2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI review (video)

Brett Davis

For decades the Volkswagen Golf GTI has been the go-to hot hatch for millions of driving enthusiasts around the world. The latest, Mk8 version is the heaviest iteration yet, but it is the most powerful and smartest interpretation of the pocket-rocket formula. But the biggest problem it faces is the competition, with a handful of very well-sorted and desirable machines now on offer in this space.

This is a nameplate that arguably pioneered the hot hatch recipe as we know it. So it’s no surprise it understands how to execute a well-rounded package for this segment. A familiar philosophy is applied in the latest model, carrying over from previous generations, promising great practicality and everyday usability while being capable of planting a huge grin on your face when the time calls.

With every aspect evolved in every way, it shouldn’t come as a big shock that prices have jumped up in the past few years, particularly in recent times where prices have skyrocketed in most industries due to the ripples of the COVID impact on manufacturing and distribution. However, priced from $55,490 (excluding on-road costs), we think it is a bit steep from a pure power-per-dollar perspective.

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI – THE SPECS

[column width=”47%” padding=”6%”]Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 180kW@6200rpm / 370Nm@1600-4300rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 18×7.5, 225/40
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1477kg
Power-to-weight: 8.20:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 7.0L/100km
Economy during test: 8.4L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 50L/95 RON[/column] [column width=”47%” padding=”0″]Power efficiency: 25.71kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 3.32 seconds*
0-100km/h: 6.06 seconds*
60-110km/h: 3.65 seconds*
1/4 mile: 14.42 seconds at 165.7km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.753g*
100-0km/h braking: 3.04 seconds at 38.86 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.588g*
Decibel at idle (/sport mode): 46/50*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 85*
Priced from: $55,490[/column][end_columns]

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI – THE PACKAGE

After all these years, it still looks very modest and unassuming, with only hints of performance in the detail. The front end goes for a real aero look. It actually looks like some kind of eco-focused variant on first glance. Though, subtle red highlights, not really seen on this Kings Red example, and neat skirting around the body cement its credentials.

Twin, separated exhausts are the main clue at the back, as well as the 18-inch alloy wheels. Again, these wheels wouldn’t look out of place on an eco-focused variant in our opinion. Take a closer look and you’ll see the spokes are shaped a bit like a turbo fan, which is pretty cool, finishing off the refined and sporty theme.

The interior is very nice. We love the multi-tone sports seats in the front, and the convenient layout for the controls and buttons. It’s quite practical too, with enough storage and cup holders to ensure it lives up to its renowned everyday usability standards. This is definitely a car that most drivers could quickly become comfortable in and feel at home straight away.

Twin digital screens run across the dash surrounded by shiny black plastic, which looks a bit cheap in our opinion. Everywhere else though, there seems to be a wide spread of quality materials and surfaces. We like the solid and secure fitment of all of the fixtures, with no rattles or squeaks and great cabin acoustics.

The main touch-screen presents clear graphics with soft tones, and it’s pretty easy to find your way around. We would like a more comprehensive climate control panel completely separate from the screen, although, there are buttons for the main stuff like temperature adjustment.

During our test we did come across a bit of a glitch with the screen as we tried to switch off the ‘easy-access’ seat function. This is where the seat automatically slides back when you open the door, as seen on many high-end luxury vehicles.

We prefer this function turned off purely because we usually have our camera bag sitting snug behind the seat. The screen would not let us turn it off, despite showing the option to do so. We tried it in Park, with the car switched on and off, and ran multiple full cycles of the car. We also tried it with the park brake on and with holding the foot brake.

Passenger space is good for its class, offering an open and clutter-free layout for all. Rear seat legroom is a bit tighter than some rivals, such as the Kia Cerato and Honda Civic, but you get big seat sections on the bench and overall width is respectable. Climate controls are an added bonus for the rear passengers, especially for this class.

