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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - GTI 40 Years

Our Opinion

We like
Stupendous powerplant, clever front drive train, impeccable road manners, cabin space and comfort
Room for improvement
USB placement, no digital radio or seat heaters, no front parking sensors (that low splitter is vulnerable), where’s the tartan?

Gallery

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Volkswagen logo23 Feb 2017

Price and equipment

IN ONE of the recent generations the waiting list stretched to nine months for a Volkswagen Golf GTI to order, such is the demand for one of these, so it’s no surprise the GTI 40 Years is a rare beast.

The pricing for the six-speed DSG model starts from $48,990, a $2000 jump above the manual (which sold out first) and a $5650 jump over a normal GTI but $4000 lower than the all-wheel-drive Golf R.

The 40 Years gets a designation of such on the flanks, as well as a new front bumper with added depth to the splitter and additional vents, as well as new side sills, a rear diffuser, roof spoiler and model-specific 19-inch alloy wheels with 225/35 rubber.

Only a panoramic electric glass sunroof dwells on the options list at $1850.

The features list has dual-zone climate control, touchscreen sat-nav-equipped eight-speaker infotainment system worth hearing, with smartphone Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, USB and Bluetooth links, steering wheel controls for the trip computer, voice control, phone and audio system.

An electric park brake with auto-hold function, power-adjustable, folding and heated exterior mirrors, sports seats, a rear armrest with cupholders and rear vents, but no 12-volt or USB jack for the back seat.

Interior

The interior is comfortable and spacious, carrying over plenty from the GTI in terms of dashboard and centre stack, but there’s an absence of brattishness in its cabin ambience.

It’s been darkened for the 40 Years model with a stated aim of presenting a higher class feel which has sadly seen the demise of the long-standing tartan colour scheme (why, when it’s a celebration of 40 Years?), which has been replaced with Alcantara trimmed seats with GTI theme.

The centre stack’s touchscreen controls the bulk of the functions, including power and torque “sports” displays and fuel economy readouts, with the climate control system beneath it.

The drive mode buttons, as well as the idle-stop over-ride, remain on the other side of the DSG gear selector even though there are blanks on the driver’s side, but other than that the console is easy to navigate.

The instrument cluster’s centre screen is also a wealth of information, nestled between easy to read dials that quickly show how much trouble the driver might well be in while wielding the grippy Alcantara-trimmed three-spoke GTI flat-bottomed sport steering wheel, complete with a red-stitched 12-o’clock high mark and gearshift paddles.

Chrome highlights are scattered through the LED-lit cabin, which also has aluminium-finished pedals, front door sill scuff plates with the GTI emblem, as well as red stitching on the seat, door and wheel trim.

Rear passengers get decent seat comfort and a cupholder-equipped centre armrest and load-through hatch, and provided the front occupants are not beyond 180cm it’s an easy car for four adults to use in comfort.

Boot space is covered by a removable parcel shelf, as well as being lit and helped by the space-saver spare that drops the floor level there’s also a 12-volt outlet in the 380-litre cargo area, which grows to 1270 litres when the rear seats are folded.

Engine and transmission

Seen elsewhere in the VW Group beneath the snout of high-performance Audis (among others), this incarnation of the turbocharged direct-injection variable-valve timing 2.0-litre engine gives the GTI 40 Years model 195kW between 5350 and 6600rpm – up 26kW on the current Golf GTI Performance and 11kW below the all-wheel drive R.

The latter is surpassed during the 40’s overboost function that ups the output to 213kW for short spurts, with peak torque is 350Nm from 1700 to 5600rpm and 380Nm when overboost is demanded by full-throttle inputs from the driver.

The result is – if you can get it off the line cleanly (with or without the DSG’s standard launch control) – a 6.3-second sprint to 100km/h and 250km/h top speed, numbers which are believable from the driver’s seat, but the R’s 5-dead sprint to the same mark says much for traction, if not charisma.

Claimed fuel economy sits at 7.1 litres of 98RON PULP per 100km from the 50 litre tank, but our time in the anniversary edition had numbers around 11/L/100km at a 36km/h average.

Cruising on the open road has the taco hovering around 2500rpm at 100-110km/h – nicely nestled at the bottom of the boost for quick overtaking – although it could be a little longer of leg if fuel frugality was a high priority.

It’s still within the frame of reason given there was plenty of suburban commuting and more than brief dalliances on a demanding back road, where it excels.

The DSG transmission is sharp, swift when swapping cogs and seamless under full throttle, with only low-speed maneuvering on mild inclines it’s Achilles heel it has improved but is still an art to master for the driver.

Ride and handling

The aforementioned demanding back road wasn’t the first place where the 40th anniversary model impressed, but it was the most memorable for all the right reasons.

Commuting on metropolitan roads is – as you would expect on lowered (by 15mm) sports suspension and low-profile tyres – a firm affair, but using the adaptively-damped suspension’s Comfort mode (one of three on offer, including Normal and Sport) it was only the thump through low profile rubber that was seriously intrusive.

