What’s in a name? GT, GTi, GTS… and do they mean anything any more?
Car Makers slap GT, GTi and GTS onto just about anything these days, so, does a flash badge on a performance car really mean anything now?
BACK IN THE OLD DAYS a sportscar was a specialised, stripped out machine focused purely on performance. Today, a Lotus Elise is as close as modern cars get to old-time sports cars.
Sportscars weren’t very practical, and they certainly weren’t the sort of vehicle you’d take on longer trips, so the ‘grand tourer’ or GT was born. This was a larger, in most cases, but still quick, enjoyable car with a sporting focus, but one that had enough practicality and storage capacity to be able to handle longer trips and overnighters with some comfort and luxury. The term ‘grand tourer’ is still in use today, and still applies to such cars. Grand tourers are also known as “gran turismo” (Italian) and less commonly as “grand routiere” (French) cars.
However, the automotive industry has never been one to be clear about names, so now the term “GT” is used on all manner of sportscars and racecars, for example the GT1, GT2, GT3 and GT4 championships. Examples in car designations are the Toyota GT86, HSV GTS, Ferrari GTB, Mitsubishi GTO and in general anything with “GT” means the manufacturer intends the car to be sporty, even if that’s often wishful thinking – and we’re looking at the Kia pro_cee’d GT. Sure, it’s a good little car for the money, but it’s not ‘GT’.
Yet go the other way and the Toyota 86 in particular is a long, long away from any concept of a grand tourer, and some others are rather more luxury than cruiser. There’s also the racing simulation game Gran Turismo, known as GT. Finally, to “help” matters, some cars are badged GTS (GT Sport), GTR (GT Racing) or some other extra letter… and there’s even GTD, to cover off on performance-oriented diesel cars, particularly those from the VW Group.
Now to the GTi, which is “grand tourer, injection”. The injection part referred to the method of fuel delivery into the engine’s cylinders, computer-controlled injection rather than use of a mechanical carburetor. Fuel-injected cars offered significantly more power and efficiency compared to the old carbies, and at the time when the industry changed over many cars proudly carried a small ‘i’ after their engine capacity, and indeed that badge became something of a status symbol amongst the traveling salesman of the UK during the late 1970s and ’80s. Today, fuel injection has entirely replaced carburetors so there’s no point of difference any more. The GTi badge was first popularised via the Volkswagen Golf GTi in 1975, and then cemented with the Peugeot 205 GTi.
But that’s what GTi stands for, not what it means, and for that we need to look at the term ‘hot hatch’. This term started to be used in the UK around the mid-1980s, and referred to a sporting variant of a normal compact hatchback car.
Typically, hot hatches would have more powerful engines, wider and grippier tyres, retuned suspension, improved brakes and various external and cosmetic flourishes. The idea behind the hot hatch was that buyers could get a sporty vehicle yet not compromise on day-to-day practicality as you’d have to for the likes of a more focused car such as a coupe. Prices were affordable too, as the hot hatches shared a platform and much componentry with their plainer cousins. Oddly, GTis were never grand tourers as in long-legged luxury sports cruisers, but rather more basic zippy suburban runabouts so the “GT” part of GTi is a misnomer. Not that it matters now.
So what’s the difference between a GTi and a hot hatch? A hot hatch is the generic term for any ‘sporty’ version of a hatchback. A GTi, on the other hand, is a badge applied to specific hot hatches (but also sometimes other small, fast cars) by certain manufacturers, most notably the hot hatch leaders Volkswagen and Peugeot, but also Nissan, Mitsubishi, Rover, Seat and Suzuki. This makes the GTi badge unusual because it is shared by several different manufacturers. A grand tourer is a luxury sportscar more suited to cruising than racing, and “GT” in any car badge means some measure of sportiness.
Bottom line? Badges are often more aspirational than actual, so work off independent car reviews more than what is promised by the letters on the back.