Up at the back, the boot presents a pretty average capacity for this segment, rated at 374L or 1230L with the rear seats folded down. It’s big enough to support the weekly shopping, but it’s not as large as some rivals. It’s good to see a 12-volt socket on the wall however. Under the floor you’ll find the space-saver spare wheel.

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI – THE DRIVE

As always, the GTI remains front-wheel drive only. There is an electronic differential lock that engages to optimise grip, as well as a fast-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission – manual is no longer an available option, in Australia at least.

So, the engine. It is based on the now famous EA888 2.0-litre turbo. With 180kW and 370Nm, it is the most powerful standard GTI in history. Peak torque is available from just 1600rpm, which gives you some idea of its versatility in everyday conditions. You don’t need to push the pedal hard to experience a cool rush of turbo surge, so you can gallop through the traffic.

Give it the beans and you’ll get a taste of its excellent performance, for this class. On a private road using a Racelogic Vbox we recorded a best 0-100km/h run in 6.06 seconds, bettering VW’s claim of 6.3 seconds. That was achieved using the car’s standard launch control system. However, we recorded this time in manual mode. Leaving it in auto mode, we found the revs hung high for too long in first gear, with a decent amount of wheelspin.

Selecting second gear slightly earlier and instead relying on that low-end torque is the better option in our opinion. You can also achieve VW’s claim just by nailing the throttle off the line and doing without launch control. We clocked 0-100km/h in 6.38 seconds using this method. This test car has probably gone through some extensive testing in the past, perhaps on the track, so with fresh tyres we wouldn’t be surprised if these numbers dropped. As always, 0-100 times are not the only indicator for a car’s overall performance.

Wheelspin isn’t a major concern. In fact, exiting corners, it can be fun to feel the tug and some slip from the front end. But it’s very playful and it doesn’t come as a surprise. In other words, you need to be pushing it and letting it know you want to play, before any slip action occurs.

As standard the GTI comes with Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres. They offer outstanding lateral grip, and actually the Porsche 911 Turbo S features these tyres so they must be good. However, they measure 225/40 front and rear, which is perhaps a bit narrow for 180kW. Some rivals wear 235 or even 245-section tyres – the more hardcore Civic Type R uses 265s. The Golf GTI is all about balance though so we understand why VW would not want to go nuts in this area.

The ride is taut but respectable for this type of car. If you’re accustomed to cushy sedans then this will take a small amount of time to get used to. However, compared with like-minded hot hatches in this class, the GTI strikes a beautiful balance between sportiness and everyday practicality. It’s not too low to enter tight shopping centres, and not too firm to make you want to avoid taking your grandmother to church. But it is obviously pointed more towards responsiveness and tactility above absolute comfort.

Performance and efficiency are the result of quality engineering. For an engine that produces 180kW, with just four cylinders, and to return an official average fuel consumption of 7.0L/100km, we don’t think you could ask for anything more. This is a very efficient performance engine Our real-world consumption was 8.4L/100km over a week of testing, including acceleration runs.

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI – THE VIDEO

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI – THE VERDICT

The Mk8 is the most powerful and the quickest iteration yet, and the interior continues to offer the spaciousness and practicality that Volkswagens are known for. As mentioned at the start, its main hurdle is getting past the competition.

There are faster and more powerful options in this space, and ones with more interior room and boot capacity. There are also cheaper alternatives. It all comes down to your personal tastes and what you desire more.

We’d categorise the GTI as being most attractive in the areas of refinement, fit and finish, comfort, while offering accessible performance and fun for a broad audience. In other words, it remains as one of the best all-rounders money can buy in our view.

[column width=”47%” padding=”6%”]PROS:
– Cabin refinement and comfort
– Practical and easy to drive in daily conditions
– Very quick for a FWD with 180kW
– Subtle performance styling
– Good real-world fuel economy for its class
[/column] [column width=”47%” padding=”0″]CONS:
– Subtle styling might not suit some buyers in the hot hatch class
– Could do with 235 tyres instead of 225s
– Lack of dash buttons means most controls are within the touch-screen; it can be distracting[/column][end_columns]

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

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