- Hot hatches don't get any better
- Overboosted turbo packs punch
- Mind-boggling cornering abilities
- The ride is stiffer, and harsher
- Slight drone at highway speeds
- That's all – this is bloody good
I'm in love with the Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years. If you like driving, need something relatively practical and have $50,000, you should immediately buy one of the few remaining new examples.
That's right – I'm not bothering with a subtle build-up in this review. The GTI 40 Years is what it is – certainly the best Golf GTI ever built, and more than likely the best hot hatch ever, too. Just four hundred came to Australia at the end of 2016 – a hundred manuals which are all sold, and three hundred DSG autos, of which just a handful remain.
You can have one in the Tornado Red of our car, or white, or grey. You can have it with a sunroof, or without. Those are the choices – everything else is as Volkswagen intended: an homage to the Golf GTI, the world's original hot hatch, on its fortieth birthday. And what an homage this car is.
I just wanted to drive it, and drive it, and drive it. In this business – where I drive a new vehicle most weeks – it's hard for any individual car to rise above the pack and keep me well and truly excited. Yet, that's what the Golf GTI 40 Years does – it just does everything right. While I write about all the details below, here are the four reasons that combine to make the Golf GTI 40 Years something very special.
- It's really fast: the upgraded two-litre turbo engine makes 195kW normally but will give you 213kW for ten-second, full throttle bursts. The turbo is throaty and boosty, with decent zest off the line but the serious punch arrives around 3,500rpm and really throws you into the seat.
- It handles incredibly well: you will take every back-road home that you can find because the steering is that communicative, the electronic front diff lock is so successful and the P-Zero grip levels are that high.
- It's very comfortable: the new seats were perfect for my body shape – tall and skinny – with great lumbar for your back, enough lateral support and a pleasant mix of fabric, alcantara, and leather. Plus, this car rides well enough, sounds good without being noisy, and has none of the usual fast-car ergonomic niggles. It's a Golf.
- It has all the practicality of a Golf: possibly the best feature of the car is that it can pull your face off in the corners and make serious progress in a straight line, but is incredibly easy to park, easy to see out of, and can fit passengers and cargo like a garden-variety Volkswagen.
But most importantly, the GTI 40 Years has what many Golfs lack – character. From the noise, to the out-there aesthetic treatment, to the sheer way this thing goes around a corner and then sucks you out with its boosty, old-school turbo, the Golf just makes you want more and more. I love this thing.
Though a standard Golf GTI is no slouch, with a 162kW two-litre turbo petrol, the GTI 40 Years lobs the world's first hot hatch to new levels of performance.
With the two-litre tuned up to 195kW in the 40 Years, there is 20% more power out of the box, making for faster sprints to 100km/h, a more characterful and less linear turbo, and much more manic acceleration at any speed.
In fact, the GTI 40 Years will open up a full 213kW of power – and 380Nm of torque – for ten-second open-throttle blasts. That means a GTI 40 Years is actually the most powerful stock Golf available in Australia: in hot climate markets like ours, the flagship Golf R is limited to just 206kW.
All those numbers add up to produce a pretty fast car. The 40 Years will officially pull from 0-100 in 6.3 seconds though it feels marginally quicker. It's zippy from idle but a huge additional wave of power and torque smash through at about 3,500rpm and it's from this mid-range that the GTI really hammers.
Where the 40 Years feels fastest, though, is in the corners. The snappy DSG keeps the engine on the boil but it's the incredible electronically-controlled locking front differential that makes a real difference here. Far from eliminating the GTI's enjoyable front-wheel-drive characteristics – you'd never confuse this for a clinical Golf R experience – the front diff lock simply deletes front-drive annoyances like dramatic understeer at the limit by keeping the front wheels in lockstep.
This technology was debuted on the GTI Performance edition and, coupled to a more powerful engine in the 40 Years, the results are astounding all over again. This car can maintain and pile on speed through winding corners virtually like no other front-wheel-drive car, save perhaps for a super-focussed Renault Megane RS.
And it does all this while remaining as graceful as you'd expect a Golf to be. By and large, this is a quiet and comfortable car when you just want to cruise. The cool, raspy exhaust note quietens down nicely at cruising revs – there's just a hint of drone at highway speeds because this DSG is a six-speed, not a seven. In fact, that DSG itself is much better behaved in the GTI than in many other Golfs – there was virtually none of the rolling, slurring tendencies found in lower-powered, mainstream Golfs.
