2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years: Week with review

The CarAdvice Melbourne team drives the "40 Years" Golf GTI during the week and compares with our current standard GTI.

Being happy owners of the everyday, garden variety Volkswagen Golf GTI, CarAdvice was only too happy when news of the upgraded, hardcore Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years edition first broke.

Commemorating the 40th year of the GTI nameplate, the limited-edition model boasts a number of improvements both inside and out. Aesthetically, there’s a revised bumper with bigger air intakes, 19-inch alloy wheels, rear ‘ducktail’ spoiler and “40 Years” stickers adorning the side sills.

Inside, you’ll find a much nicer interior than our standard Golf GTI, with swathes of Alcantara covering the steering wheel, seat outers and door inserts, as well as red stitching for the bucket seats, steering wheel and seat belts.

The 40 Years edition builds on the popular GTI Performance model by bumping up the power and retains its mechanical differential lock, aiding an already tidy front end.

The GTI’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine has been fettled to produce 195kW of power – the most that has ever featured in a Golf GTI. Technically, it also gets more power than the top-dog Golf R's local form, albeit for only 10 seconds at a time on overboost, bumping power and torque up to 213kW and 380Nm respectively.

The Golf GTI 40 Years sticks to its front-wheel drive layout, of course, and this limited edition gets 225/35/R19 Pirelli P Zero tyres where the standard Golf GTI gets 225/40/R18 Bridgestone Potenzas.

In relation to already owning a Golf GTI, we were interested in how it compares to our model and if it would be really worth its $48,990 (plus on-road costs) price tag.

On the road, the 40 Years Edition feels noticeably quicker than our standard GTI, especially on kick-down acceleration activating the overboost function. Having an extra 60kW of power available isn’t necessarily needed, but it certainly makes things a lot more lively.

Going from a car with no LSD, to one that gets an electronically controlled mechanical diff, makes us wish we opted for the GTI Performance when purchasing back in April. What a phenomenal difference in cornering ability. Throwing it into corners, there’s a lot more assurance that the power is going to be translated to the road with the differential really sharpening things up.

In the cabin, there’s a much more premium feel that we wish came as standard. The Alcantara sections make the car feel more special and you really believe you’re driving a limited edition car. The highlight is the Alcantara steering wheel with a position marker at 12o’clock – what’s not to love about an Alcantara wheel!

Considering that all of us at CarAdvice drive the standard Golf GTI, the rest of the team were encouraged to experience the difference between our standard car and the 1-of-500 limited edition.

David Zalstein

The new 40 Years Edition Golf GTI is undoubtedly a cool car. It looks sharper than a standard Golf GTI and gets additional goodies that, on the face of it, make it a tempting proposition.

However, while I didn’t get to spend much time with the example that quickly rolled in and out of the CarAdvice Melbourne garage, I have my reservations.

For me, the Alcantara wheel is a big plus that makes the GTI experience that little bit better, and makes the 40 Years more special 'feeling' than a standard GTI or even a Golf R. But without a manual gearbox/gear lever and corresponding three pedals to go along with it, it ain’t for me.

If you need a car to get you around town, to and from the shops, or to and from school pickups and drop-offs, but still have enough hustle to entertain when needed, a standard (manual) Golf GTI would still be my personal pick. If you have to go DSG, then, again, I’d recommend saving your cash and opting for the standard DSG Golf GTI.

Will the arrival of the manual 40 Years Edition Golf GTI change my mind? Quite possibly. At least then you get the more enthusiast-focused combination of a do-it-yourself transmission, more power, and a mechanical front LSD. Winning.

Mandy Turner

As a classic Volkswagen enthusiast and having always wanted a Mk 1 Golf GTI, I was super keen to get into the GTI 40 Years Edition.

After being used to the CarAdvice GTI, the standout difference for me is the interior. Out with the tartan cloth trim, and in with the similar coloured Alcantara seats (with nice bumpy padding), steering wheel and door inlays. I couldn't stop touching it. The 40 Years decal on the sides of the car seems a bit corny at the beginning, but I grew to like it.

As always with the Golf, the 40 Years fun is in the drive. Sport mode produces an insane sound and planted my head into the back of the seat. In terms of performance, it's not the most powerful in the Golf range - at 195kW, it's in the middle of the R (206kW) and GTI (162kW), but it doesn't seem to matter. It's still powerful enough to make you go, "phwoar".

Is it worth spending the extra cash on the 40 Years and foregoing the standard GTI? Absolutely. If you're a fan of the Volkswagen badge and love the history, you'll feel it every time you get in the car. And if you love hot hatches in general, this could be one that stands out from the crowd.

After driving the 40 Years GTI, the Mk 1 I've been dreaming about may have just moved down the list a bit.

