The best Golf GTi in the model's 40 year history is here - but is it that much better than the regular GTI, and should you choose it over a Golf R?
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is an icon, widely regarded as the original hot hatch. When it comes to history lessons, it was actually beaten to that title by the Renault 5 Gordini released a few months earlier in 1976, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was the better car, and now, 40 years later, it still remains at the top of its game.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years is an odd name. It was meant to be called Golf Clubsport, and it is in most international markets. But, in Australia, HSV wasn’t all that happy about that - so '40 Years' it is.
Starting from $48,990 the uprated Golf GTI DSG is by no means cheap, though for that extra $4000 over the standard GTI DSG ($2500 over the GTI performance) you do get performance from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylidner engine climbing from 162kW in the regular model (169kW in the GTI Performance) to a new 195kW. Torque is unchanged at 350Nm, but a new boost function ups numbers briefly to 213kW and 380Nm.
In terms of numbers, the GTI 40 Years will run from 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds. Volkswagen claims it will survive on just 7.1L/100km on the ADR combined cycle. However, we managed to easily double that in our week of, let's call it spirited, driving.
From the outside it’s easily distinguishable from the regular model by the new ‘Ruby’ wheels. In addition to the gloss black trim, a slightly revised front bumper with larger air intakes (brake cooling ducts) finishes the front while the rear bumper also gets a minor update.
To those looking really hard, you’ll also notice the larger diameter exhaust tailpipes that complement the new exhaust system as well as the larger rear roof spoiler and a black-red LED tail light design (similar to Golf R).
In terms of unique badging, there is nothing but the most subtle ‘40 Years’ decals on the flanks which you’ll notice when look at the new, extended side sills.
Jump inside and everything seems rather familiar to our Golf GTI Performance, including the ageing infotainment system, though there is now a hell of lot of Alcantara. The Alcantara on the seats, steering wheel (with 12-o’clock marker), door inlays and shift boot is very evident. Does it add to the cabin ambience? Sure, but it will be interesting to see how it wears over time.
There’s red stitching and GTI-badged door sills, all of which add that little bit extra sense of specialness to a car that so very much deserves it.
But no matter what the GTI looks like inside or out, it’s how it drives that makes the 40 Year model the best GTI yet.
We would’ve loved to have had a manual, all of which have been already sold, but alas we were given the rapid fire six-speed DSG, which is no doubt a better performance car but perhaps not as engaging.
Press the start button, engage D, press the mode selector to get to Sport and away you go. At first it feels just like a regular GTI, until you really go for the right pedal.
It is seriously fast. It’s that overboost function in third gear or above that lets you hit highs of 213kW and 380Nm which you can really feel push you back into the seat as you go flat out in a straight line. It only lasts 10 seconds, but please do let us know if you can find a (legal) stretch of road to go flatout for more than 10 seconds in third gear.
Strangely, there is so little toque steer that you start to wonder if you’ve accidentally jumped onboard a Golf R. We expected then, that once we began our climb up Brisbane’s Mt Nebo that the GTI’s understeer-prone characteristic would show its ugly head. But, somewhat gleefully, this wasn’t the case.
Volkswagen’s tricky diff up front has very much changed the characteristic of the GTI. For some, the idea of a front-wheel drive hot hatch that doesn’t fight or show hints of playfulness through the steering wheel is sinful. For others, like this reviewer, it’s a godsend. As are the uprated brakes, which despite plenty of abuse, didn't show any signs of fade.
As we climbed further and further up through the very twisty roads of Mounts Nebo and Glorious, it became awfully daunting as to whether or not this car could be labelled the ‘best FWD in the world’. It has certainly proven itself around the Nurburgring.
An email was sent around the CarAdvice office to see whether this author had lost his mind. “What about the previous Ford Focus RS?” they screamed. Well, we’ve driven that, and sure Ford’s revolutionary Revoknuckle was good, but this is different.
The RS was a race car trapped inside a compromised road-going hatch, the GTI is a car you can drive everyday and yet, with this new LSD, it’s a whole different level of dynamic ability.
It also sounds rather tough. The updated exhaust system seems to emit a deeper tone than the regular car and the gearshifts now burble better than ever.
In saying all that, this is a rather expensive car. Tick a few options (like sunroof) and the price on road will easily stretch to mid 50s, and that’s Golf R money. Or, well, Ford Focus RS money.
So in that regard the question is not necessarily, should you buy this over a regular Golf GTI (because you really should if you have the means), but whether you should, in fact, forgo other options in its favour.
It’s a hard question to answer. There’s no doubt the Golf R and the Focus RS will be faster off the line thanks to their proper AWD system, and as we saw in our recent comparison, they both did rather well on the racetrack.
For us, the Golf R is a bit lackluster in appearance and its relative performance. The Focus RS, however, is a gem and if you can overlook its cheap cabin, massively huge waiting list and general Fordness, it’s the absolute pick of the hot hatch market for the moment.
However, the Golf GTI 40 Year edition is something special. It's not just the way it looks inside or out, or the extra power and torque that it delivers on overboost, but more so that after 40 years of refinement, the folks at Volkswagen have truly nailed the principles of a hot hatch and this is the ultimate culmination of that work. There are only 500 coming to Australia and most have already been sold.