2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Why this car is a cult classic

In the road-testing business, it's always instructive to go back to the benchmark car in each class once in a while, take it for a drive and see if it's still the pick of the bunch.

Some cars stay at the top for several decades and multiple generations. Porsche's 911 has been in this position for almost 60 years. Toyota's LandCruiser has been the best 4WD wagon since the 80 Series of 1990.

Volkswagen's Golf GTI created the hot hatch concept in 1976. Since then, there have been meaner, sharper and better value rivals - in fact our 2018 Car of the Year, Hyundai's i30N, has the Golf's measure on each of these counts - but none has delivered the breadth of ability, or everyday liveability, of the VW.

The Golf GTI is the hot hatch that is easiest to live with day-to-day.
The Golf GTI is the hot hatch that is easiest to live with day-to-day.


In 2018 VW Australia offered a five model Golf GTI range, priced from $37,490 for the three-door, 169kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo/six-speed manual Original. There's still a few left, with a $38,990 drive-away deal until March 31.

The 2019 GTI is a one-model only, five-door offering - for now. Priced at $46,190, it includes go fast hardware from 2018's Performance Edition: a 180kW/370Nm engine, seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, electro-mechanical front diff lock and ventilated disc brakes from the Golf R.

A customisable 12.3-inch digital instrument panel is included for 2019, along with adjustable suspension dampers, 18-inch alloys, LED headlights with auto high beam, semi-automatic parking, keyless entry and starting. Touchscreen infotainment features smartphone mirroring and navigation.

The GTI has been at the top of its game since it first created the hot hatch segment.
The GTI has been at the top of its game since it first created the hot hatch segment.

Our test car adds the Sound and Style package, at $2300, including 19-inch wheels shod with 225/35 Pirelli PZero tyres, a larger touchscreen with gesture and voice control plus premium audio. The Luxury Package, at $3900, includes a heated, power adjustable driver's seat with memory (and memory for the side mirrors), leather upholstery and sunroof.

That's $52,390 as tested, plus on roads. Ouch? Yes and no. I'd take the $38,990 drive away deal on the six-speed manual Original any day, but done deluxe - with all the fruit - Golf GTI feels every bit as blue-chip, rich-list German as a comparably priced Mercedes A-Class or BMW 1 Series.


A full-fruit GTI can easily compete with luxury hatches for presentation.
A full-fruit GTI can easily compete with luxury hatches for presentation.

The class-leading refinement and comfort of the donor Golf carries over to GTI, so it's as much a luxury car as it is a performance derivative. When you want fang mode, no problem - select Sport mode and you're away. When you just want to cruise or commute, Eco, Comfort and Normal settings are quiet, civilised and efficient.

No other hot hatch manages this two-cars-in-one trick with the same success at both ends of the spectrum.

In any mode (especially Sport) the ride, though firm, is also more compliant and less punishing than Golf's rivals.

Sized for big blokes, GTI's driver's seat holds you securely in corners and is good for a 1000km day. Golf is one of the few hatchbacks in which long legs can stretch out, thanks to a relatively low seating position, deep footwell and plenty of seat/steering wheel adjustability.

The rear bench is comfortable too, with a firm cushion, a backrest properly contoured for lateral support and reasonable legroom.


The GTI is a good fit for bigger blokes.
The GTI is a good fit for bigger blokes.

It's a Golf, so if you're going to have a crash you've picked the right hatchback to have it in. Adaptive cruise extends to lane keeping (if the roadside markings are clear) plus automatically following the car in front in heavy traffic.


Again, you can drive the GTI like your nanna's Golf and it will waft along on a gentle puff of turbo boost, the seven-speed fixated on fuel economy and rarely sending the engine beyond 2000rpm. In Eco mode in town it can do single figures; on the highway, where the 2.0-litre is pulling 1600rpm at 100km/h in seventh gear, it's using just 5-6L/100km.

At the other extreme, Sport mode releases a beautifully crisp, punchy character, with the engine spinning freely to almost 7000rpm. It doesn't flatline at the top end, either. Urgency and responsiveness continue to increase throughout the rev range. The twin-clutch gearbox is a willing participant. In Sport mode the timing, smoothness and precision of its shifts makes other twin-clutch autos feel like truck gearboxes.

The GTI is economical for a performance car.
The GTI is economical for a performance car.

The 0-100km/h trip takes a claimed 6.2 seconds, average for the class. Renault's Megane RS280 is the quickest at 5.8 seconds.

Sport also nails the body down tight, increasing control and poise in corners. Inherent front-wheel drive compromises that make some other hot hatches hard work - too much weight up front and excessive tugging at the steering wheel under power - aren't major issues here, and the GTI always feels light, agile, nicely balanced and obedient. Its steering is sublime. Just look where you want to go and there you are.

Heart says

Many performance cars are pitched to Neanderthals as brutal, intimidating, scary beasts. I like the fact that the GTI is a lot more intelligent than that.

Head says

I really like the hot hatch concept, but the others are too one-dimensional and compromised as an everyday drive. Sure, it's expensive, but I'm getting two cars in one.


Hyundai i30N from $39,990

Engineered by the bloke who used to do BMW's M cars, so it's a tight, edgy performance piece at a bargain price. 202kW/353Nm 2.0-litre/six-speed manual. 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.2 seconds.

Honda Civic Type R from $50,990

Deranged styling and Honda exuberance at its best. The 228kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo/six-speed manual loves being thrashed. Handling and braking are best in class. 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.7 seconds.

Verdict 4/5

As a hard-edged performance machine at a great price, the Hyundai i30N is the one to beat, but the multi-talented Golf shines every day of the week, not just on Sunday.

VW Golf GTI vitals

Price: $46,190

Warranty/servicing: 5 years, unlimited km; $2963 for 5 years

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo, 180kW/370Nm

Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise, lane keeping

Thirst: 6.5L/100km

Spare: Space saver

Boot: 380L