If you were to ask a group of ‘petrol heads’, “What’s the best hot hatch?” rather predictably, and probably in a savvy know it all kind of manner they’d say, “The Golf Gti of course!” On paper and over the years, yeah undoubtedly. They’re popular despite the price tag, and have a history of being well built, solid and fast. I’ve never been a massive fan of them though. Likely because I’m generally sceptical of anything popular, and let’s be honest if the GTi was a person they’d watch football, have a short haircut that’s trimmed every two weeks and obsessively listen to chart music. That’s fine, it’s just not my kind of vibe; I like character and originality. That being said, you should never judge a car by it’s badge. Besides, I’ve never actually driven one, until now.
If you’ve read my review on the Abarth, you’re probably expecting a poor location for my test drive. Well, you’d be right. I mean I’m only starting out, so again I had little time with the car and although not ideal for testing its performance, Battersea is a slight improvement on Slough. It was a busy Saturday morning and traffic seemed unavoidable, still enough time to generate some good Motor Thoughts though! The GTi in question? A second-hand 2016 Golf GTi TSi with 23,000 miles on the clock, 3 doors, a 2 litre turbocharged engine producing 230bhp, 6 manual gears, dynamic chassis control and a limited slip front differential. The lot, for what seemed a reasonable £19,100.
The first thing that catches your eye as you step in, is the rather old-school styled seats with the Golf themed tartan fabric. Previously, I had always been unsure about them, but they’re a nice quirk and in the flesh, rather likeable. The tartan styling and the traditional golf ball gear knob are the only real reminders that you’re in a Golf, but they’re good touches and rather classy. The seats are comfy, well supported and offer plenty of adjustment. Similarly, the overall build and quality of the materials inside do well to justify its price. The infotainment system is intuitive (like most are these days), and there’s a handy amount of cubby holes to deposit your various phones, wallets and keys. To be honest, it’s a hard job finding problems with the Golf’s interior, it’s well thought out! But for the sake of consumer advice, here are a few of my bugbears. The door cubby holes are lined with a questionable fabric that does have a nice feel but makes me wonder if bits of crap will get stuck in and impossible to clean out. I’m really thinking… There’s also a bit of the fabric in question on the A-pillars, surely they could have used one of the better plastics already in the cabin? Finally, the steering wheel did have a very sticky feel to it. I assumed it was because it was intensively sanitised. Apparently though, sanitisation happened a few days ago when it was last driven. Which can only mean it’s just the leather, yuck!
As I negotiated my way around the tight VW dealership, the first thing that sprung to mind was the Golf’s manoeuvrability and sensible first gear. Unlike the 595, the Golf was a doddle to drive away, and smooth at low speeds. The 360-degree parking sensors were a useful feature, but to be honest rather unnecessary; even the 3-door variant I was driving had good visibility. The bumpy, tight suburban back streets of Battersea were a great test for the lowered stiffer suspension. I have to say it passed! Even just in normal mode, the GTi handled several colossal speed dwindling bumps astutely. And the Gti isn’t just equipped with one meagre mode, it has 5 in total! These are: eco, comfort, normal, individual and of course sport! More on that later. Despite the abrasive bumpy nature of the back streets, I couldn’t quite feel any difference in smoothness between normal and comfort mode. Or maybe it’s normally comfortable? I don’t know, a longer test drive would be needed to work this one out. The turning circle was impressive and the steering in normal and comfort was extremely friendly and easy to use. For improved fuel efficiency, stop start is included and the boot space, although not very tall, is a very handy 380 litres. Overall, I can confirm that Mk 7 GTis are extremely useable and versatile. An important point, seeing as they’re fundamentally sporty little cars!
Now normally I’d have plonked the driving experience section of the test drive just after the introduction. To reel you ‘heads’ in, if you will. But because of the sheer nature of this test, I couldn’t properly exploit the Golf’s sporty attributes. But even before engaging sport mode, the GTi felt spritely yet tameable. Unlike the difference in normal and comfort modes, sport definitely does something. Suddenly the mature hot hatch is given a kick up the backside and bolts attentively upright. The steering stiffens up; maybe the sticky wheel makes sense? Erm no not really, it’s just rather unpleasant. What is pleasant though is the gear box. It just feels solid and spurs you on to be a little aggressive with the shifts. Suddenly you’re not in a family friendly hatch back, “Oh is that the speed limit?” You’re in a mischievous boy racer toy.
Although seemingly perfect in every other sense, the 2 litre turbo charged engine sounds anything but mischievous. It sounds, dare I say it… like a grumpy, bitter, flatulent old man. By flatulent I don’t mean that it makes amusing pops and crackles. I’m referring to the long drawn out engine tone in general, I’ll leave that to you to piece together the image and sound. Occasionally you get the odd turbo sprawl which can be quite exciting but the engine tone does drain this out. Even with the windows down, the Golf does have great sound deadening after all, the engine still sounds rather lacklustre. Disappointing. To make up for it though, the limited slip diff (LSD) on the front axle worked really well, to put probably an unnecessary amount of power down, out of a few bends. The suspension made the Golf planted and eager to change direction with little body roll. Again though, I need more time in the GTi to really test its sportiness. Not a problem.
So, has my impression of the Golf GTi changed? Well it’s improved in my mind purely for its well rounded character, but it’s not exactly ‘hot’, more like a fun sporty hatch. I haven’t said anything on the styling and look of this particular GTi. For sure, it looks sleek and attractive, especially being a 3 door variant, and I’m a fan of the rims and exposed red calliper brake pads. But it hasn’t really changed much over the years and it certainly lacks an element of exclusivity that I personally would be after in a ‘hot hatch’. Besides, the engine sounds anything but hot! I understand full well that manufacturers have to meet emission standards and add filters to the exhausts (taking away sound) to meet these. But compared to the 595? I think it trumps the GTi in this regard. If only the engine tone sounded a tad higher and livelier, VW would have nailed it. Is this second hand GTi worth the £19,100? Well it’s definitely not far off, still overpriced though. That being said, if you’re like me and are a fan of the 3 door look, you might want to grab a used GTi soon as VW have already stopped making 3 door Golfs. As for the driving performance, I still need to give it another chance. What about the Golf R? Watch this space!
By James Drujon
Golf GTi 2.0 TSi 2016 – £19,100 (second hand – 23,000 miles)
|Average Fuel Consumption||47.1 mpg|
|Co2 Emissions||139 g/km|
|Acceleration (0-60 mph)||6.4 sec|
|Top Speed||155 mph|