There are plenty of hot hatches out there, but there's only one Golf GTI. Now into its seventh generation, the German pocket rocket is the consummate all-rounder.
With enough power to put a smile on your face, enough space to keep the family happy and enough comfort for the daily grind, there's not much it can't do.
This is a Cars We Own diary for our own Golf GTI. Think of it as a rolling logbook, a little window into life with the cars in the CarAdvice stable. You’ll find the most recent entries at the top, and the older instalments at the bottom.
Expect to see regular updates from here on out. They might be longer, more in-depth breakdowns of specific trips, or sentence-long snapshots of foibles that have popped up.
Let us know if there you have questions about the cars and we’ll try to answer them. Most of all, enjoy!
- 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI
- Purchase date: February 2016
- Purchase price: $45,000
- Service 1: Carried out on 22/09/2016. Odometer 14,266km. Cost $434
- Service 2: Carried out on 06/12/2017. Odometer 31,335km. Cost $589
- Service 3: Carried out on 24/07/2018. Odometer 43,925. Cost $1196, inc. $680.96 for new front brake pads.
- Service 4: Due 24/07/2019
Update Five, 10/12/2018
Liam Murphy, Reader
After a less-than-glowing owner review of my Volkswagen Golf in 2011 77TSI trim, the team at CarAdvice thought it was only fair to throw me to keys to their DSG GTI to see how I fancied the TSI’s bigger brother.
An exciting prospect for any car fanatic, but the DNA of the GTI is still incredibly Golf to me. Solid, dependable, time-tested... a bit boring.
Good at everything but exceptional at what? Does it do enough to warrant its reputation, and kick around the mid-$40k price-tag?
The first attention-grabbing thing with the GTI is its exterior styling. It’s mean. From the daytime running lights like scowling eyes, to the aggressive bumper vent design and dual exhaust, the car has a presence.
A theme of red is dotted about – a hue shared with GTI badges on the front quarter-panels, brake calipers, and a pinstripe running along the front grille into the headlights.
The motif continues inside: the scuff panel and door card are both accented in red by two LED strips. There’s an odd excitement to it all, like you’ve skipped the line at a club. ‘It’s just a Golf,’ I reminded myself.
Inside is no different than out: mean but measured. The leather, flat-bottomed steering wheel is as sexy as they come, and feels good to hold. The pedals are finished in brushed aluminium and the accelerator doesn’t pivot from the floor.
The tartan seats are comfortable and supportive, giving good adjustability to match the steering wheel’s height and telescopic adjustment. Controls for the climate are clear and intuitive, however the driver options I used most tended to be obscured by the shifter.
Boot space is adequate yet unimpressive considering there’s only a space-saver spare nestled under the floor. Rear passengers have plenty of room and storage in the doors, while the seats provide a surprising amount of bolstering.
The fold-down rear armrest is chunky and comfortable.
The standout of the interior is the infotainment unit. The eight-inch touchscreen is a dream, with logical menus and clear resolution that doesn’t require a finger to be punched through the dash for what you’re trying to select to be acknowledged.
The eight-speaker sound system works well at lower volumes, but shows its limits up high. This can be improved via a pretty capable equaliser, but is really only a Band-Aid fix unless you option the infotainment upgrade.
Packed with safety features as well, the GTI comes standard with autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot detection. There’s even park assist, which is creepy to me but also creepily good at its job. It struggles with very low curbs, or curbs close to driveways though, so be mindful.
With Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, auxiliary and USB ports, fast-loading satellite navigation, smooth operation and whatever you need within close reach, the whole experience feels like the driver’s seat has been wheeled to the desk in your home office.
Press the start button and the baritone 2.0-litre turbo grumbles to life. The GTI’s DSG transmission does lose a gear to the TSI’s, but the six longer gears suit the engine’s wide torque-band well, meaning more time is spent riding a wave of torque and less is spent waiting for the gearbox to pick a ratio.
The DSG doesn’t hesitate like the 77TSI’s. Its operation is smooth and 99% of the time you won’t even notice it doing its thing, but when it does show a flaw it shows it unapologetically.
In any mode other than Sport, the DSG is obsessed with being in the highest possible gear, leading to occasional hunting up hills and some frustrating downshifts. Press the throttle expecting a lower gear and the GTI puffs its chest like a child convinced they can carry all the groceries in one go.
‘No! I have a whole 350Nm and 169kW, I can do it!’ it wails, while stubbornly refusing to downshift. By the time you’ve fed in enough throttle to convince the GTI to concede defeat, the engine has already built boost pressure and will drop a gear or two to give you almost all 350Nm whether you wanted them or not.
The DSG launches without any shudder, however the clutch release from a stop can be a little too hasty at very low speeds.
I found myself having to keep a larger gap in stop/go traffic because of its enthusiasm and this only heightened my largest gripe with the car: its Start/Stop function.
The system is intrusive at best, but the GTI’s is a recipe for annoyance. Any sudden take-off or last minute orange-light attempt will turn the traction control light into a strobe and garner disapproving stares from pedestrians as the fast-releasing DSG, front-wheel drive and buckets of torque collide.
Furthermore, Volkswagen has mated the GTI’s electric steering to a hydraulic pump, meaning you lose power assist when the engine shuts off.
The force required to fire the engine back up is excessive and will have you either head-butting your door or passenger when the sudden change from manual to power-assistance arrives.
The start/stop can also activate while the car comes to a stop and, call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t like the idea of having power steering taken away while I’m moving. This can all be avoided with the push of a button, but the GTI will reactivate it for you on every restart.
