Review

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review: First Australian Drive

  • GTI 7.5 Manual 
  • | $41,490 
  • | Ancap : 5/5

the verdict

Pros

  • Strong, linear 169kW engine
  • Engaging, fun and refined
  • Improved value equation

Cc rating

8.5/10

cons

  • Pronounced road noise
  • Fixed 'Performance' trim axed
  • Assistance pack a bit pricey
Review
Photos
Specs

Editor
1 month ago

When you think hot hatch, you think Volkswagen Golf GTI. The little German that could has deeply embedded itself in the mind’s eye of fast, front-drive hatchback enthusiasts – but it wasn’t always this way. The GTI’s potted history includes some early legends – the original seventies Mk 1, and the first GTI Australia received, the eighties Mk 2. But forgettable nineties Golf GTIs, the Mk 3 and 4, were more sporty styling than sport. The 2004 Mk 5 restored the GTI to classic form: a recipe of much more power than the vanilla Golf, some styling aggression, and proper upgrades to the car’s handling. Since then, the highly-regarded GTI has evolved slowly, never reinventing itself, adding about five per cent more power every few years. And so we arrive at the third such update in the modern GTI era: the Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5.


And evolutionary it is. The Mk 7.5 is an upgraded version of the Mk 7 Golf that debuted in 2013, and is the second GTI to sit on Volkswagen’s MQB modular small car platform. The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine received the customary power bump: it’s up 7kW, from 162kW to 169kW. Torque is steady at 350Nm, with a super-linear curve. The Mk 7.5 is a bit faster. It’ll sprint to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds. A six-speed manual remains the enthusiast’s choice; the optional six-speed DSG automatic does good work, too.


2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Tornado Red Side Profile Driving


It’ll take a close eye to pick a Mk 7.5 GTI from a Mk 7 Golf at a distance. Not that this is a bad thing: the Golf was already handsome, with squared-off angles and upmarket European lines identifying it as a mature, premium choice among small cars. True to form, the GTI does get a few lairy touches to identify its sporting intent. As it has always been, Tornado Red is the halo colour. New-look 18-inch wheels, wrapped in 225/40 Bridgestone Potenza tyres, are probably the Mk 7.5’s clearest differentiator. But there are also new LED headlight and taillight graphics, beefier tailpipes – these look great – and a more aggressive front bumper, modelled on that one of our favourite Golfs – last year’s Golf GTI 40 Years special edition.


But a small power bump and subtly revised aesthetics aren’t the only changes. There’s an impressive allotment of new technology – more than you’d expect for a $150 price bump over the outgoing car. As standard, the GTI has picked up LED headlights and taillights, autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, and a new 8-inch touchscreen head unit, now with navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.


2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Tornado Red Front End


The option set has been tweaked, and adding a selection of the palette turns the Golf GTI into a properly luxurious hot hatch. The $2,300 Infotainment pack adds a sophisticated technology proposition including a 12-inch digital driver’s display and a larger touchscreen, plus premium Dynaudio sound. It’s pricey, but the $3,900 Luxury pack brings a sunroof and very supportive and adjustable heated leather seats. Meanwhile, $1,600 adds the Driver Assistance pack, which includes a suite of adaptive safety technologies.


Volkswagen are rightly proud of the fact that the Golf GTI draws a pretty wide audience. A quarter of buyers are female – a high proportion for a performance model, and the median buyer age of 42 shows the model’s unusually broad appeal. It’s not an easy task to engineer a car that can please so many people. Usually, that requires serious compromises. But as I found on the Mk 7.5 GTI’s national launch in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, the Golf GTI retains an ideal balance between proper dynamic ability, comfort, and liveability – the precise mix that embedded this car in the mind’s eye as the archetypal hot hatch.

DRIVE

8/10

At the heart of the Golf GTI – and its faster Golf R sibling – is the Volkswagen Group’s EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. Now in its tenth year of service, the EA888 unit has proved to be versatile, with consistent output improvements delivered over its life. In the Mk 6 GTI, the EA888 produced 155kW/280Nm. The transition to Mk 7 saw a modest power increase to 162kW, but torque improved by 25% to previous Golf R levels: 350Nm. But the EA888 has plenty of potential. Overseas, the Mk 7.5 Golf R makes 228kW/380Nm – it’s limited to 213kW in Australia due to our ‘hot climate’ status.

