Volkswagen Golf GTI Review
The Golf GTI balances performance and driving fun with practicality and running costs - find out why it's the default hot hatchback for many
Strengths & weaknesses
Distinctive tartan cloth upholstery. Racy red-striped detailing around the exterior. A gear knob shaped like a golf ball on manual models. These are a few of the stand-out features that mark out the VW Golf GTI, and have done since the mid-1970s. An ability to deliver sporty performance and driving fun without sacrificing everyday usability or reasonable running costs are also a vital part of the car’s appeal.
This version of the VW Golf GTI, launched in 2020, builds upon the sportiness and practicality of its predecessors, with a punchy 245hp engine and the ability to accelerate from 0-62mph in a speedy 6.3 seconds, while offering all the interior space you’d need for a family of four - plus plenty of space in the boot for weekly shopping or holiday luggage.
It’s no longer the performance car bargain that high-performance hatchbacks used to be, though. The Golf GTI costs well over £30,000 from new, but that’s as much a reflection of the rest of the market. It’s around the same price as the Honda Civic Type R and BMW 128ti, but a couple of grand more expensive than the Ford Focus ST and the larger Skoda Octavia vRS (which shares its engine and many other parts with the Golf).
The cost is partly because underneath its sporty-looking bodywork the Golf GTI is a pretty sophisticated machine, with suspension, steering and throttle response that can be set to make the car feel more sporty and agile or more relaxed and comfortable, depending on your mood.
This means the car can be perfectly tailored to your mood, or the road you're driving on - at one moment feeling almost like a sports car, the next a comfortable and economical family hatchback. When it comes to fuel economy, you should be able to get around 38 mpg if you drive carefully, which is impressive for this sort of car and better than most rivals can muster.
Inside, apart from the sporty styling touches, the Golf GTI is much the same as the rest of the Golf range, which means you get a swish-looking minimalist dash where everything’s controlled either via a central touchscreen media system - including the stereo and heating controls - or by touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel.
It all looks very smart and sophisticated, especially with the adjustable interior ambient lighting, but in truth the control interfaces are a bit fiddly and it can be hard to cycle through the menus to find the functions you’re looking for, without distracting yourself from the business of driving. If this bothers you, the previous version of the Volkswagen Golf could be a more suitable choice.
Should I get a Volkswagen Golf GTI?
✔ Upmarket feel compared with Ford and Hyundai rivals
✔ Fast and fun without feeling yobbish or unruly
✔ Comfortable and quiet, and relaxing on longer journeys
✘ Lack of physical heating and stereo controls is a pain
✘ Not the most exciting or engaging hot hatchback to drive
✘ No longer the new car bargain it was, at over £30,000
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is no longer the range-topping fast Golf. That honour goes to the 320hp four-wheel-drive Golf R. The GTI is a lot cheaper than the R model, though, and is more than powerful enough to deliver a fun and lively driving experience.
And if the standard GTI isn’t quite exciting enough for you, there’s the option of the Clubsport model, which adds an extra 55hp, and can sprint from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. It also has bigger brakes and lower, sportier suspension. The Clubsport is only available with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, however - a six speed manual is only an option for the non-Clubsport GTI.
The Honda Civic Type R delivers a more thrilling, visceral driving experience, too, and both the Ford Focus ST and Hyundai i30 N Performance feel more agile and lively on a twisty country road, so are worth considering for those after a more analogue feel behind the wheel.
- Models explained
- Trim levels
- Best Golf GTI for
- Should I buy used?
- Boot space
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The GTI was originally the top-of-the-range, high-performance version of the VW Golf. That title now goes to the Golf R, which gets four-wheel-drive and more power to help it stand out as the most sporty and high-tech Golf.
Nevertheless, the GTI is still a quick car, and its engine is a detuned version of the one used in the Golf R. In the Golf GTI that means you get 245hp, a rapid 0-62mph time of 6.3 seconds and a 155mph top speed. Drive it gently and you could get more than 40mpg from it, too, so it shouldn't be overly expensive to fuel.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport
If the regular GTI isn’t racy enough for you, and you can’t quite stretch to the 320hp Golf R, then then the Clubsport could be the ideal fast Golf for you.
