RATING: 8.5 / 10
By Alborz Fallah
- The most refined front-wheel-drive hot hatch on the market;
- Increased power;
- Great sounding exhaust note;
- Unique interior fit and finish; and
- Comparative pricing.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is an icon, widely regarded as the original hot hatch. When it comes to history lessons, it was actually beaten to that title by the Renault 5 Gordini released a few months earlier in 1976, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was the better car, and now, 40 years later, it still remains at the top of its game.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years is an odd name. It was meant to be called Golf Clubsport, and it is in most international markets. But, in some markets; due to trademarking, its known as ‘GTI 40 Years’.
Starting from US $34,300 the uprated Golf GTI DSG is by no means cheap, though for that extra US $3000 over the standard GTI DSG you do get performance from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine climbing from 162kW of power in the regular model to a new 195kW. Torque is unchanged at 350Nm, but a new boost function ups numbers briefly to 213kW and 380Nm.
In terms of numbers, the GTI 40 Years will run from 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds. Volkswagen claims it will survive on just 7.1L/100km on the ADR combined cycle. However, we’re quite sure that number will double.
From the outside it’s easily distinguishable from the regular model by the new ‘Ruby’ wheels. In addition to the gloss black trim, a slightly revised front bumper with larger air intakes (brake cooling ducts) finishes the front while the rear bumper also gets a minor update.
To those looking really hard, you’ll also notice the larger diameter exhaust tailpipes that complement the new exhaust system as well as the larger rear roof spoiler and a black-red LED tail light design.
In terms of unique badging, there is nothing but the most subtle ‘40 Years’ decals on the flanks which you’ll notice when you look at the new, extended side sills.
Jump inside and everything seems rather familiar to those who have sat inside a Golf GTI Performance, including the ageing infotainment system, though there is now a lot of Alcantara. The Alcantara on the seats, steering wheel, door inlays and shift boot is very evident. Does it add to the cabin ambience? Sure, but it will be interesting to see how it wears over time.
There’s red stitching and GTI-badged door sills, all of which add that extra sense of specialness to a car that so very much deserves it.
But no matter what the GTI looks like inside or out, it’s how it drives that makes the 40 Year model the best GTI yet.
We tested an automatic; as all manual variants had already been sold. What we had was the rapid fire six-speed DSG, which is no doubt a better performance car but perhaps not as engaging as the manual would have been or is.
Press the start button, engage D, press the mode selector to get to Sport and away you go. At first it feels just like a regular GTI, until you really go for the right pedal.
It is seriously fast. It’s that over-boost function in third gear or above that lets you hit highs of 213kW and 380Nm which you can really feel push you back into the seat as you go flat out in a straight line.
Strangely, there is so little torque steer that you start to wonder if you’ve accidentally jumped on board a Golf R. We expected then, that once we began to drive on twistier roads that the GTI’s understeer-prone characteristic would show its ugly head. But, somewhat gleefully, this wasn’t the case.
Volkswagen’s tricky diff up front has very much changed the characteristic of the GTI. For some, the idea of a front-wheel drive hot hatch that doesn’t fight or show hints of playfulness through the steering wheel is sinful. For others, like this reviewer, it’s a godsend. As are the uprated brakes, which despite plenty of abuse, didn’t show any signs of fade.
As we climbed further and further up through very twisty roads, it became awfully daunting as to whether or not this car could be labelled the ‘best FWD in the world’. It has certainly proven itself around the Nurburgring in Germany.
That’s a big statement to make and I know many would argue that the best FWD in the world is the previous Ford Focus RS. Sure Ford’s revolutionary Revoknuckle was good, but this is different.
The RS was a race car trapped inside a compromised road-going hatch, the GTI is a car you can drive every single day and yet, with this new LSD, it’s a whole different level of dynamic ability.
It also sounds rather tough. The updated exhaust system seems to emit a deeper tone than the regular car and the gearshifts now burble better than ever.
In saying all that, this is a rather expensive car. Tick a few options (like sunroof) and the price on road will easily stretch to around US 40 Grand, and that’s Golf R money. Or, well, Ford Focus RS money.
So in that regard, the question is not necessarily whether you should buy this over a regular Golf GTI (because you really should if you have the financial means), but whether you should, in fact, forgo other options in its favour.
It’s a hard question to answer. There’s no doubt the Golf R and the Focus RS will be faster off the line thanks to their proper AWD system.
For us, the Golf R is a bit lacklustre in appearance and its relative performance. The Focus RS, however, is a gem and if you can overlook its cheap cabin, massively huge waiting list, then it’s the absolute pick of the hot hatch market for the moment.
However, the Golf GTI 40 Year edition is something special. It’s not just the way it looks inside or out, or the extra power and torque that it delivers on over-boost, but more so that after 40 years of refinement, the folks at Volkswagen have truly nailed the principles of a hot hatch and this is the ultimate culmination of that work.
If you want one, then it’s my displeasure to tell you that most have already been sold, as it is a limited edition car.
- DT Dobie is the official and sole distributor of all new Volkswagen (VW) vehicles in Kenya. They are located off the roundabout joining Lusaka Road and Enterprise Road.
- The company offers after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles. Check out their official website or visit their showroom for more information.