But what about the Mk 7.5 GTI? Here, the turbo four-pot makes 169kW of power at 4,700–6200rpm, and 350Nm of torque from 1,500–4,600rpm. The additional power over the Mk 7 has shaved a tenth of a second from the GTI’s 0–100km/h sprint, which now sits at a respectable 6.4 seconds. Volkswagen claim it will consume 6.6L/100km if driven sedately; a figure I saw on a flowing country drive. The soundtrack is raspy, and comes by way of much larger tailpipes that not only look great, but also produce more sound. However, engine noise is augmented artificially, and the GTI’s aural quality increases noticeably when the ‘Sport’ driving mode is selected.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 EA888 engine

Power is transmitted to the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual gearbox – which retains its characteristic ‘golf ball’ tactile shift knob – or through an optional six-speed DSG automatic with wheel-mounted paddle shifters ($2,500). I spent most of my time on the car’s Blue Mountains launch in the six-speed manual. While it’s not the sharpest manual in the game, the GTI’s stick offers positive, deliberate mid-throw shifts, while the light clutch means it’s an easy manual to master. I was slightly surprised to discover that automatic rev-matched downshifts have not been engineered into this manual, as yet.

A majority of buyers will opt for the DSG automatic. The GTI doesn’t earn Volkswagen’s newest self-shifter, which is reserved at this stage for the Golf R, and the GTI Performance Edition 1, but the six-speed DSG is, in some ways, more appropriate. The lack of a seventh gear means you tend to cruise in, not below, the band of peak torque. The DSG is responsive and snappy on the move; I’ll need to report back on in-town performance as the launch route was all rural. Interestingly, the DSG upshifts automatically when you allow it to hit the rev limiter. I wish it’d bounce off like Mercedes-AMG’s latest automatics.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Manual Golf Ball Shift Knob

The engine, sound and gearbox shift characteristics are altered through selectable drive modes – this is standard kit at the GTI level. The modes also change the firmness of the suspension through adjustable dampers, and the weighting of the electric power steering system. The standard modes – comfort, normal and sport – do what they say on the tin; I like the final ‘individual’ setting, which allows you to mix and match settings. Most of the time, I like the engine, gearbox and dampers in normal, with the steering and sound in sport mode. The individual setting makes this possible.

The effect of the different modes on the drivetrain are naturally most noticeable with the DSG. In normal mode, the 169TSI engine and automatic pair conservatively, keeping the GTI in its torque band rather than revving out. Sport mode is transformative, immediately booting the engine closer to redline and tightening throttle response. When worked hard, the engine feels in its element, offering super-linear acceleration thanks to a very wide torque band. It happily spins up into the upper 6,000rpm range before upshifting.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Steering Wheel Stitching

Honouring a classic GTI trait, the Mk 7.5 has excellent steering: it has a pleasantly darty front-end; a variable progressive steering rack; and, importantly, a lovely steering wheel. The electric power steering isn’t as feelsome as the Mk 6, which was the final GTI to feature hydraulic steering, but some road feel manages to make its way in. The standout is the standard progressive steering feature, which turns the front wheels proportionally further the more you turn the steering wheel: a hairpin requires surprisingly little input – it’s just 1.5 turns lock-to-lock. On the road, this gives the impression that the GTI rotates very quickly.

While the Golf's sweet chassis and good Bridgestone Potenza rubber offer very decent levels of grip, especially in warm and dry conditions, I did miss the epic contribution made by the outgoing GTI Performance's front-axle VAQ differential: a true locking differential that distributes torque to the outside wheel while cornering to help claw the front-drive GTI around the apex. This locking differential still features on the limited edition GTI Performance Edition 1, but there isn't a permanent Mk 7.5 GTI model with this game-changing feature, which is a real shame. The outgoing GTI Performance was the real thinking person's performance Golf.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Tornado Red Front End Driving

The quality steering is aided by the GTI’s near-perfect ride quality. Left in normal mode, the adjustable dampers provide a superbly balanced ride that soaks up nasty imperfections while leaving road feel in tact and limiting unwanted body roll. The GTI isn’t the hardest Golf – that mantle belongs to the too-firm Golf R – but it’s certainly the most balanced. It’s fast enough, it steers well and it rides in a comfortable yet focussed manner. The sport damper setting provides a little more dynamic interest – but for the most dedicated driver the GTI probably won’t be firm enough. As I say, look to the Golf R for that.