It’s not quite as hardcore as some Golf GTI models in the past - the old Clubsport S did away with the rear seats entirely, for example - but the Clubsport is definitely a punchier, more involving version of the Golf GTI. It gets an extra 55hp to bring it to 300hp, lower sports suspension and larger brakes. A seven-speed automatic is the only gearbox choice.
Changes inside are relatively limited, largely amounting to nothing more than sports seats with a grippier-feeling material, but overall the Clubsport feels like a more serious driver's car the standard GTI for those who want to be more involved in the driving process.
|VW Golf GTI||Limited stock: The GTI sits 15mm lower than regular Golf models, gets a 'sound actuator' to enhance the engine note, keyless entry and the top-of-the-range digital touchscreen system. There is also a grooved rear diffuser, a roof spoiler, red brake calipers and red styling strips on the grille.|
|VW Golf GTI Clubsport||Limited stock: The Clubsport fills the gap between the regular 245hp GTI and the four-wheel-drive 320hp Golf R, with 300hp. It also gets uprated suspension (riding 10mm lower than the GTI) and bigger brakes.|
|VW Golf GTI Clubsport 45||Limited stock: Celebrating 45 years of the Golf GTI, this special edition features an uprated exhaust system and other styling details. Power remains unchanged from the already fast GTI Clubsport above.|
The basic Golf GTI offers a great balance between performance, economy and everyday usability, but there are more performance-focused versions in the form of the Clubsport models, if driving fun is your priority.
|Volkswagen Golf GTI: No Golf GTI could really be considered great value for money these days, and those on a budget should check out cars like the Skoda Octavia vRS, but the badge appeal of the Golf means it holds its value well, and can offfer low PCP finance monthly payments.|
|Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport: Firmer suspension, bigger brakes and a big hike in power make the Clubsport much more exciting to drive compared with the regular GTI, although it’s a shame you can’t opt for a manual gearbox with the Clubsport.|
|Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45: You get a heated steering wheel, 19-inch alloy wheels, and a fancy ‘Akrapovic’ upgraded exhaust, plus a few ‘45’ stickers to note the fact that this car celebrates 45 years of the Golf GTI. But it’s honestly not really worth the extra outlay over the normal Clubsport model.
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BuyaCar prices Limited stock
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Whereas the original Golf GTI effectively invented the hot hatch back in the 1970s, its successor for the 2020s has rather more rivals. Cars like the Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS are rather more raucous and rapid than the refined VW, but the Golf GTI has plenty of rivals that match it closely on price, power and refinement.
These include the BMW 128ti - which has the Golf beaten for interior quality and driving appeal - and the more spacious and cheaper Skoda Octavia vRS. And then there’s the Hyundai i30 N Performance, which offers great value and loads of driving fun.
There are also plug-in hybrid options to consider such as the Cupra Formentor and even VW’s own Golf GTE. These reduce CO2 emissions and improve fuel economy - provided you charge them regularly - with their ability to travel for short trips entirely on electric power as well as providing comparable performance to the petrol-engined Golf GTI.
As the entry-level high-performance Golf, the GTI is likely to be a relatively common sight on the used market, though buyers are increasingly favouring the plug-in hybrid GTE model and the more powerful, four-wheel-drive Golf R. This means there may not be quite as much choice of Golf GTIs around as would have been the case for previous models.
Nevertheless, the Golf GTI is still an appealing choice. Whether the absence of conventional buttons or dials in the cabin will annoy you will depend on your personal taste, but there are some question marks over the glitchiness of the touchscreen interface - though this should be fixable through software updates. If you like the sound of the Golf GTI but are concerned about this, going for the previous generation model could be a wise choice.