Light throttle loads whisk the little German hatch through traffic in an effortless manner, with the odd warble and pop from the exhaust hinting at the potential within, but judicious use of the right pedal is required when getting underway, as a bit of axle tramp and a lot of noise is but a foot-flex away.

Once underway and headed for more favoured roads, with fewer vehicles and more bends, the stumpy little 1357kg hatch does showcase its talents with gusto.

Big brakes brushed, the turn-in from the well-weighted variable-ratio (VW calls it progressive) steering is obedient the power can be fed in earlier than you’d think thanks to the clever front end.

Using a combination of electronic assistance from the brakes, as well as an electronically-controlled variable mechanical front diff lock (sampled previously in the Performance model), the driveline puts power down to the wheel on the outside of the corner, limiting the wheel spin on the other side.

Sport mode puts the adjustable adaptive suspension – MacPherson struts and an anti-roll bar up front and a four-link rear also with an anti-roll bar – into a more robust frame of mind.

Bodyroll, what little there was, is limited further, but without resorting to ride degradation thanks to electronics that assess and adjust the damping up to one thousand times per second.

The stumpy little hatch can still hop around a little as it deals with mid-corner undulations, not to the point of changing its line, but it does feel as though it would move its tail around nicely on a racetrack with the stability control off.

The result is remarkably good, with little understeer or torque steer, the result being the little five-seater fires out of bends in a manner not normally befitting powerful front-drive machinery.

The stability control system has three stages of operation – full control, Sport mode and it can be completely disabled, says VW, although the Sport mode offers the best overall compromise given the car’s ability to send the front wheels into a traction-less frenzy.

Safety and servicing

The front end’s traction aids also serve the safety master as well, with traction and stability control when left in full play, joined by seven airbags (the usual six plus a driver’s knee airbag), anti-lock brakes with emergency assist and brake force distribution.

Also on the five-star ANCAP-rated Golf’s safety list is an electric park brake with hill hold, the brand’s multi-collision brake system to prevent secondary impacts, a disc brake size upgrade over the standard GTI, LED daytime running lights, a rear foglights and rear LED tail-lights, low tyre pressure warning and the Front Assist with City Emergency Brake (City EB) function.

This system uses the same equipment as the adaptive cruise control system (also standard) to detect possible impacts and prepping systems for shorter braking distances, alerting the driver with an audible warning, jolting the brakes and braking automatically if the driver fails to act.

The GTI 40 Years also has blind spot and rear traffic warning systems, as well as driver fatigue detection, but sadly only rear parking sensors the reversing camera is always clear, kept clean by hiding beneath the boot release that doubles as a VW logo.

Automatic low and high beam Xenon headlights, with dynamic and static cornering lights, offer clear illumination, with an auto-dimming centre rearvision mirror, heated, folding and power-adjustable exterior mirrors and rain-sensing wipers.

Volkswagen’s factory warranty extends to three years with unlimited kilometres, with capped-price servicing due every 12 months or 15,000km prices range from $392 to $1103 for the major service.

Verdict

A near-$50K pricetag is a lofty ask for a small five-door hatch, but its everyday practicality is well cloaked by aero kits, gorgeous wheels and big brakes.

This is a car that does the school run without complaint (from the vehicle or its occupants) and then takes the long way home, not to mention inflicting a dose of separation anxiety when the keys are removed from your grasp.

Such is its aptitude for bends, even ones with bumps, means your choice will need to be discerning (not to mention probably twice the price) if you are looking to shake one out of your rear vision mirror.

Anyone after clinical precision is going for the AWD Golf R, which is quicker in a straight line but less grin-inspiring, whereas the hottest of the breed yet has more cheeky panache and is a worthy standard bearer for the 40 year celebration of the Golf GTI.

Rivals

Ford Focus RS, from $50,990 plus on-road costs
Yes, it’s cheating with all-wheel drive but the five-door is in the same realm price wise - it’s 257kW/440Nm 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder might well justify the extra cash all on its own, or the presence of the drift mode as some icing on the cake. Like the Renault it’s only on offered in the manual but there’s also adaptive adjustable suspension and a sprint to 100km/h in a claimed 4.7 seconds.

Peugeot 308GTi 270, from $49,990 plus on-road costs
The other French option in this segment is a five-door packing 200kW and 330Nm from its 1.6-litre turbo four, but like its Gallic compatriot there’s no auto option. A six-speed manual and a Torsen front limited slip differential directs the outputs sufficient for a 0-100km/h sprint in six seconds and a 250km/h top speed. 19-inch alloys, LED headlights, carbon front brakes, a bigger boot and slightly better ADR fuel economy claim may also attract interest but the VW dash is a lot easier to decipher.

Renault Megane 275 Cup Premium, from $49,990 plus on-road costs
The new Megane is yet to stick its head over the parapet so anyone wanting to back the French against the Germans will be looking at the previous-gen Megane 275 Cup car with 201kW and 360Nm from its turbocharged 2.0-litre. It too hits 100km/h in a claimed six seconds and also sits on 19-inch alloys, with big Brembos beneath them, but it only comes in a three-door and there’s no auto option – it’s a six-speed manual or nothing.

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