A suite of adaptive safety features is optionally available, complementing the standard-fit AEB and forward collision warning, with radar cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The lane keep assist is pretty strict and interventionist, which isn’t what I want on a fast blast: that had to be turned off. But the rest of the systems are tuned well, including the collision warning which isn’t hyperactive.

There is a touch too much road noise kicked up by the GTI’s 225/40 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza tyres, but the Golf’s refinement is such that the noise is dulled pretty effectively and there was no need to raise one’s voice to be heard inside. Certainly, the Golf R’s lower-profile Continentals are louder.

COMFORT

8.5/10

Climb down into the Mk 7.5 GTI and the strong ties to the preceding Mk 7 Golf are obvious. The basic structure and design of the seventh-gen car’s high-quality interior is unchanged. It’s handsome but conservative in here. But look closer and you’ll note that virtually all the cabin technology is new. Though they were content with the look and feel of the GTI’s interior, Volkswagen knew the Mk 7’s weak spot was technology: rivals like the Holden Astra RS-V and Peugeot 308 GTi had introduced more impressive touchscreens.

Volkswagen’s technology salvo consists of two halves. The first half is the optional availability of the brand’s Active Info Display – a hugely-impressive 12-inch digital driver’s display that replaces the (attractive) analogue gauges with a customisable screen that lets you place the navigation maps, song information, and driving data right in front of you. It’s intuitive, looks expensive, and on a fast road, having the lay of the land in your line of sight meaningfully improves your driving ability. The GTI has unique red-highlighted graphics over a standard Golf. The Active Info Display is part of the $2,300 Infotainment Package.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Touchscreen

The other half of the tech salvo relates to the central touchscreen. Gone is the old, matte 6.5-inch unit. The aforementioned Infotainment Package buys a high-res 9.2-inch unit which allows basic gesture controls that change the page on-screen. However, the standard unit is very good in itself. It’s an 8-inch screen; no gesture controls but it’s particularly intuitive as a volume and scrolling dial remain. Plus, the standard screen has helpful shortcuts for accessing maps, media, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the go. Perversely, the optional unit makes you hunt through the system itself to access those features.

Whether you buy a car with the standard 8-inch touchscreen (and analogue gauges), or an Infotainment pack-equipped car with the 9.2-inch unit and the Active Info Display, the Golf has the best technology suite in the small car segment. Sound quality is decent and comes by way of a standard six-speaker system, or through an optional 400-watt, 8-speaker Dynaudio stereo (part of the Infotainment Package) that, with a bit of fiddling, sounds pretty good. I would prefer more than one USB port.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Interior Tartan

The GTI has the most extroverted cabin of the Golf set; it’s decorated with a number of GTI-red touches. The attractive steering wheel has red stitching, but the most obvious GTI inclusion are the tartan fabric seats, a staple of the GTI since the original Mk 1. They’re comfortable and supportive – but they’re manually-adjustable. The Luxury Package ($3,900) switches out the cool tartan for plain black heated leather seats; the driver’s seat is electrically-adjusted and has three-position memory, which couples will appreciate. The package also includes a large porthole sunroof.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Rear Seat Space

Material quality in the Mk 7 Golf was class-leading – perhaps a slight step back from the tank-like Mk 6 Golf (I own one), but very good nonetheless. That hasn’t changed in the Mk 7.5, which retains a soft-touch dashboard and door tops; I wish Volkswagen would add soft-touch material where the driver’s knee comes to rest. The fit and finish is largely unimpeachable, though; the leathers, fabrics and plastics feel expensive. The doors thunk. As performance cars go, a Golf GTI or Golf R are extremely solid.

