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It seems that just about every company is doing a hot hatch these days, from Hyundai to Mercedes-Benz. However, there is only one original, and that's the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The nameplate has been around for over four decades now, and those three letters continue to represent sports car performance mixed with everyday drivability and practicality. It's a tried and tested formula that's hard to beat, quite frankly.
Meet the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Original, a new three-door, pared-back variant of the German hot hatch that aims to appeal to purist buyers as well as the budget-minded.
Priced from $37,490 before on-road costs, not only is it $4500 more affordable than the 'standard' five-door Golf GTI, it's actually cheaper than the Mk5 GTI was 11 years ago – which was priced from $38,490 in manual three-door form.
Despite the purist focus, the GTI Original is available with both a six-speed manual or the six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic we have on test, which bumps the price up to $39,990 before on-road costs.
The Tornado Red exterior finish you see here is one of two colour options – the other being Pure White – while the only other add-on you can specify is the Driver Assistance Package ($1600) that adds safety tech like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and an automatic parking assistant.
Our tester goes without the latter, so you're looking at $39,990 as tested – smack-bang on par with the manual-only Hyundai i30 N.
So what do you get, or maybe more importantly, what don't you get with that $4500 saving?
For starters there's the obvious lack of rear doors – though this reviewer prefers the coupe-like look – you miss out on satellite navigation, there's no keyless entry like the standard car, and there's no adaptive chassis control (incorporating adjustable damping) like the standard model.
You also cannot option convenience features like a panoramic sunroof or the Infotainment Package – which adds a digital driver's display and the 9.2-inch 'Discover Pro' infotainment system – though those are cost-options on the five-door GTI anyway.
Regardless of the handful of features you miss out on, the GTI Original still gets unique 18-inch 'Sevilla' black alloy wheels with red pinstriping, LED headlights and tail-lights, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, tartan cloth seat trim, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, along with city-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
That's still a healthy amount of kit for a 'stripped back' enthusiast model – though I personally think the Driver Assistance option pack should be standard in 2018 on a $40,000 European car.
Hopping inside, it doesn't really feel stripped out either. The 8.0-inch central touchscreen is the same as the one in the standard car minus the navigation function, the steering wheel and instrumentation are the same, and the cloth trim is also the same. You even get red LED ambient interior lighting.
A key difference you'll notice, however, is access to the second row of seats. Like any coupe, you need to use the handles on either driver's or passenger's seats to fold and slide the front pew forward, which may not be practical if you're constantly carting around older passengers – my parents may have complained once or twice.
Interior quality, like any Golf, is up there with the best in the class too. Soft-touch materials adorn the dash and upper door trims, though lower down on the centre console and door inserts there are hard plastics that can feel a little cheap.
All the points where your elbows come to rest feel good to the touch, however, with padded and cloth-trimmed armrests in the doors and on the top of the centre bin.
Storage is pretty handy, too. The glovebox is large, as are the front door pockets – which also feature felt lining – and there are cupholders anywhere and everywhere. Rear passengers get pockets on the front seat backs as well.
Speaking of the second row, once you get past the aforementioned foldy-and-slidy process to get back there, it's surprisingly spacious.
At a little over six-foot-one (185cm), this reviewer can sit comfortably behind his own driver's position with plenty of leg and head room – it's still a Golf, after all. Sitting three adults abreast may get a little tight, but for two adults it's more than adequate. Two or three larger kids will be fine back there too.
Parents have access to ISOFIX child seat mounts on the outboard rear seats, though the three-door body may make it a pain to get little ones in and out.
Rear passengers also get air vents – something numerous five-door rivals still lack – cup holders and pockets on the sides, along with a fold-down centre armrest with an additional set of cupholders.
Behind the 60:40-split second row is a 380L boot, which expands to 1270L with the rear seats folded. So, despite the three-door body, the GTI Original is surprisingly practical.
The driving experience? Well, if you're familiar with the Mk7 or Mk7.5 Golf GTI, the Original doesn't offer any real surprises.
Under the bonnet is the same 2.0-litre turbo four with 169kW of power and 350Nm of torque, the latter available from 1500rpm through 4600rpm. In the case of our tester, drive is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic, though a six-speed manual is standard fit.
Either way, the GTI Original gets from 0–100km/h in a claimed 6.4 seconds – and the DSG feels every bit as quick as the claim.
While the purist will want the manual for its three-pedal nostalgia, the almost imperceptible gear changes and exhaust pops on upshifts are quite intoxicating, to the point where every moment behind the wheel feels like a race – within the law, of course.
Remove your early biases against dual-clutch automatics, because the six-speeder in the GTI Original (and standard GTI too) rarely, if ever, exhibits the jerky low-speed behaviour commonly associated with shifters of this type.
Heavy acceleration off the line usually results in some wheel spin, but once on the move the Original offers strong, linear acceleration, while the transmission shifts smoothly and intuitively in just about every situation.
Additionally, there's a full manual mode and a sports mode, allowing drivers to shift completely manually or have the transmission hold gears for a sportier drive.
The steering-mounted paddles are well-placed and tactile, if a bit small. Using them, however, results in plenty of smiles thanks to the snappy gear changes.
Ride and handling are great too, in typical Golf GTI fashion. Despite the lack of adaptive damping like its more expensive brethren, the GTI Original continues to offer a great balance of ride comfort and cornering ability.
It's a little on the firmer side, but it's sporty without being uncomfortable. Even going over tram tracks and potholes scattered throughout Melbourne's inner-city streets, the Original never crashed and maintained its composure even over the worst of imperfections.
The steering is great, too. It's nicely direct without being too light or heavy, and the steering wheel itself is a joy to hold.
In the bends, the slightly smaller and lighter three-door Golf feels a little more nimble than its five-door counterpart. The GTI Original will roll a little more mid-corner than, say, a Renault Megane RS, but it doesn't feel like it's going to topple over and the 225/40R18 Bridgestone Potenza rubber offers plenty of grip.
Using the switchable driving modes – Normal, Sport and Eco – one can tailor their GTI to their liking, toggling the throttle response, engine sound (which is synthesised in the cabin), air-conditioning, and steering weight to their liking.
For this reviewer, the best setting is Sport, though with the transmission in normal automatic for regular duties and manual mode for the country back road.
As for fuel consumption, you can rest assured that you won't spend a whole lot of time at the pump. We managed an indicated 9.0L/100km during our week-long 1000km stint with the Original, which is fairly reasonable considering it spent more time in traffic or blasting through back roads than it did on the freeway.
However, it's a fair bit up on Volkswagen's 6.6L/100km combined claim despite the inclusion of idle stop/start technology, though even with our figure you'll manage well over 500km of range from the Golf's 50L fuel tank.
In terms of ownership programs, the Golf GTI Original is covered by Volkswagen's three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with three years of roadside assistance.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000km, with the company's capped-price servicing program covering owners for the first five years or 75,000km.
Those first five services will set you back $377, $572, $464, $1160 and $377 respectively, coming to a total of $2950 over that period.
All told, the GTI Original won't leave you disappointed if you want a performance Golf on a budget.
Despite being $4500 more affordable than the five-door model, it doesn't miss out on much kit, and it's rather unique thanks to its three-door body – which hasn't been available as a mainstay in the Golf range since the Mk6.
It's got all of what you need, and more, without sacrificing many of the comfort features you might want.