- Excellent all-round ability
- Well equipped with lots of kit
- Subtle GTI touches everywhere
- Expensive to buy and service
- Cabin not as intuitive as previous Golf
- Cheaper T-Roc R offers more performance
GTI are three letters that have been associated with hot hatches for years – and from a wide variety of manufacturers too, from Peugeot to Volkswagen, which has stuck with the GTI badge since its inception in 1976 on a variety of products. There were the tiny Lupo and Up! GTIs that was sold in Europe, the small Polo GTI (which isn’t so small anymore) and then the iconic Golf GTI which has been in production since 1976. Now in its eighth generation, we decided to see if the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI still has the all-round capability seen in previous generations.
While the hot hatch market now has fewer offerings than before, there are still a number of excellent options available like the Hyundai i30 N, the Renault Megane RS (not for long, unfortunately) and the Mini Cooper S just to name a few. Can the Golf come out on top? Let’s find out.
Price & Equipment: 7/10
While the entry-level Golf is priced from $35,190 plus on-road costs, the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI is priced a full $20,000 more at $55,490 plus on-road costs (roughly $61,000 drive away). But despite the added cost of the performance spec, the Golf GTI is almost fully loaded.
Its standard equipment list includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a front limited-slip differential, automatic all-LED lighting with auto wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control with rear air vents, heated and auto-folding exterior mirrors with a passenger mirror that drops automatically in reverse, puddle lamps, keyless entry with push button start, a 10-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation, digital radio, a seven-speaker sound system, four USB-C charging ports with a wireless phone charger, a digital driver’s display, the iconic GTI tartan cloth upholstery, a meaty leather steering wheel, selectable driving modes and ambient lighting.
Safety kit includes nine airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian, cyclist and intersection assist, automatic rear braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist with lane trace assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, driver attention monitoring, automatic post-collision braking, tyre pressure monitoring, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, emergency assist, exit warning assist, an alarm and Matrix adaptive high beam headlights.
There are two options available for the Golf GTI: the $3,950 Luxury Package that includes a heated steering wheel, grey, red and black leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, an electric driver’s seat with memory functionality and a sunroof and the $2,550 Sound and Style Package with larger 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive dampers, a heads-up display and an eight-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system with a subwoofer. Paint options include ‘Moonstone Grey’, ‘Pure White’, ‘Atlantic Blue’, ‘Dolphin Grey’, ‘Deep Black’ and for $300 extra, the ‘Kings Red’ on our test car.
While the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI is very well equipped and can be had with an even larger amount of kit thanks to the optional packages, there’s no getting away from that it’s over $60,000 drive away to get into a Golf GTI. But, that’s unfortunately the nature of the new car market in 2023.
The hot hatch market in Australia has seen a few new additions like the Cupra Leon but at the same time, cars like the Ford Focus ST have left us. We consider the lairy and loud 2023 Hyundai i30 N Premium to be the GTI’s closest competitor and is priced from $53,700 plus on-road costs (around $58,500 drive away). Against a standard GTI, the i30 N Premium has more equipment, including a twin-panel panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, larger 19-inch wheels and bucket seats. Optioning the GTI with both packages adds a lot more fruit, but it then costs over $68,000 drive away.
Performance & Economy: 9/10
The ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine used in the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI is also used in a plethora of other Volkswagen, Skoda, Cupra and Audi models. It produces a healthy 180kW of power (at 6,200rpm) and 370Nm of torque (between 1,600rpm and 4,300rpm) which is run solely through a limited slip differential in between the front wheels. The only transmission on offer is a seven-speed dual-clutch ‘DSG’ automatic with paddle shifters.
We really like the EA888 engine that’s used in the Volkswagen Group for a variety of reasons: it can be quick, it’s efficient, it’s got character and regardless of the car it’s used in, it sounds pretty good too. In this tune and in the GTI, the EA888 cannot be mistaken for anything other than one with a performance focus. It snarls and cracks with hard acceleration and pulls very hard to get you from 0-100km/h in just 6.3 seconds – but it feels faster than that in real life. We were surprised at just how fast the GTI really feels. Even low down in the rev range (where turbocharged cars can suffer from lag) the Golf makes no fuss and launches away.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is much better then previous iterations of Volkswagen’s dual-clutch transmission. While it’s still not perfect, the lurching and uneasy nature of pulling away from a stand stop has nearly gone. Once on the move, the gearbox is snappy when it comes to gear changes. Using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters is particularly satisfying and the ‘DSG farts’ between each gear change add even more character to the driving experience.
The claimed average fuel consumption for the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI is 7.0L/100km and our time behind the wheel of the Golf GTI – with a mixture of motorway and urban driving – saw an average fuel consumption figure of 8.4L/100km, which we thought was acceptable given the amount of power and fun on offer. As you’d expect for a performance car, the Golf GTI must use a minimum of 95RON premium unleaded and it has a 50-litre fuel tank.
