Getting back to basics is no bad thing, and that’s exactly what Volkswagen has done with the Golf GTI Original.
It’s not totally basic - there’s still more than enough safety and convenience equipment to satisfy contemporary needs but the Original goes back to where the GTI formula began thanks to three doors for an iconic retro revival.
No, it might not sound like a big deal, but Golfs with three doors are definitely a ‘thing’ in the enthusiast community and, as the hot hatch world embraces an almost exclusively five-door future, the GTI Original has a unique packaging format against its competition.
Vehicle Style: Small hot hatch
Price: $37,490 plus on-road costs ($38,490 driveway)
Engine/trans: 169kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd manual, 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.6-6.7 l/100km | Tested: 7.7 l/100km (manual)
With the addition of the GTI Original the Golf GTI range now grows to three distinct variants (there’s the regular GTI and the GTI Performance) but the attention-grabbing part of the Original is its price, a relative hot hatch bargain from $37,490 driveaway as a manual or and extra $2500 with a dual-clutch automatic.
Of course there’s a few things missing to get that price down beyond the lack of rear two doors; there's no LED fog lights, keyless entry and start, and adaptive dampers, plus a colour palette limited to just red, or white.
Some of the more extravagant options also get left on the shelf (like Volkswagen’s techy Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster) but you can still add a driver assistance package with adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and assist, automatic parking, and more for an uptick in convenience and safety.
Crucially though, the Golf GTI Original now comes close to the bargain end of the hot hatch market - priced safely beneath the $41,990 (plus on-road costs) of the five-door GTI and even undercutting the bargain-priced $38,990 (plus ORC) Ford Focus ST
Standard Equipment: Front sports seats, tarten fabric trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, dual-zone climate control, rear air vents, seven airbags, reversing camera, cruise control with speed limiter, LED headlights, colour mulri-function instrument cluster display, 18-inch alloy wheels
Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM radio, CD player, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibilitlity Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, eight-speaker audio
Cargo Volume: 380 litres to rear seats, 1270 litres to front seats
The biggest change to the interior of the Golf Original is, of course in the back. Climbing in and out of the rear seats requires a small amount of extra effort next to the ease of simply swinging open a door.
The front seats do slide forward a decent distance, and the longer front doors allow just enough access to the rear. To keep rear occupants cool there’s rear seat AC vents to help make up for the rear glass that can’t be opened.
Up front, things are just as you’d find in the regular GTI, down to details like tartan seat trim and honeycomb patterned dash inserts. There’s no physical difference in available space, though the seat belts require a slightly awkward reach-around due to being set further back.
Volkswagen’s latest 8.0-inch infotainment system still lives up front. Inbuilt navigation isn’t present though like in other GTI editions but smart phone compatibility via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is. The ability to option the larger 9.2 inch system and virtual cockpit combo has also been removed.
Other minor changes include the deletion of LED fog lights, replacing keyless entry and start with a regular key (still with remote locking), and swapping the Spielberg 19-inch alloys wheels for a set of Dark Graphite Sevilla wheels with a red lip.
ON THE ROAD
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, 169kW @4700-6200rpm, 350Nm @1500-4600rpm
Transmission: Six speed manual, six speed dual-clutch automatic, front wheel drive
Suspension: Sports-tuned MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
Brakes: Vented front discs, solid rear discs
Steering: Electric progressive power steering
The Golf GTI is often held as the yardstick by which other hot hatch challengers are judged, and on the road it's not hard to see why.
While its 169kW and 350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine might be outgunned by some competitors, the way Volkswagen ties together power delivery, steering clarity, and suspension responsiveness still impresses.
There’s a definite punch from the engine, and a linear swell of power all the way to the 6200rpm redline. While it can feel docile at low engine speeds, spin the tacho past 2000rpm and the GTI delivers zingy revs hand-in-hand with a generous shove of torque.
Power gets to the tarmac via the front wheels, not through a mechanical limited slip differential, but instead via XDL - Volkswagens extended electronic differential lock - which mimics the torque distribution of an LSD by brake application.
The result is clean getaways time after time with no obvious traces of wheel-tugging torque steer or gruff axle tramp.
Combined with suspension that dials out body roll, while creating an agile and accurate on road feel, the Golf GTI Original maintains the impressive driving dynamics set by its GTI forebears.
The GTI Original keeps a choice of transmission too, with either a six-speed manual or optional six-speed dual-clutch (or DSG) automatic.
There’s no doubting the DSG’s suitability to urban driving, with barely noticeable gear changes for slogging through commuter traffic, but find the space to wring the auto out and the lightning-fast gear shifts and uninterrupted flow of power mean auto versions are no less fun than manuals.
Absolute purists will still take the manual every time. Equipped with a golf-ball shaped shift knob, the manual provides a nicely weighted gearshift and a complementary clutch feel that means even in slow shuffling traffic the row-your-own option is never a poor choice.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Volkswagen has an icon on its hands with the Golf GTI, and it knows it. While the Original package might only be minimally different compared to the regular GTI it offers just enough to excite the detail-driven GTI enthusiasts.
By far the most exciting feature is the full-time reintroduction of the Golf in three-door form, previously offered in limited numbers on the GTI Performance Edition 1, but otherwise not seen for five years.
The three-door shape not only harks back to the actual original Mark 1 GTI, but also gives Volkswagen something unique - no other hot hatch in its class comes with three doors.
The minimal changes also mean that the GTI Original is no less a hot hatch than the five-door model. In fact its slightly de-specced equipment, fractionally lower weight (by about 25kg) and somewhat selfish lack of rear passenger access make the Original the GTI-fan’s GTI
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