If the previous versions of the VW Golf GTI are anything to go by, the version on sale from 2020 onwards should also hold onto its value reasonably well as a used car. So although the outright purchase price may be high, the car should be worth a lot in years to come. Because of this, low monthly payments should be available on PCP finance. Meanwhile, cash buyers should get a high proportion of what they paid back, when they come to sell the car on.
Volkswagen Golf GTI dimensions
At 4.3 metres long, 1.8 metres wide (2.07m with mirrors) and just under 1.5 metres tall, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is very much an average size for a hot hatch. It is a touch shorter and narrower than many comparable rivals, which could be handy in awkward car park spaces, on narrow country lanes or when parking on a tight driveway.
One rival that’s noticeably bigger is the Skoda Octavia vRS, which is more than 40 centimetres longer - and offers a lot more interior space as a consequence. In fact, the Golf GTI’s relatively compact exterior dimensions do result in a slightly compromised interior. Space for three in the rear is relatively tight, for example, but if you’re not regularly planning to squeeze five adults in, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem; the Golf is still a practical option.
|Length 4,287mm||Width 1,789mm|
|Height 1,478mm||Weight 1,463kg|
The Volkswagen Golf GTI offers boot space that’s reasonable for the class, at 374 litres measured to the load cover. That’s practically the same as what you’ll get in the 375-litre Ford Focus ST boot, but worse than you’ll find in the Hyundai i30 N, which has 395 litres of capacity.
The Skoda Octavia vRS, however, can deliver an extremely versatile 600 litres of room - and that’s not even the figure for the more practical estate model. As a result, if you like the idea of the Golf but want a bit more luggage space, the closely related Octavia vRS could be perfect for you.
|Seats up 374 litres||Seats down 1,230 litres|
Volkswagens are largely reliable, but aren’t up there with the best manufacturers in terms of outright dependability - they tend to rank somewhere in the middle for owner satisfaction and in reliability surveys.
In the case of this version of the Golf, early cars seem to suffer from glitches with the media system and touchscreen interface, but these are likely to be ironed out with updates.
Other than that, the VW Golf GTI should provide reliable, robust performance motoring at least on a par with most other speedy family hatchbacks.
Volkswagen offers a three-year warranty with a 60,000-mile limit. That’s more or less the industry standard, but not as good as the seven-year warranties offered by Kia, SsangYong and MG. A Toyota warranty will last longer from new, too, offering 10 years of protection, while other manufacturers like Hyundai offer five years' cover.
Where the VW warranty is more impressive is that it offers unlimited mileage for the first two years - which is great if you cover lots and lots of regular motorway miles and are likely to exceed 60,000 miles in the car's first two years.
Coverage excludes all the usual wear-and-tear items such as brakes, clutch, tyres and suspension, but VW will cover these for the first six months or 6,500 miles. The same short-term warranty protection applies to mechanical adjustments.
|3 years||60,000 miles|
AVERAGE REPAIR COST PAID BY WARRANTYWISE: £537
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The standard Volkswagen Golf GTI is the most common type of Golf GTI, striking an impressive balance between good fuel economy, driving fun, space for the family and a desirable badge on the bonnet.
If you’re hankering for a bit more pace (0-62mph in 5.6 seconds rather than 6.3 seconds), then the 300hp GTI Clubsport will be the GTI model to go for. And even if it isn’t as powerful or as capable as the astonishingly capable four-wheel-drive Golf R, it is somewhat cheaper to purchase, so could be the one to go for if the R is out of your budget.
*Representative PCP finance - 2018 Ford Fiesta 1.0 ST-Line Hatchback:
|PCP representative example||APR rates available|
|Cash price £12,000||APR 7.90%||Value of loan||From|
|Fixed monthly payment £218.12||Annual mileage of 8,000pa||£25,000+||6.9%|
|Total cost of credit £2,755.55||Term 48 months||£12,000-£24,999||7.9%|
|Optional final payment £4,285.79||Loan value £12,000||£8,000-£11,999||8.9%|
|Total amount payable £14,755.55||Deposit £0||<8,000||9.9%|
BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.
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