Ride & Handling: 9/10
As you’d expect for the GTI badge, the 2023 Volkswagen Golf Golf GTI is not only a performance vehicle, but it needs to be able to be able to handle the day-to-day city streets and their imperfections. Luckily the adaptive dampers of the Golf GTI soak up bumps rather well while still giving a playful and performance feel. You do feel bumps but it is by no means uncomfortable. A hallmark trait of a hot hatch is its handling ability. It needs to be agile, nimble and direct and luckily, the Golf GTI is. It offers a mature and composed feeling when handling the twisties. The solid nature of the Golf cocoons you with confidence while handling corners extremely well. You can corner flat in the GTI at speeds that other cars simply could not handle. While it’s not as hard edged as an i30 N, the GTI still offers a truly engaging driving experience – but it’s still very comfortable in everyday use.
The steering is on the heavier side, which gives off a nicely weighted feeling and inspires confidence from behind the wheel. When turning the wheel the Golf darts without a fuss thanks to its quick steering. Volkswagen’s new ‘Vehicle Dynamics Manager’, which syncs the mechanical diff, electronic diff and adaptive suspension instead of having them run independently of one another aids further in its handling ability. The drive mode selector also changes the character of the Golf with eco, normal and sport set modes – as well as an individual option where drivers can tune settings.
Interior & Practicality: 8/10
The cabin of the Mk8 Golf range received mixed reviews upon its release, but a few years on, how do we feel about it? Well, while it’s not the high and above standard setter it once was, there’s still an air of solidity and slickness that impress you. The quality of materials are good and the almost minimalist layout with less physical buttons than before reflects a modern cabin loaded with technology. It certainly feels more modern than the i30 N’s cabin, which is starting to feel old by comparison.
While we do prefer the previous shape Mk7.5’s cabin, the interior of the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI is still a nice place to be thanks to slick design and tonnes of practicality. There are flock-lined door bins, a large glovebox, a reasonable centre console box, a big centre console storage area, two cupholders that fold away to a storage compartment and a wireless charging tray that with a cover lifts up to hold a phone in. While we do miss the Mk7.5’s secret tray to left of the driver’s knee, the Mk8’s cabin is definitely one of the most practical in the segment.
Centre of the cabin is a 10-inch touchscreen that features wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation and digital radio, while a wireless charger and four USB-C ports surround occupants with charging options. The centre screen itself is crisp and quick to touch, but the software isn’t as intuitive as previous generation Volkswagen Group systems we have experienced and we think it should have live services for the pricetag. But the sound system is reasonable, and the wireless smartphone mirroring is slick as well – once connected, we didn’t have any issues with it.
The standard digital driver’s display – called Active Info Display by Volkswagen – adds a rich feel to the cabin with its excellent graphics and configurability. Having a map in front of the driver is a great feature that we wish all similar systems featured, but if you don’t want it, you can easily change it to a different look. The sheer number of options in the screen can mean that it takes a while to set to your liking, but after learning how to control it – using the touch capacitive buttons on the steering wheel – it is easy.
The Golf remains spacious for a small hatchback. While not quite as roomy as an i30 N, the back seat of the Golf is totally fine for two six-footers and it’s well featured as well with rear vents, a separate climate zone, big flock-lined door bins, map pockets with dedicated phone slots, two USB-C charging ports, an armrest with cup holders and a ski pass through.
The boot of the Golf GTI measures 374-litres with the seats up and 1,260L with them folded – 6L/10L respectively less than the boxier Mk7.5 Golf – the i30 N’s measures 381L, for reference. The boot is quite well featured with hooks, storage and a boot floor that can be lowered for more storage. Underneath the lower boot floor is a space-saver spare wheel.
Service & Warranty: 6.5/10
The 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI comes with the same five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty that is offered with all Volkswagen products. The Golf also comes with 12 months of roadside assistance that is extended by a further 12 months at every schedule service at a Volkswagen service centre for the lifetime of the car.
Servicing the Golf GTI comes around every 12 months or 15,000km. The cost to service the GTI over the span of five years/75,000km is a big $3,842 ($768.40 annually). In comparison, the Hyundai i30 N has shorter service intervals at 12 months or 10,000km but only costs $1,675 ($335 per service) over the span of five-years or 50,000km. Buyers can lessen the service cost by choosing a service pack at the time of purchase: five years/75,000km costs $2,950 ($590 per service).
2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.0/10
The Golf GTI has always been popular with enthusiasts with a need for practicality but a want for performance and fun. While this eighth generation iteration has grown and become a little less user friendly, we do still love it. We love its eagerness and performance ability, how solid it feels on the road and how comfortable it is in every day use.
Yes, it is quite expensive to service and may not have as much power as some rivals, but the interior is a nice place to be, it drives quite well and handles like its on rails. Would we consider a Golf GTI to scratch our hot hatch itch? We definitely would. We love the GTI and though it has its flaws, it really has its place in the modern hot hatch market.