Nostalgia alone counts for nothing these days. In an Internet-instant world where any upstart can quickly counter history and heritage with intelligence and innovation, the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Original certainly runs the risk of lingering to past glories.
The Golf GTI was one of the first hot hatchbacks, created by stuffing a bigger engine into a small body, but that was back when the VHS tape was a thing. Competitors these days continue to arrive at Asian-market broadband speed – we won’t mention our NBN – including this month’s i30 N as Hyundai’s first hot hatch. Upstart, indeed.
Enter an Original recipe. Volkswagen hasn’t made the Mark 7.5 Golf any smaller, but the GTI has become slightly lighter as it now offers three doors instead of five, while it packs in simpler suspension and fewer equipment items all for a bargain price.
There are factors there that suggest this Golf GTI Original isn’t resting on laurels, then, but rather defending its hallowed turf against some newfangled Uber-intruder.
Vehicle Style: Hot hatch
Price: $37,490 (plus on-road costs) or $38,490 driveaway
Engine/trans: 169kW/350Nm 2.0 four-cylinder turbo petrol | six-speed manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.6 l/100km | Tested: 8.5 l/100km
Let’s start with statistics. Priced from $37,490 plus on-road costs and equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, the three-door Golf GTI Original costs $4000 less than the standard five-door Golf GTI. Beyond the door-count deficit it also trades three-mode adaptive suspension for fixed-rate dampers, and it deletes foglights, keyless auto-entry with push-button start and integrated satellite navigation.
To make the Golf GTI even more competitive, Volkswagen is offering on-road costs for just $1000 extra on any model, making this Original – with a 169kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine – a staggeringly low $38,490 driveaway.
The next most affordable hot hatches are both 2.0-litre turbo units, too, including the 184kW/360Nm Ford Focus ST in run-out from $39,490 driveaway, and most recently the 202kW/353Nm i30 N from $39,990 (plus orc) or $44,063 driveaway. Both also offer five doors standard, although the Hyundai’s on-roads are certainly expensive.
Yes, both offer a higher number of kilowatts than the Golf GTI Original, but true to its original formula the Volkswagen is much lighter than either rival. Game on, then…
Standard Equipment: Multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, leather steering wheel, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto on/off headlights and wipers.
Infotainment: 8.0in touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, single USB and twin-SD card inputs and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
Options Fitted: None.
Cargo Volume: 380 litres.
Entry-level it may be, but the Golf GTI Original is hardly a stripped-out special. In addition to 18-inch alloy wheels on the outside there’s a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a manual gearlever that mimics a golfball, and old-school tartan cloth inside.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen is a high-resolution unit that is brilliantly simple to use, with physical audio and track-change dials comfortably trumping the touch-sensitive tabs of the 9.2in screen on higher-priced Golf GTIs – plus, in that model all tabs sit on the left side for left-hand drive markets, and they prove a real stretch for the driver. No such issues here, though.
This cheaper model may not get integrated navigation, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity will allow smartphone-driven maps. The downside of course is – unless maps are previously downloaded – increased smartphone data usage and reliance on mobile reception that can become patchy in the country. The Focus ST and i30 N get integrated nav, as well as the digital radio missing here.
What the Ford and Hyundai can’t nearly match, however, is the interior quality, cabin space and overall amenities of this Volkswagen. Its soft-touch dashboard remains beautifully screwed together and the dual-zone climate controls rotate with precision.
It may not get the full-colour driver screen – dubbed Active Info Display – of higher-priced Golf GTIs, but this is a good thing. That’s because the screen is of a lower resolution that the centre touchscreen, making it all look cheap and mismatched.
The Original stands above and beyond being a fashion victim. It still gets a colour trip computer display, and its ergonomics are superb. It likewise doesn’t need to have leather trim because quality cloth wraps around the brilliant front seats and one of the most accommodating back seats in the business.
This bargain-priced Golf GTI may only have three doors, but there’s legroom and headroom aplenty for rear passengers as well, plus rear air-vents missing on the five-door Focus ST and i30 N – both of which get a less comfortable rear bench.