The ride quality is also very bearable, bordering on comfortable. This is a focussed car riding on large wheels, of course, so don't expect a base model Golf ride – but my grandmother didn't complain, and that's a pretty good test of whether you can live with it day in and day out.
One of the reasons the Golf GTI is such a convincing sports car is that it's not very sports-car-like inside. Instead, what you get is effectively a standard Golf interior with better, more supportive seats, and brighter colours.
And that's no bad thing: the Golf interior is the best among hatchbacks, even though it's approaching four years of age. Like all Golfs, the cabin of the 40 Years is covered in refined, soft-touch plastics and high quality materials. It looks, and feels, expensive.
The standard GTI already has sports seats in trademark GTI tartan, but the 40 Years beefs up these seats and swaps in new materials: there's a mix of striped fabric and leather, plus grippy alcantara to stop you from sliding around. The pews are exceptionally well-bolstered, both at the sides and with good manual control of the back bolster. These are very comfortable seats, either for hard driving or long-distance touring.
The fact that this is a seriously fast car with a comfortable, liveable interior makes the GTI 40 Years very compelling. Most sports cars demand big compromises, especially in terms of your comfort – but this is different. You can easily drive this thing every day, like any Golf, with few or no compromises inside.
The 40 Years edition also adds a full alcantara steering wheel with a red 0º notch which feels fantastic – and grippy – in the hands, and received plenty of compliments over the week.
Satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all included in the 6.5-inch touchscreen and the stereo isn't too bad, though a more punchy, premium audio system would have been better.
Life in the back isn't bad: it's possible to fit three across, but two adults will fit comfortably with good headroom and adequte legroom. The windows are large, which afford a good view out – and there are air vents and cubby spaces in the back to make a long distance drive easier. If you've got kids, the Golf will suit you perfectly.
This is another clear benefit of buying a fast Golf – under the skin and behind the hi-po engine lies a practical five-door hatchback.
Though it's not the largest car in the hatchback class – some competitors, like Honda's new Civic, are approaching 5 metres in length – the Golf manages to pack plenty of room into a compact, easy-to-park shape.
There's a large boot that measures in at 380 litres – just above average for the class, but it's a good, square shape and as a Golf owner, I've always been able to pack in a huge amount of stuff back there. Certainly, several medium-sized suitcases or a big grocery shop will all be fine.
If you need more room, the Mark 7 Golf's back seats can be folded entirely flat, allowing you to slide in longer, bulkier loads.
In the cabin itself, there are plenty of cubby spaces and Volkswagen's attention to detail remains a point of difference. The large door bins, for example, are lined with felt, which means the stuff you place in them won't scratch and rattle around. Almost all other rivals forego this feature because of the 'cost' – but VW does it. I like that.
Similarly, the driver's armrest can be adjusted back and forth and up and down, which means you'll be able to get comfortable: it's the little things that make the Golf so easy to love.
There are four cupholders through the cabin, including two for the back passengers in their fold-down armrest.
There needs to be more USB points, however – there's just one in the current car, but the facelifted Golf that will arrive later this year will pack up to four outlets.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
There are four main running costs to any vehicle – maintenance, fuel, insurance, and depreciation. The data in this section is based on the automatic version of this car – the Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years DSG.
Servicing and maintaining the Golf GTI 40 Years
Volkswagen offers six years of capped price servicing on Golfs, in order to give you an idea of what the car will cost to maintain over a longer period of ownership.
Being a performance car, it will be important to keep the 40 Years maintained properly, but the service intervals are very reasonable. You'll only need to take the vehicle into the shop annually, or every 15,000 kilometres.
However, it's not particularly cheap to service – with the first three years costing $392, $798 and $461 respectively, for a total three year spend of $1,651.
Fuelling the Golf GTI 40 Years
Performance cars with turbo engines can use vastly different levels of fuel depending on how you drive. If you drive the Golf GTI gently, you can expect to come close to the official combined figure of 7.1L/100km. Based on that official figure, the 40 Years will use up about $1,296 per year in petrol.
However, you'll want to drive this car properly, and quite quickly. Over our week, the fuel consumption was more like 9.5L/100km – about a third more than the official figure. That means that a year of fuelling the car will actually cost around $1,734 – or $5,202 over three years.
Insuring the Golf GTI 40 Years
We seek insurance quotes from mainstream insurers based on a 30 year old living in Chatswood, NSW, with a good driving history who parks the vehicle in the driveway.
