First drive: New Golf GTi has understated power to a tee

It might not shout it but this Golf has tidal waves of power at the tap of your foot

Make: Volkswagen

Model: Golf GTi

Year: 2013

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: July 23, 2013

Wed, Jul 24, 2013, 20:31


It might not have been the first hot hatch, but the Volkswagen Golf GTi is undoubtedly the most iconic. It’s the symbol of youthful success; the racy hatchback that parks easy on the gravel drives of Ireland’s fanciest addresses.

Rivals might be faster, meaner and more aggressive, but the Golf is the only one with the whiff of premium about it. The rest are more Inside Soap magazine and Loaded, to the GTi’s Vogue and GQ.

If cars are an allegory for the Irish class system then the GTi stereotype is a 30-something single with money in the bank or under the mattress.

It’s a change from the early days when the GTi was somewhat classless. These days it’s the chariot of choice for the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly set before they graduate to Audi or BMW.

The latest iteration plays a little on the heritage, courtesy of the tartan trim interior that’s not to everyone’s taste. It divided opinions – at least until it was explained to those who baulked – but if you have to explain the reasoning then you’re already on the back foot. It’s perhaps expecting too much of buyers to remember the trim in the early GTis, particularly since many of the potential owners weren’t even born when the first GTis rolled off the production line.

Overall the styling is traditional Golf with only the mildest hint of hot hatch. There is the badging of course and the tell-tale red piping. But unless you splash out on the 18in “Austin” alloys that turn heads all on their own (and will set you back a further €705), there are many out there who would find it hard to differentiate it from a well-maintained regular Golf.

And in a way that’s part of the beauty. Few motorists these days want to put up with the backbiting and attention that a sports car derives. And, unless you are the boss, it’s never good to have the flashiest motor in the car park. Somehow – perhaps after years of experience – the Golf GTi manages to balance on the social tightrope.

In keeping with this profile, the latest GTi is more refined, less lairy than its rivals. In some ways the 220bhp 2-litre engine potters along at low revs with little or no indication of its potent potential. It’s a hot hatch but it delivers fuel economy figures of 6 litres per 100km (47.1 mpg) and emissions of 139g/km for the manual version, which means an annual motor tax bill of just €280. This from a car that hits 100km/h from a standing start in 6.5 seconds and climbs to 246km/h.

And there’s the rub: around town it seems something of an anti-climax. There’s no deep-throated growl at the lights, no menacing blips between low gears. It’s pretty much a regular Golf. And then you happen upon the open country roads. This is where the difference shows. There is no question but this car could handle a bit more horsepower. Private tuners are probably licking their lips at the thought of tinkering some used models in years to come. When the R-version of this car comes out it’s likely to be a road rocket.

The regular Golf is a multiple award winner, partly for its build quality and partly for its advanced chassis. The GTi engineers had wonderful foundations to build on. In the past they had similar opportunities but it wasn’t until the last generation that it started to return to the glory days.

This iteration lives up to the billing. It might not shout it from the rooftops but there’s no question this Golf has tidal waves of power at the tap of your foot. It’s delivered with stereotypical German efficiency. With some rivals you get the impression the chassis is close to its limit, the wheels are struggling to ground the power onto the tarmac and it’s all a bit like taking a thoroughbred stallion to the shops. In contrast this GTi is forever an easy drive, poised but incredibly able.

In truth I spent the first few days in the car wondering who would spend €35,000-plus on a Golf. I then spent the next few days trying to understand why you would spend that sort of money on anything else in its class.

ENGINE 1984cc four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine putting out 220bhp @ 4,500pm and 350Nm of torque from 1,500rpm

PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h (top speed):
6.5 seconds (246km/h)

ECONOMY L/100km (mpg): 6.0 (47.1)

EMISSIONS (motor tax) 139g/km (€280)

PRICE €34,770

OUR VERDICT Leaves you wondering why anyone would spend this sort of money on anything else in its class.

Full specification details on the new VW Golf GTi are available here