Add a capacious 380-litre boot – 70L ahead of the Ford and just 1L shy of the Hyundai – and the Volkswagen becomes more than the sum of its parts. With quality and comfort intrinsic to its design, it remains the best hot hatch cabin, bar none.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 169kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
This time last year a buyer needed to spend $46,490 (plus orc) on the Golf GTI Performance to score 169kW of power, 7kW more than the standard model that never ducked under $40K for its four years on-sale anyway.
Now the outputs – including 350Nm of torque – of the Performance come in the Original and standard GTI for less, though without its front limited-slip differential (LSD) that during cornering can channel more power to a loaded inside tyre.
Think of when a car corners, and the mass tips to one side adding pressure and therefore grip to only one wheel. Without an LSD, power can simply be wasted in thin air (or tyre smoke) on an unloaded outside tyre without being properly harnessed.
We mention this because the Focus ST lacks an LSD, but it uses a softer rear suspension to help ‘pivot’ the hot hatch off its front axle and through a corner, therefore driving both front-driven tyres fairly neutrally into the ground. The i30 N simply get an LSD, while as mentioned this Golf GTI Original does not.
But where the Ford and Hyundai weigh a portly 1464kg and 1429kg respectively, this Volkswagen glides in at 1304kg – as though two adults have been removed entirely from the car. The Original is even 48kg lighter than its Performance sibling.
And that pays dividends in every way. The gorgeous 2.0-litre turbo doesn’t ever feel slow, despite less power than its rivals. It revs quickly and sings sweetly, while being matched to one of the most perfect manual transmissions in the business. You can pay another $2500 for an automatic, but you’re paying more for a six-speed dual-clutch – called DSG – unit that is nowhere near as good.
The fixed-rate dampers also work in complete harmony with the sensible 18-inch wheels with superb Bridgestone Potenza tyres. Frankly, the three-mode adaptive suspension of higher-priced Golf GTI models is not required, because with one setting the Original displays benchmark comfort, composure and control.
The quick, and smoothly mid-weighted steering could offer a touch extra road feel, but it’s otherwise near-flawless in the way it gels with an outstanding chassis.
Another benefit of the fixed suspension is its seeming ability to tie the front end to the ground while – as with Focus ST – ensuring a more pliant rear end pivots around the sharp initial turn-in.
The result is brilliantly playful and genuinely fun dynamics, in each case to a greater degree than a Golf GTI Performance using adaptive suspension with gripper (or more inert) 19-inch tyres. And along with a flawlessly tuned Sport electronic stability control (ESC) mode it simply means an LSD is rarely required.
Those who call the Golf GTI boring are plain wrong. This is laugh-out-loud fun, all wrapped in a package that happens to do all the mundane things really well, too.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Volkswagen Golf scored 35.92 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2013.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, and forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Annual or 15,000km servicing comes at an above-average capped-price cost of $369/$559/$633/$770/$369 for the first five scheduled checks respectively.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A Focus ST is old and flabby by comparison, while an i30 N is an unknown quantity – but far more expensive on a driveaway comparison basis.
Price wise, a WRX is the closest match at $38,990 (plus orc). It’s at its best in entry form as well, but the all-wheel drive sedan isn’t as flavoursome or cohesive as the model tested here.
- Ford Focus ST
- Hyundai i30 N
- Subaru WRX
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Volkswagen’s latest limited edition proves that the Original is the best – and that’s both the best Golf GTI and indeed the best hot hatch for the price. Far from cynically trading on the light and simple virtues of the original Golf GTI, the Golf GTI Original lives them when compared with the competition.
It’s the most affordable model from this series since 2003 – yep, a staggering 15-year rewind – while its equipment deficit is more than compensated by its complete retention of space, comfort and quality.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the sports suspension and 18s of this model outpoint and outplay more expensive Golf GTI model grades on adaptive suspension and 19s, while there’s power aplenty in a high-class package with polished yet fun dynamics. Flaws? Beyond a lack of rear doors and perhaps an LSD that could be handy on a racetrack, absolutely none. And hence the full marks here.
The Golf GTI Original presents more of an instant-knockout than a mere response served to newfangled Internet-instant rivals.
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