Test drive: Volkswagen Golf GTI

By daryl, 12 December 2018

The most affordable Volkswagen Golf you can buy brand new in Malaysia today is the Golf TSI R Line we reviewed last month. It takes a trained eye to tell one apart from the Golf R, Wolfsburg’s flagship performance hatch from which the sporty R Line components are derived.

 The aesthetic gap between both ends of the Golf’s spectrum has tightened so much that the Golf GTI sandwiched between them remains the sole variant with a unique character of its own, visually at least.

Volkswagen’s GTI signatures have always been pleasing to the eye to begin with. The red accents in the brake calipers, honeycomb grille and headlights do a good job of outlining the Golf GTI’s sporty aspirations, especially so when the exterior is finished in a neutral, Pure White.

The bloodshot theme is reflected inside the car, where red continues to fill the threads that stitch the upholstery together – the only thing missing here being the iconic ‘Clark Plaid’ fabric seats. Then again, Vienna leather is only fitting for the most expensive Golf GTI we’ve ever had to date.


At RM246,490, the Mk7.5 GTI isn’t exactly something we can categorise as ‘accessible performance’. But you still get some kick for the money. The familiar EA888 two-litre TSI soldiers on, this time channelling 227bhp and 350Nm of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed wet-clutch DSG. Conservative on paper in an era of torque-rich plugin hybrids, the GTI’s output is still good enough for a 6.4-second century sprint before topping out at 248kph – just 2kph off the Golf R’s electronically imposed limit.

The GTI has an XDS+ electronic differential which works full time with the ESC to combat understeer while throttling on the turn.


These performance figures still aren’t the best in class. Many GTI wannabes have caught up, if not outdone their benchmark in sheer speed and power. But the unadulterated sense of joy you get from behind the wheel of the real deal is difficult to emulate.

 Just like how the Civic Type R offers a breath of fresh air in a segment dead set on achieving speed using AWD, the GTI proves that a front-biased, torque-rich hatch can be the most entertaining thing to chuck around the corners.

Tipping the scales at 1,352kg, the GTI is 98kg lighter than the R. If you’re always driving solo, the lightness shows as the inertia through the bends is notably subdued as long as you’re not breaking traction. But even with the drive contained up front, throwing the GTI off balance is not an easy thing to do. The GTI has an XDS+ electronic differential which works full time with the ESC to combat understeer while throttling on the turn.

While applying gas or shifting with the front wheels cocked is rarely recommended, there’s an appeal to doing it in a GTI to coerce the exhaust into a chorus of delightful pops and crackles as you try to keep the engine within the 1,500-4,500rpm range where maximum twist is on hand.

XDS+ and ESC aren’t the only electronic nannies keeping things in check as you fool around with the GTI. Progressive steering is also standard in the GTI, and it pulls of a nice balance between delivering sharp and accurate turns while keeping the weight of the steering just right.

If you’re a purist who has been put off at this point, do reconsider. The beautiful thing about the GTI’s driver aids is how they are always incognito, leaving the focus solely on Volkswagen’s brilliant TSI-DSG pairing and the sublime Mk7.5 chassis it’s mobilising.

This is a car you can genuinely appreciate without fiddling with any buttons that would seem alien in a 1990s sports car apart from the keyless ignition. We rarely dabbled with the new eight-inch touchscreen infotainment or the Park Control feature that’s also part of the GTI’s tech buffet. We didn’t even notice there were driving modes to choose from till much later. All we did was drive.


This rudimentary appeal is arguably the biggest trump card the GTI holds against its all-conquering big brother over the long term. Don’t get us wrong, the Golf R is a thoroughly sportier machine that’s a great all-rounder to boot.

 But maximising its wide breadth of talents takes a wee bit more effort – you can’t just stick it in one driving mode and happily drive it for days without modifying the settings as you would in a GTI. This is especially true for the Adaptive Chassis Control (DCC), which feels a touch more flexible in a lighter FWD setup.

Yes, the GTI knows how to be comfy too. It always had a knack of dialling the feel good factor up to 11 from every angle after all. The real question is: what can’t it do?


One of the best hot hatches in the market gets a welcomed dash of sophistication to complement its fancy footwork.


More power and more gears at a much lower price. But safety-first Volvo DNA is hard to shake off.


  Engine   1,984cc, 4-cyl turbo,  227bhp, 350Nm
  Price   RM246,490
  Performance   0-100kph in 6.4 secs, 248kph
  Economy   6.4L/100km
  Weight   1,352kg