It’s comfortable in the back, especially with the fabric seats, which have a bit of extra give. Adequate under-thigh support for back seat passengers is rare, but the GTI has it. Realistically, there is good room for two adults but three will fit at a pinch; standard rear air vents and a flip down armrest with cupholders should deter complaints.

PRACTICALITY

8.5/10

Strong practicality is a clear Golf GTI advantage over many similarly-priced performance cars. If you have kids and a lot of stuff, a GTI is going to make more sense than a high-spec Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ, or Mazda MX-5. Even among more practical choices, the Golf stands out with a near class-leading amount of space.

The 380-litre boot does trail the (slower) new Hyundai i30 SR Premium ($33,950) by 15 litres, but it smashes the Ford Focus ST, which offers just 316 litres. Behind the manual tailgate, which is opened with a trick mechanism disguised by the VW badge, the Golf’s boot is square, well-shaped and smart. There are a couple of shopping bag hooks, obvious tie-down points, a 12-volt socket, and bins either side of the main boot floor.

Thanks to a variable-height boot floor, the seat backs fold down perfectly flat, and this can be achieved by leaning into the boot and hitting the catch on the back of the seat. With the seats folded, the GTI’s boot capacity – like other Golfs – expands to 1,270 litres, which will fit a fair bit of fast-moving Ikea behind the front seats.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years Boot Space

The intelligent packaging carries through to the cabin – you know Volkswagen really think about how their cars will be used by families, and the Golf GTI’s performance duties don’t dilute this at all. For example, the four 1.5-litre door bins are flock-lined – many far more expensive brands forget to do this. It means coins and other objects don’t scratch around while you drive. Nice.

Up front, the Golf includes a large central box with an adjustable armrest, two medium-sized cupholders between the front seats, and a deep phone tray ahead of the shifter where you’ll find the sole USB port. It’d be nice to have a second USB available somewhere in the cabin.

In the back, the ample room for passengers is complemented by dual map pockets, standard rear air-vents, and a rear centre armrest with adjustable cupholders. There is a ski pass-through, so four people can be seated while a narrow load protrudes into the cabin. Legroom and headroom back there are plentiful, even with the available sunroof.

RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS

8.5/10

There are three major running costs to consider when buying a car: depreciation, maintenance, and fuel consumption. The data listed in this section is based on a 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 with the six-speed manual gearbox.

Golf GTI depreciation

If you keep it for three years and 40,000 kilometres – the average – Glass’s Guide predicts that a Mk 7.5 Golf GTI will retain about 61 per cent of its original value at the time of sale, returning you about $25,300.

Essentially, the Golf GTI holds its value better than any other similar hatchback. It compares very favourably with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce (49.8% retained value), the Mini Cooper S five-door (52%), and the Ford Focus ST (55%).

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Milton Keynes wheel

The Golf GTI Mk 7.5's 'Milton Keynes' 18-inch wheel.

Golf GTI maintenance and servicing costs

Volkswagen provides a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty across its new cars. This isn’t bad; a five-year warranty, like VW’s sister brand Skoda offers, would be better.

Capped price servicing is available for five years or 75,000 kilometres. Over three years, the Golf GTI costs $1,380 to service, or about $460 per year.

A Mini Cooper S is cheaper to service, thanks to BMW’s up-front servicing package ($1,240 for five years, or $248 per year); Ford’s Focus ST costs $1,071 over three years or $357 per year. But the Golf is at least cheaper to service than the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce, which costs an eye-popping $2,485 over three years, or $830 per year.

Golf GTI fuel consumption

Volkswagen claim that the Golf GTI consumes 6.7L/100km on the combined cycle (manual), or 6.6L/100km for the DSG. We’ll wait for extended testing to verify all of the Golf GTI’s fuel consumption claims, but on the rural launch drive the manual indicated 6.5L/100km over several hundred kilometres.

VALUE FOR MONEY

8.5/10

The Golf GTI ($41,490 manual, $43,990 DSG) is positioned as the effective second-from-top in an extended Golf range that starts at $23,990 for the 110TSI manual base model, and runs to $55,490 for today’s Golf R DSG flagship. A limited-edition Golf GTI Performance Edition 1, a three-door model which has a more powerful 180kW engine tune and a front limited-slip differential, is priced at $47,990 but is limited to 150 cars for Australia.

