Volkswagen Golf GTI 2017 review | first drive video

15 February 2017
 by 
, CarsGuide

Malcolm Flynn road tests and reviews the updated VW Golf GTI, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its international launch in Spain.

Most hot hatches are measured by their power outputs, acceleration figures or Nurburgring lap times. Not so the Golf GTI, which is measured against its 42-year heritage and status as one of the models that created the genre.

It's rarely – if ever – been the hottest, but careful management of its philosophy has often made it the overall benchmark.

Advancing turbo technology has seen the outputs of some hot hatches skyrocket in the past half-decade – see the 257kW Focus RS, 294kW RS3 and 280kW A45 – including the 206kW R from within the Golf family, but somehow its only the GTI you see on t-shirts at car shows.

Its balance of affordability, performance, subtle looks and everyday practicality give it an unmatched breadth of appeal.

So when it comes to updating the hugely successful Mk7 GTI, it should come as no surprise that they haven't done much to it at all.

Design

For 2017, or from August in Australia to be specific, Volkswagen has expanded on the straked look of the Mk7's nose and given it a Craig David-style designer goatee that extends to each bumper corner. So no fancy splitters or canards, rather simple detailing that adds aggression without compromising its ability to climb driveways.

It's the same up the back too, with a reshaped rear bumper housing dual exhaust outlets and a pseudo diffuser, with a bit more twist added to the five-spoke 18-inch alloys we'll get in Australia as standard.

Rather than one hot hatch hero, VW has a whole artillery, which is helping to protect the affordability and balance of other base GTI qualities.

Like all 2017 Golfs, the lights are new too, with subtly reshaped LED headlights now standard, while the new also-LED units at the rear pack a new graphic lighting detail and scrolling indicators as featured on several Audi models.

Look closely and you'll also see that the reshaped headlights have also required new front guard pressings, and Volkswagen has used the opportunity to sharpen the crease along the top edge.

And before you ask, yes the standard cloth trim is still tartan and the manual gearknob is still dimpled like a golf ball.

Engine and transmissions

In an era where around 200kW is becoming the norm for hot hatches in the same size bracket as the Golf, Volkswagen's decision to gift the update with just 7kW extra might seem a little limp.

The result is 169kW, but when you consider there's a 180kW GTI Performance in the pipeline and a circa-213kW updated Golf R due in Australian showrooms at the same time as the GTI, it all starts to make a bit more sense. Rather than one hot hatch hero, VW has a whole artillery, which is helping to protect the affordability and balance of other base GTI qualities.

The 169kW engine is of course taken straight from the previous GTI Performance, which helps to knock a tenth off the claimed 0-100km/h sprint at 6.4s, even though the old Performance engine didn't also bring its tricky electro-hydraulic limited slip diff.

Max torque from the port and direct-injected 2.0-litre petrol turbo remains 350Nm, and you still get a choice of six-speed manual, or for an extra $2500, a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic.

Fuel consumption

Volkswagen is yet to release official combined fuel figures for Australia, but don't expect them to stray too far from the existing model's 98RON Premium-sipping 6.2L/100km (manual) and 6.5L/100km (DSG) numbers.

Price and features

Australian spec is yet to be finalised, but we'd be surprised if the new 'Active Info Display' digital driver instruments and 9.2-inch multimedia screen with gesture controls don't find their way onto the updated GTI's list of standard kit.

The updated GTI will join all other new Golfs in offering AEB as standard across the range for the first time.

The Active Info Display is brilliant for its ability to show a variety of different info options at once, but the real plus is putting the whole sat nav map directly in front of the driver. The centre stack screen's gesture controls are a nice party piece, but are actually quite limited and fiddly to use.

Australian pricing is also yet to be confirmed, but the extra equipment is expected to bring marginal price rises. So rather than the GTI's current base price of $41,340, figure on something closer to $42,000.

Safety

The updated GTI will join all other new Golfs in offering AEB as standard across the range for the first time.

VW claims that the existing model's optional AEB system has cut low speed collisions by 30 per cent among those so equipped, but it would be a worthwhile addition even if it were one per cent.

International models bring a new 'Traffic Jam Assist' function to help smooth traffic flow when fitted with adaptive cruise control, plus a host of smartphone-integrated safety features under the 'Car Net' umbrella, but these functions are yet to be confirmed for Australia.

You can take it as read that the existing suite of ANCAP five star-rated safety gear, including seven airbags, reversing camera and multi-collision braking will remain for Australia.

Practicality

Nothing new here, with the still five-door-only for Australian GTI continuing with its ability to fit four real-world humans aboard.

You get the same carpet-lined bottle holders in each door and two cupholders front and rear.

There's two ISOFIX points on the back seat and the hatch's boot still carries a useful 380 litres with the seats up.

Ownership

Volkswagen's three year, unlimited kilometre warranty isn't expected to change between now and July, and nor is the capped price service costs or 15,000km/12month service intervals of the existing GTI.

This means $392 (not including brake fluid or pollen filter replacement) for each of the first three services.

Driving

Part of the GTI's appeal is that it always feels a bit special, without being uncomfortably so. VW's launch drive route seemed to be chosen to ram home this fact, comprising a bunch of straight, smooth roads with speed limits between 80-120km/h.

We'd love to tell you that the GTI is still a great corner carver with a solid dash of long-distance comfort, but can really only confirm the latter. Several roundabouts suggested that the sweet steering and direction-changing ability is still there, but we'll have to wait for the local launch for the full picture.

Hopping straight from a Golf Highline on 17-inch wheels, the sports-tuned and 18-inch wheeled GTI takes the ride comfort down a couple of notches from a 10/10 to more like an 8/10, which is pretty sweet for something so sporting.

The question of manual vs auto is still not black and white, as the performance figures are identical between the two.

You'd need a stopwatch to pick the extra 7kW over the previous model, but the 2.0-litre is still a delight with its constant grunt on tap and a subtle but sporting growl while it's doing it.

It'll easily overcome the front tyres if you're being naughty, and delivers the characteristic pops and bangs on upshifts, particularly with the DSG.

The question of manual vs auto is still not black and white, as the performance figures are identical between the two. The rapid-fire DSG has weaved itself into the GTI's character over the past decade, but there's something pretty special about achieving speed by controlling the clutch yourself, particularly when it brings that golf ball gearknob. Up to you really.

Verdict 

Despite our brief drive on less-than-ideal roads, it feels like the GTI legend is intact, while the numbers suggest it will be better than ever, even without 200kW.

Should VW be chasing the 200kW club with the base GTI? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Specifications

  • Price From $42,000 (est)
  • Fuel consumption 6.2L/100km (combined) Tank 50L
  • Seats 5
  • Warranty 3 years/unlimited km
  • Service Interval 12 months/15,000km
  • Engine 2.0 4-cyl 98RON, 169kW/350Nm
  • Transmission 6-spd manual / 6-spd DSG auto

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2017 review | first drive video

What we like

  • More power than ever in base trim
  • Still looks just beaut
  • Everyday practicality still a strong suit

What we don't

  • Gesture control functions limited and fiddly in practice

Rivals

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