It’s easily one of the most recognisable hot hatches the industry has ever seen, and now in its eighth generation, the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI has a number of fiercely competitive classmates all vying for the crown. But surely, with so much experience under its belt, the latest model is still the Obi-Wan Kenobi?
2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI: What is it?
The Golf GTI is – and always has been – a hatchback for the people, but with a sporty aptitude underscored by true performance components and credentials. It aims to be a good boy during the daily commute, while being capable of getting up to cheeky mischief on the weekends. Importantly, the GTI is not about hardcore track driving and racing. Nor is it about outright power and speed. Leave that to the Golf R.
A quick way to sum up the GTI is to simply check the specs. This is front-wheel drive and not all-wheel drive like the Golf R, so straight away this tells you acceleration is not the key attraction here. Power comes from a fourth-gen version of the now-legendary ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, generating a neat 180kW at 6200rpm, and 370Nm between 1600-4300rpm.
Unfortunately, a manual transmission option is no longer on the cards. Get with the times, people. Nobody buys a manual anymore. Although, it would be nice to row through a slick six-speed in here. But even so, this standard seven-speed dual-clutch auto ‘DSG’ ‘box is a beauty. VW has refined this style of transmission, which it basically invented (for modern cars) back in 2003. So now it’s much smoother during take-off than previous setups.
What’s the damage to the bank balance? It is a pricey one, kicking off from $55,490 in Australia (not including on-road costs). But for that you get near-premium levels of luxury and comfort, as well as some very advanced technology inside.
2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI: What does it come with?
Firstly, you’ll notice the twin digital screens across the dash, consisting of a 10-inch touch-screen for the main multimedia hub, and then a 10.25-inch screen for the instrument cluster. The main touch-screen runs capacitive technology so it can sense when and where your finger is approaching the screen, and then it prompts menus to pop up, helping you find what (it thinks) you’re looking for.
The system can connect wirelessly to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, so the apps on your phone are pushed up onto the screen. Not all apps work in this way, but a lot of the bigger apps out there do. This gives you pretty much full functionality of the app right from the touch-screen. We’re not sure how that is safer than touching your phone, because it is basically another screen. But hey, the law is the law.
With the GTI you get a standard seven-speaker sound system but you can up that to an eight-speaker premium system including a sub-woofer for around $2550. Buyers can also option for the Luxury Package that adds a sunroof, heated steering wheel, heating and cooling front seats, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat, along with a few other things, from $3950.
Passenger room in the front is really all you ever need. Volkswagen always does a great job with utilising available space and making areas seem larger than they are. And here, the low centre console and uncluttered dash design leaves a very open and airy space. Headroom is fine and the seat goes back quite a bit for good legroom.
In the back, rear passengers won’t be as comfortable but this is perfectly acceptable for this segment of vehicle. The two outside seats are obviously the place to be, offering decent legroom and a sizeable cutting in the ceiling to allow for head movement. The seats are also shaped in a sporty manner so they offer some lateral support.
Now for one of the most important aspects of any Golf GTI; practicality. Could you use this as an everyday car? With a 374L boot, you sure can. It’s not the biggest boot volume for this class, but it is enough to cater for common tasks, such as weekly shopping, gym gear, or a stack of school bags. The rear seats fold down flat to expose 1230L.
2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI: Fun factor
Boy, does this thing score highly here. This is a lot of fun to drive. Take any strip of even mildly interesting road, and the Golf GTI carves it up like a pro surfer. It is really enjoyable in Sport mode using the paddle-shifters and with ESC Sport activated. This lets away a cheeky level of wheel-slip and chirping, but not so much that you’ll get into trouble.
Charge into a tight sweeping bend, click down a couple of gears – accompanied by an automatic rev-matching system – and then feed in the power as you circle through the apex. The engine offers full torque from just 1600rpm, so, any gear, any time, you basically have a heavy push coming from behind whenever you need it.
You’ll sometimes hear the front tyres scramble for traction, but there is almost zero torque-steer. That’s because it comes with a locking differential, joining the front wheels in solid harmony. There is a playful amount of gentle understeer when you push it way too hard, especially with mild throttle applied. But, contrary to what your inhibitions might be telling you, adding more power can actually fix it. So long as the corner isn’t getting any tighter.
The ride strikes a wonderful balance between comfort and forgiveness on those crappy country roads we have in Australia, but yet it is braced enough to uphold excessive body roll and weight-shifting. It leans but tenses, like a rugby player preparing for a tackle. Electronic dampers means toggling through the Comfort and Sport modes does provide an extra layer of versatility.
VWs haven’t really been known for their pure and connected steering systems, not in modern models anyway. But the Mk8 GTI is a different story. You can feel everything through this flat-bottom sports steering wheel. This is good news because it makes the car feel very engaging and interactive with its driver. You’re not simply taken for a ride.
Acceleration is very strong, with Volkswagen claiming 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds. However, using a Racelogic Vbox we did some sprint tests and saw a best result of just 6.11 seconds. That’s impressively quick. Especially considering this is not a super-hardcore, big-wing’d back-breaker. This is as practical and as liveable as any other Golf. And it does this sprint with only 180kW, which pales against the fleet of 200kW-plus machines this has to contend with.
2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI: Should you buy one?
From around $56k before on-road costs, you’re looking at around $60k. That is a lot. The old Golf R retailed from around that figure a few years ago. But you should keep in mind this is the cleverest, most powerful and most broadly-reaching iteration we’ve ever seen.
It has stacked on some weight, standing at 1409kg tare, and the boot isn’t the biggest in its class, although still at an acceptable volume. But overall we think the latest Golf GTI is a brilliant interpretation, a modern interpretation of the vehicle genre the nameplate helped pioneer almost 50 years ago.
Head over to the Volkswagen Australia website for more info.
How does it rate against its rivals?
It’s not polite or respectful to criticise a veteran, and the same could be said here. VW knows a thing or two about building hot hatches and has being doing it, specifically for the Golf, for almost 50 years. For the latest model we can see VW has worked hard to lure in new-age buyers while also retaining its traditional fans.