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Motoring Top Stories

Budget hot-hatch brilliance in Original form

CarsGuide logo CarsGuide 12/02/2018 Matt Campbell

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Original is here to offer buyers a stripped back - but not stripped out - hot hatch experience.

It has been 42 years since the original Volkswagen Golf GTI was launched in Europe, and this new model has a simple focus: reliving the glory days, drawing on an illustrious past of the German brand creating fun and fast compact cars.

There are only 200 available. It is only available in three-door guise. Those are both limiting factors as to whether you'll be able or willing to buy one.

But let me tell you - after attending the launch of the new budget-focused Golf GTI Original model, it could be the best of the bunch.

I loved driving the Golf GTI Original, and in particular I was smitten with the manual model. © CarsGuide.com.au I loved driving the Golf GTI Original, and in particular I was smitten with the manual model. Is there anything interesting about its design?

I'm pretty sold on the appearance of the Golf GTI Original. And while people might say three-door cars are useless, or annoying, the point of this vehicle in particular is both a historic marker, and to give it a point of difference.

Golf performance models typically account for a quarter of sales, and nearly all of the GTI and R models you see out there are five-door hatches. So, credibility where it's due - VW has done a bold thing by bringing in a three-door, affordable model.

There are subtle little styling changes like the red pin-striping on the charcoal finish 18-inch alloys, and an Original badge on the rear, which - if the three-door body didn't make it distinctive enough - will help separate it in the carpark.

Otherwise, there are the telltale styling cues we've come to expect from Volkswagen Golf GTI - the red trim line that runs across the grille and into the LED headlights with integrated LED daytime running lights, a tarmac-sucking body kit, GTI finishers on the front guards, a pair of twin exhaust pipes and LED tail-lights.

There's an accessory pack with a bigger hatch-mounted rear spoiler and blackened mirror caps for those who wish to add $1250 to their bill. Perhaps the biggest annoyance for me is that there are only two colours to choose from - red or white. I'd pay to see it in gunmetal grey.

One other thing about those doors: a lot of car parking spaces these days are narrow. These doors are very wide.

The tartan-clad (yum!) interior is lovely, with super supportive seats and a clean - but not cheap - interior finish. There is ambient lighting in the doors and nice finishes throughout, including the manual model's must-have golfball-style gearknob.

The tartan-clad (yum!) interior is lovely, with super supportive seats and a clean - but not cheap - interior finish. © CarsGuide.com.au The tartan-clad (yum!) interior is lovely, with super supportive seats and a clean - but not cheap - interior finish. How practical is the space inside?

For a three-door car, this is a hugely practical little thing.

Of course, there are no back doors, so getting into the back seat isn't as simple as it could be. But the seat fold mechanism is simple, and because the doors are so large you have a decent aperture through which to plonk yourself.

Once in the back row, the space on offer is pretty good. With the driver's seat in my position, I had enough leg and headroom to be comfortable for a longer-distance drive. The width is a little tight, but in place of door pockets (because there are no doors) you get a pair of bottle holders, and there's a fold-down armrest with cupholders, too, while up front there are bottle holders in the doors, and cupholders between the seats.

There is ambient lighting in the doors and nice finishes throughout. © CarsGuide.com.au There is ambient lighting in the doors and nice finishes throughout. It may seem obvious, but if you have kids or frequently take people with you, you ought to reconsider a three-door car like this. Getting them in and out of the back would be painful. That said, if you like the three-door body and are a parent of younger children, you'll be happy to know there are ISOFIX and top tether child-seat anchor points.

Up front there's an 8.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but unlike the more expensive Golf GTI models, it lacks sat nav.

The seats are excellent, and my favourite part of the interior is the tartan trim. Forget leather, this is retro sexy.

As for cargo space? Because the three-door is identical in length to the five-door, the boot is the same - 380 litres (VDA) with the seats up, and that jumps to 1270L with the seats folded down in 60/40 formation.

Up front there's an 8.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. © CarsGuide.com.au Up front there's an 8.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

It's hard to argue against the value-for-money equation of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Original. 

How about a starting price of less than forty grand - drive-away!? That makes the GTI Original the cheapest version of the Golf hot hatch in a decade.

And this isn't a detuned Golf GTI - you still get the same punchy 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine under the bonnet, with the choice of six-speed manual (at $37,490 plus on-road costs, or $38,490 drive-away) or six-speed dual-clutch 'DSG' auto ($39,990 list, or $40,990 drive-away).

So why is it more affordable? Well, as you probably figured out by now, it's a three-door. That makes it inherently less expensive to make, but on the flipside it could also make it a lot less appealing to a lot of buyers.

You've got to miss out on something to get a car at this price, so the adaptive dampers, satellite navigation and push-button start/smart key have been removed. But that's not such an issue because the suspension tune is great (more on that below), you can use maps on your phone (provided you're not heading away from mobile coverage), and you still get a regular key with remote central locking.

