTI – in other words the same braking package as the GTI Performance we tested a few months ago. We can attest to the abilities of the stopping package, even when they are punished mercilessly over longer, twisty sections of road.

The Golf GTI’s strongest point has always been it’s multifaceted, jack of all trades duality. The basics of a powerful engine, FWD, clever packaging and interior quality have always been GTI hallmarks, but Volkswagen is adamant the GTI must also be able to perform at the limit beyond the capability of a normal hatch. Given this GTI 40 Years special is faster and more powerful than any GTI before it, the company has surely achieved that aim.

Time to settle in behind the wheel then, and find out whether the 40 Years is in fact a tangible step forward from the GTI Performance.

Brisbane’s Mount Glorious and Mount Nebo provide the perfect slivers of winding tarmac to test the 40 Years’ ability at road speed while Queensland’s iconic Lakeside Raceway allows us to stretch the Golf’s legs a little further. The racetrack might be relatively smooth, but public roads aren’t and as such, they will surely test the Golf’s balance.

On public roads, there’s a sense of balance to everything the GTI 40 Years does. The brakes never fade, the steering delivers solid feedback, but also feels beautifully weighted at speed, and the suspension, regardless of the mode you choose, does a fine job of both bump absorption and handling.

As always, the Golf rewards positive but smooth inputs and you can almost waft from corner to corner. That’s especially so in Sport mode. Hard on the brakes, turn in, hit the line you want through the corner, back on the accelerator and power out. There’s the requisite crackle on the downshift and rifle shot on the upshift – there’s no doubt this is a rewarding, driver’s hatch.

The engine loves to spin, and does so cleanly right out to the redline, but there’s a proper serving of torque so low in the rev range, that you’ll rarely access redline on the street. That surge of torque comes on smoothly, but with enough force that you feel it, and really gets the Golf cranking from a standstill. The engine is flexible enough that you can short shift the DSG in manual mode if you feel like it.

The chassis is so exceptionally well poised, even mid-corner bumps can’t knock the Golf out of its comfort zone. Dynamic Chassis Control means you can switch the dampers between Comfort and Sport modes depending on the mood you’re in. Even in Comfort though, the GTI 40 Years sticks to the road like the proverbial sh*t to a blanket.

There’s no doubt (at any speed) that the addition of the tricky differential has added infinitely more poise and cornering grip to the equation. Only once the tyres (Pirelli P Zero 225/35/R19s) start heating up too much – after a sustained beating mind you – do they even make a squawk on track, such is the grip on hand.

Turn in is razor sharp and predictable once you’ve picked your line too. You’ll be able to hustle the GTI 40 Years around a track at serious speed. There’s no doubt this is the fastest and most engaging Golf GTI ever. Lakeside Raceway is a ripper of an old-school track, that only stopped hosting V8s because they were getting too fast.

We take the kink at the end of the straight well over 190km/h, flat to the boards and the GTI 40 Years is rock solid. It hammers though the turn with such stability, I lifted off the first few times around because it simply feels like you’re going too fast. Once you work up the courage, though, and get comfortable with the layout, the GTI 40 Years is devastatingly fast.

Extra power and torque is sexy when you’re bragging to your mates, but the reality is that only extra grip and balance will allow you to extract the best of those numbers at speed. The GTI 40 Years strikes that perfect chord for us, between the power that is developed and the chassis’ ability to use it. Given its rarity, few will ever see track duty, but it's a vehicle that revels in a good thrashing.

Back on the road for a quick cruise back to the airport along the highway, the Golf reminds us why it’s such a popular vehicle in the first place. There’s no drone from the exhaust at 110km/h, the seats are comfortable, visibility excellent, and it simply lopes along effortlessly with the DSG in drive.

The only option for the GTI 40 Years is a panoramic glass sunroof, which will cost $1850. It is also covered by the same capped-price servicing plan as any other GTI, meaning services cost the following amounts up to 90,000km: 15,000 ($390), 30,000 ($390), 45,000 ($455), 60,000 ($1082), 75,000 ($390) and 90,000 ($455).

It might be verging on boring to write it, but this is yet another exceptional Golf to wear the GTI badge. The 40 Years decals along the lower doors simply let everyone know that even more has been added to the GTI equation. There might be more raucous hot hatches on the market and some might criticise the Golf GTI 40 Years for being too clinical, too brilliant, too competent.

Despite that though, it’s hard to think of any hatchback that better satisfies the hot hatch brief. It’s comfortable, practical and devastatingly quick if you’re brave enough to tap into it on a racetrack. What else could you ask for?

MORE: 2016 Golf GTI 40 Years specification and pricing
MORE: 2016 Golf GTI 40 Years - interesting facts