Future Golf GTI Performance models are coming, and a cheaper Golf GTI Original variant is confirmed for an early 2018 launch. The Original will be three-door only, it will be offered in manual or DSG, and it will list under $40,000.

The new GTI picks up all of the value-add of the underlying Mk 7.5 Golf: the standard 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED taillights, and LED daytime running lights all carry over to the GTI.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Tornado Red Rear End Driving

However, the GTI spec adds much more equipment to the basic Golf allotment. The breadth of the feature list is impressive on a $41.5k car. The GTI packs adaptive dampers, 18-inch wheels, AEB, LED headlights, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, and adjustable drive modes.

There are plenty of GTI-exclusive aesthetic touches, too, including red grille highlights that extend into the headlights, red interior stitching, red LED interior mood lighting, and the GTI’s hallmark tartan seat trim.

Like the standard Golf range, Volkswagen offers option packages to those who want to further personalise the car. The $1,600 Driver Assistance Package includes radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert, automatic parallel and 90-degree parking, cornering LED headlights with automatic high beam that includes the ability to block beam from incoming objects.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Tornado Red Badge

A $2,300 Infotainment Package adds the larger Discover Pro 9.2-inch infotainment screen with gesture control, Volkswagen’s Active Info Display digital dials display and a 400W ten-speaker Dynaudio sound system.

Finally, a $3,900 Luxury Package adds full leather upholstery in black, heated front seats, an electric driver’s seat with three-position memory functionality, an electric glass sunroof and electric-folding mirrors with puddle lamps and three memory positions.

While the GTI offers good value, there are a few optional technologies that we think ought to be standard – radar cruise and blind spot monitoring chief among them.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 7.5 Tornado Red Front End Driving

COMPETITORS

The Golf GTI may be considered the archetypal hot hatch, but there are many alternatives that also deserve your attention. We’ve picked three of our favourites.

Ford Focus ST ($38,990)

2018 Ford Focus ST Grey Front End Driving

The Focus ST sits in the shadow of its hairy-chested brother, the legendary Focus RS but it needn’t because it is still an accomplished offering. Offering a 184kW 2.0-litre turbo engine that outguns the Volkswagen, the Focus ST is also well equipped and good value for money. Unlike the Golf GTI, it’s a manual-only offering.

MINI Cooper S ($39,800)

2018 Mini Cooper S Hatchback Orange Black Stripes

It’s a size smaller than the Golf GTI, but the Cooper S hits hard with a near-GTI level of performance, using a 141kW/280Nm 2.0-litre turbo engine in a smaller and lighter package. While not as practical as the Golf, it offers a choice of three or five doors, even more character, and much more personalisation with infinite customisation for those who want (and can afford) it.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce ($41,900)

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce Alfa Red

The Giulietta may be getting on in years, but it can stir the soul like no other hatch. Offering nowhere near the practicality, nor the build quality, nor the equipment levels of the Golf GTI, the Giulietta does bring a delightful 1.75-litre turbo engine producing 177kW/340Nm, alongside engaging handling thanks to a front-end limited slip differential. Read our Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce review here.

wrap up

DRIVE 8
COMFORT 8.5
PRACTICALITY 8.5
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS 8.5
VALUE FOR MONEY 8.5
Total cc score 8.5

Engine

Capacity 2.0 litres (1984 cc)
Fueltype Petrol
Cylinders 4
Configuration In-line
Induction Single turbocharger
Power 169kW @ 6,200rpm
Torque 350Nm @ 1,500-4,600rpm
Power to weight ratio 127kW/tonne
Fuel consumption (combined) 6.7L/100km
Fuel capacity 50 litres
Average range 746 kilometres

Transmission and Drivetrain

Transmission Automatic
Configuration Double clutch
Gears 6
Drivetrain Front wheel drive

Dimensions and Weights

Length 4,268 mm
Width 1,799 mm
Height 1,442 mm
Unoccupied weight 1329 kilograms
Cargo space (seats up) 380 litres
Cargo space (seats down) 1,270 litres