On average, the 40 Years costs $1,387 to insure – or $4,161 over three years. That's about what you would expect for a performance hatch, though the the Golf is significantly cheaper to insure than more obvious-looking but similarly priced models such as the Ford Focus RS, or BMW 125i.
How the Golf GTI 40 Years depreciates
Every year, a car loses some of its value. Many people keep a new car for about three years, so we calculate what we expect you will lose in depreciation over three years of ownership of the Golf GTI 40 Years based on respected Glass's Guide data.
Based on three years of ownership and 14,000km of driving per year, Glass's indicates that the 40 Years will substantially keep its value. It should retain about 65% of the initial purchase price after three years – which is very impressive for the class. If you sold in three years, you could expect to get back about $31,900 from the initial $48,990 cost. That's not bad at all.
The 40 Years has reasonable running costs.
Buying a fast car naturally means higher running costs – they use more fuel, their complexity means they cost more to maintain and insurance companies are aware that these are riskier cars to cover.
With all of that in mind, though, this Golf remains reasonably cost-effective as an ownership proposition.
Over three years, a GTI 40 Years will cost you about $11,000 to maintain, fuel up and insure – or about $3,600 per year. For a fast car, that falls into below-average territory – but it is about a third more than an average regular vehicle.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Fifty grand for such an accomplished car represents excellent value for money.
The GTI 40 Years is especially attractive compared to the standard, 162kW Golf GTI. The regular GTI commands $41,340 for a manual, or $43,840 for the DSG automatic – making the 40 Years about a $5,000 upgrade.
The additional $5,000 outlay is more than justified in how much more sophisticated this special edition is to drive – and the standard GTI was hardly lacking in the first place.
The 40 Years adds power – it has 33kW more normally, or 51kW more during overboost periods. There is more torque on overboost, too. The electronic front differential is shared with the GTI Performance model, but is a revelation in how much capability it adds to the GTI's cornering prowess. There are new and better seats; a fabulous alcantara steering wheel; and tasteful aero additions outside.
Is that worth $5,000? Surely – and it's probably worth much more.
The only awkwardness is that it's only a small step up to the seriously raw hot hatch that is the $50,990, 256kW Ford Focus RS – but while the all-wheel-drive RS is seriously fast and an even better handler, it will never be as comfortable nor ride as beautifully as a GTI 40 Years, or blend in when you don't want to drive it with absolute intent.
The sole option on the GTI 40 Years is a panoramic sunroof, which at $1,850 is reasonably priced.
The GTI is a fairly unique vehicle – and the 40 Years is even more so. At this level of power and price, its competitors are mainly limited to other Volkswagen Group vehicles, plus a couple of noteworthy alternatives from Ford and Subaru.
- Volkswagen Golf GTI ($43,840): the basic Golf GTI remains a superb proposition. With 162kW of power and 350Nm of torque, it's about ten per cent slower than a 40 Years – and it lacks the trick front differential – but it'll be quick enough for most people. Subtract $2,500 for the six speed manual.
- Volkswagen Golf R ($55,490): the top-rung Golf is the all-wheel-drive R model. It's just as fast as the 40 Years with 206kW of power and 350Nm of torque but because it can drive all four wheels, it can corner with even higher grip levels. However, it's slightly more conservative in character than the raw special edition. Subtract $2,500 for the six speed manual.
- Audi S3 hatchback ($62,990): just like a Golf R, but it's an Audi – so the interior is even more lovely. It's got slightly more power: the 213kW matches the 40 Years' overboost figure. A six speed manual is available for the same price.
- Subaru WRX Premium CVT ($47,140): the CVT auto divides opinion and isn't as sharp as the $2,000 manual. However, with 197kW of power and 350Nm of torque, the WRX puts out very similar numbers to this VW – though, the permanent four-wheel-drive system and rally car image make it an altogether different proposition.
- Ford Focus RS ($50,990): first and foremost, the Focus RS is an outright high-performance machine, which places it into higher territory than the GTI 40 Years. With 257kW of power and 440Nm of torque, plus all-wheel-drive, the RS is seriously fast – but at just $51k, it's also aggressively priced. While the RS isn't nearly as liveable everyday, you should certainly drive it – if you can drive manual, because an auto isn't offered.
|Power||195kW at 6,600rpm|
|Torque||350Nm between 1,700rpm–5,600rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||144kW/tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||7.1L/100km|
|Fuel capacity||50 litres|
|Average range||704 kilometres|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Front wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Unoccupied weight||1357 kilograms|
|Cargo space (seats up)||380 litres|
|Cargo space (seats down)||1270 litres|