The GTI is an absolute dream on the open road. The cabin is quiet and comfortable; the ride second to none. The suspension converts even the most heinous of imperfections into compliant feedback to the driver. The engine sips 95RON at a claimed 6.4L/100km when cruising but happily reminds there's a turbocharger if you get a heavy foot. Truth be told, there is almost nothing to fault when cruising along in the GTI.
On twisty roads, the difference between Comfort and Sport modes is appreciable. Individual is also an excellent addition for drivers wanting more performance, or bark without the full commitment.
But this is a GTI and it has Sport Mode for a reason. It’s definitely not slow, but for a quick driver getting your bearings in the GTI is about as rewarding as it’s going to get. Driven at anything below 50%, the car feels phenomenally sharp and planted, but ask for anymore and it becomes a case of diminishing returns.
Even with the stiffer dampeners and heavier steering in Sport mode, the GTI doesn’t like to rotate. The front end feels heavy and taxed even with the electro-mechanical limited-slip differential doing a magnificent job of dialling out understeer.
The chassis runs out of spirit before the tyres do and you can feel the GTI try to climb the sidewalls of its low-profile 225/40 rubber wrapped around 18-inch wheels. Hope isn’t lost though. Get onto a straight, let the 2.0-litre engine spin 169kW and 350Nm through the DSG’s six close ratios and you’ll quickly forgive.
The 100km/h sprint is impressive at 6.4 seconds. At the end of that straight, it’s the brakes that’ll really stand out on the GTI. They're almost perfectly boosted with excellent balance and pedal feel.
Did the seventh generation of Golf in its GTI form earn its stripes after a week? Yes, absolutely. In a market where manufacturers lean towards luxury, performance or economy but rarely hit all three, the GTI deserves flagship status.
While it may not do it in the middle of a swift right-hander, it does in subtler ways – in the welcome of those angry LEDs when unlocked; in the strange pride of sitting the key on a table in a cafe, and in the frugal economy or blistering performance on tap.
The GTI might not get your heart going like some of its rivals, but it will make you excited for your next drive. It’s a strange thing, but there’s just something about it.
Update Four, 21/02/17
David Zalstein, Contributor
Long highway drives. They're boring as hell, but they're also the perfect place to find any annoying personality traits a car might have.
David: With a target of around 870km, some track work planned, and additional load on board (gear, not lunch), I set all four 18-inch, 225mm-wide, 40-aspect Bridgestone Potenza tyres to 40psi.
The route, for those who have never done it, could not be simpler: M1 to M2 to M80 to the M31/Hume Highway all the way past Seymour, Wangaratta, Albury-Wodonga, Gundagai, Yass, and Goulburn.
With speed limits starting at 80km/h and increasing to 100 and 110km/h, the near-900km drive is the perfect way to ‘test out’ our Golf GTI’s adaptive cruise control.
Part of a $1500 optional ‘Driver Assistance Package’ which also includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, semi-automatic parking, rear cross-traffic alert, and selectable driving modes, over the whole drive, the adaptive cruise control system works really well.
Update Three, 18/11/16
James Ward, Contributor
By now you know the Golf GTI is a DSG. WTF? In this update, we take a walk through the first 10,000km with our turbocharged Golf, and address some of the concerns we had about THAT transmission.
When we bought it, many readers questioned our choice of the DSG transmission, suggesting it would fault, fail or spontaneously combust within mere hours of initial purchase. I admit, part of me was looking forward to burning an effigy of something in protest, because… well, fire!
But sadly for the pyro fans out there, there has been nothing of the sort. For the most part, and this may come as a bit of a shock, our first six months of Golf-club membership, has been pretty dull. Fun, sure… but dull.
We’ve tried to trick it up too.
No fewer than 15 people have driven it. James Wong used it on a driver training course. Mike Stevens had it covered with stickers. It’s been to the shops, to school, to the beach, to the snow, driven by every high and medium risk demographic there is – and there really haven’t been too many issues.
Update Two, 26/07/16
James Wong, Journalist
P-plate drivers are wildly over-represented in road fatalities Down Under. One way to help deal with that is driver training. James Wong, who was a P-plater at the time, took our GTI to Driver Dynamics to complete a defensive driving course.
James: It feels like it’s five degrees outside as I roll into the Sandown Raceway complex at 8:15am. Following the signs, I’m greeted at some orange cones by CarAdvice friend and Driver Dynamics instructor Chris DeJager.
“Hi, I’m James,” I say, smiling. “I’m here with CarAdvice for the Level One Driver Dynamics course today.” I’ve never met Chris, but I know through our Sideways in Japan travel video that he’s a personable sort.
To my surprise, then, his first question comes in the form of a polite interrogation. “Have you been given many speeding fines in the past mate?”
“Uh, no, never,” I reply. Replace smile with a significantly less cheerful look. Am I in trouble already…
“Are you sure? Because I heard you floor it up the road just now.” Oops, not a good start. Chris points towards the entrance.
James Ward, Contributor
Ah, the good old days. Before the GTI was a bedded-in member of the CarAdvice fleet, it was a fresh-faced little kid with just 12km on the odometer.
James: Yep. We bought a Golf.
It wasn’t an easy decision to come to either. Like you, we had our parameters that governed the cars we could choose from.
The Melbourne office car needed to be practical, so five-doors was a must. It needed to be fun, because – well, fun! It needed to cost less than $50,000 and importantly, it needed to be something we, as a team, considered to be a car we would recommend to any of our friends and family.