Standard equipment includes a load of safety equipment (detailed in that section below), 18-inch 'Sevilla' rims with Bridgestone Potenza S001 rubber (225/40), tyre pressure monitoring, that 8.0-inch screen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a CD player, SD card input, USB and auxiliary inputs, eight speakers, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, sports seats with red stitching, a leather-lined steering wheel and auto headlights and wipers.

Affordable, then. But far from cheaply equipped.

18-inch 'Sevilla' rims with Bridgestone Potenza S001 rubber (225/40) come as standard. © CarsGuide.com.au 18-inch 'Sevilla' rims with Bridgestone Potenza S001 rubber (225/40) come as standard. What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

As mentioned earlier, the Golf GTI Original carries over the same potent 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, with the same 169kW of power and 350Nm of torque. The beauty of this engine is that the torque curve is long and flat, with that 350Nm spanning from 1500-4600rpm - making this a super flexible engine.

By my reckoning, this is the most powerful small car at this price-point. There are more powerful cars - like the Commodore 2.0T (also a hatch) and Camry V6 - but hey, this thing steals some thunder off the Ford Focus ST, which is $38,990, but has 184kW.

The three-door Golf GTI is slightly lighter than its five-door brother, with a manual kerb weight of 1304 kilograms (five-door: 1329kg), while the DSG version weighs 1326kg (five-door: 1352kg).

That doesn't affect the 0-100km/h time claims for the GTI Original, though: both mirror their five-door GTI equivalent models with stated 6.4 second run times.

How much fuel does it consume?

Volkswagen claims fuel consumption of 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual model, and 6.6L/100km for the DSG.

Neither of those are cringeworthy figures, and a glance at the trip meter after a spirited drive through some terrific roads south of Sydney showed up 9.1L/100km for the manual and 9.4L/100km for the DSG - which is perfectly acceptable when out for a punt.

The engine has such flexibility, you can essentially choose third gear and pound through a series of bends without having to worry about shifting. © CarsGuide.com.au The engine has such flexibility, you can essentially choose third gear and pound through a series of bends without having to worry about shifting. What's it like to drive?

Brilliant. I probably don't need to say much more than that, but I suppose I should. I loved driving the Golf GTI Original, and in particular I was smitten with the manual model, which felt a little more involving in every way.

Not just because you to keep both hands busy in the bends, but because the shift action is such a cinch - you could teach a teenager how to drive in this hot hatch without any hassle or fear or burning out a clutch. It is light in its action, and the shift is smooth - it doesn't have like a Honda clicky feel, but it just has a slinky motion to it.

The engine has such flexibility, you can essentially choose third gear and pound through a series of bends without having to worry about shifting - but it's also nicely settled when you do choose sixth on the highway.

I drove the DSG model, too, which has a bit going for it if that's your preference: the exhaust flatulence between gears is more prominent, and the shift speed is undeniably quicker than any ham-handed human.

The downside is the DSG can still be a bit slurry when you're getting away from a standstill, particularly if you aren't mashing the throttle in a hurry.

The steering is superbly accurate, and while there can be a tiny hint of understeer in tighter bends, the electronically controlled front differential lock allows you to make it pivot on itself really nicely if you decide to grab it by the scruff of the neck. It turns in brilliantly, and it's also really easy to get a good flow between bends. Superb.

While it may not have adaptive dampers like the other Golf GTIs, I think that's to its advantage. The suspension is so well sorted - beautifully controlled and never annoyingly firm, even over patchwork city streets. The MacPherson front suspension and independent rear suspension is a lowered sports set-up, and it deals with rolling bumps exceptionally well on country back roads.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Volkswagen Golf front-wheel drive range continues to roll on with a five-star ANCAP rating that it scored back in 2013, with the safety authority applying it to all '7.5' series Golfs with FWD.

The standard safety equipment includes a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, driver fatigue monitoring, front assist with auto emergency braking (AEB) and pedestrian monitoring, a system called 'Manoeuvre Braking' that'll stop the car when you're parking and fail to brake for an obstacle.

It also has seven airbags - dual front, front side, curtain and driver's knee.

There's an optional driver assistance package, which consists of plenty more kit: blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, auto high-beam headlights and semi-automated parking. It costs $1600, and is money well spent in my opinion.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Volkswagen backs all of its cars with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and you can extend that warranty to five years/unlimited km.

The standard warranty includes the same cover for complimentary roadside assist, and the same is true if you decide to extend the warranty plan.

We've levelled this criticism at VW before, but the company's cars just aren't that affordable to maintain. There's a five-year/75,000km capped-price service plan (maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first), and the total over that period for the DSG model is a rich $2950. The manual, at least, is a little better: $2581.

Verdict

The Volkswagen Golf GTI Original is a peach. It's still just as fun to drive as the regular Golf GTI models - they haven't skimped with this car, it's pure VW engineering that just happens to be more affordable.

For me, this GTI is not only the Original - it's also the best.

Pictures: Surprising facts about Volkswagen

Slideshow provided by Espresso

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