Paul Maric

There was noticeable power difference in the sense that it was delivered much more confidently. The standard Golf uses an electronic faux-limited-slip differential, which uses braking to limit slip.

I was a fan of the 40 Years Edition’s mechanical limited slip differential which doesn't limit power or torque like it does in the non-mechanical setup. The end result is an ability to access more traction on corners that open up, where a shift in load would eventually cause the inside wheel to spin. It's tremendously capable for a front-wheel drive car and reminds me of the previous generation Focus RS.

You don't notice it as much at low speed, because there's only so much you can cram through two wheels. It's when the pace picks up that it's most noticeable.

Is it worth the the extra outlay of cash over our car? No, not really. But, it's a special edition, so the value is in the eye of the beholder.

The interior was nice, but that steering wheel will get grubby pretty quickly and I didn't think it looked different enough to command the price tag difference (but, worth remembering it's the hardware and name that makes the main difference in price).

Andrew Beecher

I have owned/leased four Golf GTIs over the years - not including our Mark VII in Melbourne. Yes I like them a lot.

The bump in power is noticeable but ultimately not really the main point of the most capable all-round hot hatch. The other big problem for the power bump is that anyone that is anyone will get this lift and more from a simple, proven and reliable ECU flash - albeit at the same time saying goodbye to your factory warranty.

While I have never met a kilowatt that I didn't like, these extra ones don't really make or break the driving experience.

The standard GTI with its essentially open diff would wheel spin in the wet at times but rarely tramped. I despised the way the 40 Years Edition shuddered and tramped in the wet.

As for the interior, this was my biggest area of disappointment. The reality being that the standard (and historically significant) cloth tartan seats, to my personal aesthetic, work much better than the faux-tyre tread pattern in the 40 Years Edition.

The Alcantara steering wheel was another disappointment as it felt thinner than the standard leather wrapped tiller and I prefer thicker. Then there is the wear and tear on this fabric for a daily driver - and taking in my propensity to smash a quarter pounder while on road trips to the snow I'm trying to imagine how this pickle-and-sauce-smeared-rim will look after a year or so.

Outside, I really did not like the lower sills sticker treatment and found the blacked out semi-whale tail redesigned roof mounted spoiler to be slightly gauche. However, the “Ruby” bespoke rims are a nice touch.

Underneath those wheels, the upgraded brakes are nice visually but the standard GTI stoppers do everything you need to for on-road driving. Track days are where any benefit would be realised.

The tricky diff. Worked better than the open-but-ABS-intervened standard GTI and categorically got the power down cleaner in both faster sweepers and hairpins. However raised on a diet of FWD hot hatches a degree of inside wheel spin and some torque steer is something I more often enjoy so again - marginal value for me.

I sincerely wish the brilliant Golf GTI a happy 40th birthday - it has grown old far more athletically and gracefully than I have. However while I wanted to love the 40 Years Edition my verdict is that this is a purchase for the collectors, or for those that just must have the most powerful unmodified GTI.

For me I'd take the standard GTI (in fact I have) as the original is still the best even after 40 years. As for the Golf R - I'd take a GTI over the R any day, as Haldex is a pox upon humanity.

James Wong

I was really excited to see the GTI 40 Years parked in our driveway. The larger wheels and more aggressive body kit add a little more drama to the very sedate and almost boring standard car.

Sitting inside, I am quite fond of all the Alcantara trim highlights, though I agree that these areas would be a little more prone to dirt. I much prefer the Alcantara steering wheel though, it just feels cool.

The interior does swap out the textured inlays for the boring gloss-black ones in the R, which was a little disappointing, but the door trim gets a hexagonal pattern which is unique to this model and again gives it that special touch.

I didn't get a chance to really test the Golf 40 Years dynamically, but unlike the loud exterior and the revised interior, on the road it didn't really feel that special compared to the regular car.

Beech and I share the same view, the axle tramp was worse, particularly in the wet, making a lot of noise and shuddering which wasn’t very pleasant.

The engine note was a little deeper, and acceleration (once you got power to the ground) felt a little meatier than the regular one. I noticed the ride is a touch firmer and the steering is a little tighter as well.

But, does all this make it worth the near-Golf R starting price? Probably not. The regular car is plenty of metal for the money, and if the Performance pack drives like the 40 Years (which I would think it does just with a little less pep) then I wouldn’t bother with the 40 Years Edition. It’s a shame the GTI Performance is no longer an option.

Well there you go. After a brief stint in the commemorative GTI 40 Years Edition, I think the unanimous decision is that while we enjoyed the subtle changes and excitement of a new limited model, we’ll stick with our extremely capable standard Golf GTI for the time being.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.

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