2018 Golf GTI Review – Preview Drive
Paul Horrell’s preview drive 2018 Golf GTI Review (and Golf R Review) with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The refreshed Golf GTI and Golf R (we’ve talked about both here) are better than ever with a touch more power and improved refinement.
2018 Volkswagen Golf R and GTI
PRICE $NA WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km ENGINE 2.0L turbo petrol 4cyl POWER 228kW at 5500-6500rpm (R) or 169kW at 4700-6200rpm (GTI) TORQUE 380Nm at 2000-5400rpm (R) or 350Nm at 1500-4600rpm (GTI) TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG (both) DRIVE all-wheel drive (R) or front-wheel drive (GTI) DIMENSIONS 4263mm (R) or 4258 (GTI) (L); 2027mm (both) (W INC MIRRORS); 1468mm (R) or 1492 (GTI) (H) TURNING CIRCLE N/A TOWING WEIGHT NA (R) or 1800kg (braked) (GTI) KERB WEIGHT 1513kg (R) or 1394kg (GTI) SEATS 5 FUEL TANK 55 litres (R) 50 litres (GTI) SPARE space saver (both) THIRST 7.5 L/100km (R) or 6.4 L/100KM (GTI) combined cycle FUEL petrol
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THE HOT GOLFS have got marginally hotter. All of them now have the option of a 7-speed DSG in place of the six-speeder, which improves sprinting and economy a little. But we drove the 6-speed manuals ’cos we’re like that. The R has gained 7kW, by burgling the engine out of the head-banging two-seat GTI Clubsport S.
The new GTI too has added 7kW. The handling and ride remain as they were, but absolutely no shame in that. Apart from that it’s changes to the cosmetics, but nothing to render the old ones instantly stale. Classier light clusters, and LED ‘sweep’ indicators at the back, are the first things you’ll notice. Inside you’ll find new infotainment systems, the flashiest of them an expensive option that’s of dubious appeal.
What’s the interior like?
The Golf cabin has always been known for being solid, for having high ‘perceived quality’. While it’s still ahead of the pack, its advantage is slipping a little – see cars such as the Peugeot 3008 which isn’t a direct rival but proves what’s possible for the price.
The Golf’s ergonomics are generally first-rate, so it’s always easy to navigate your fingers around the well-loaded list of equipment and settings. The fine detail design mostly manages to distract you from the fact that some materials are no longer quite at the leading edge for lush quality. Areas of hard surface undermine the quality of the dash, and the air vents are a bit weedy.
But the bits you hold and touch the most – the steering wheel and its buttons, the stalks, they caress your hand with great confidence. Beautiful ambient lighting helps after dark.
The R’s and GTI’s seats are firm and supportive, hugging you in during the hard cornering these cars wantonly encourage. The relationship with the pedals is perfect for most driver shapes, too.
In the back there’s class-average legroom and plenty of head height, but the tunnel is bulky so foot-space is limited for three people.
The GTI’s boot has a floor you can drop to a lower level (or keep it higher and have a second compartment beneath) giving it a strong overall size. But the R, because of the rear-axle-drive gubbins beneath, won’t let you drop the floor, so its size is limited to 343 litres unless you fold all or part of the seat. And on both the R and the GTI the seats don’t go flat.
The GTI respects heritage in its standard trim – red stitching worms its way about the place, the seats are clothed in tartan and the manual gearlever is topped off by a dimpled Golf-ball-like sphere. Party like it’s 1976. The R goes for a more sober look.
It’s the same outside actually: the GTI has red streaks through its headlamps and straked air intakes below them, while the R has more modest chrome deco and straightforward black intake grilles.
All ‘performance’ Golfs now get VW’s ‘Active Info’ display. The clocks are replaced by a 12.3-inch hi-res display that can show massive amounts of trip and consumption data, or a bird’s-eye map, or various other bits’n’bobs. But guess what, you’ll almost certainly end up just setting it back to the configuration that’s a facsimile of conventional dials. They show the most important information in the clearest and least distracting way, and they look prettiest.
Continuing the big-telly theme, in the centre dash is a new 8.0-inch touch-screen. It has good resolution and fast graphics, and can run phone mirroring, as well as its own range of online apps. It’s really all you need.
But VW is very good at selling you more than you need. So for a fat fee, that system can be upgraded to a 9.2-inch system at an eye-testing 155dpi resolution. It includes a 64Gb drive for your music files, Google Earth mapping and more. But with such a big screen you lose the volume and function/zoom knobs, replacing them with horrid glass touch buttons and idiotic ‘gesture control’ in which you wave your hand in front of the screen in the vague hope it’ll interpret your movements before you resort to an unambiguous two-finger salute (which it definitely won’t respond to.)
You’ll be grateful the climate and A/C functions still have proper hardware knobs and buttons.
What’s it like on the road?
These two Golfs use essentially the same four-cylinder turbo engine, but in different states of boost. Both of them pull gamely through most of the arc of the tacho. The GTI is if anything more responsive at low revs, because the R’s AWD has a flywheel effect. But get the R charging towards (and beyond) its red-line and there’s a definite margin of extra crazed appetite for speed.
Both of them emit a slightly tame noise when you’re mooching about, but the note hardens as you concentrate the revs and throttle mix. You can opt, via the ‘drive mode’ menus, for a bit of electronic augmentation, a bassier undertone. But it’s often a half-beat off sync with what the engine’s up to, exposing its fakery.
The six-speed transmission is reasonably precise, but the gate is narrow so it takes a bit of practice to reliably trace a 2-3 shift in a hurry, not 2-5. The new seven-speed DSG has worked eagerly in other cars I’ve tried it in, but in the case of these two Golfs I stuck to manuals.
Both the GTI and the R feel buttoned down to the road, meaty and planted. And yet ready to pivot instantly when you turn the wheel, and they feed back their efforts through the steering wheel and the chair. This is what you want in a hot hatch, and these two have it nailed.
The R plainly has immense traction, and it’s backed up by strong lateral grip too. The joy of it is in the communication: you sense as that grip is getting to the point of exhaustion. After that you can just slightly trim the attitude on the throttle. But the main thing is the way it talks to you, and the confidence this brings. It doesn’t want to go into drift angles like you can in a Subaru WRX.
The GTI will move around more. Pin the throttle down and it understeers, lift and it’ll edge the back tyres outward, and all in safety if you keep the ESP in its sport setting. And on the road you should. Other hot hatches will amplify these tendencies, but the Golf really does feel superbly calibrated for road driving. It also resists torque steer, which trips up so many rivals.
I’m talking dry surfaces here of course. Throw in some rain (I’m writing from England) or dusty Australian roads and the R’s extra traction out of slow bends would be decisive.
Amid all that, this pair retains a perfectly decent ride. I drove them on standard dampers rather than the adaptive setup. Tyre and chassis noise is well muffled compared with many superheated hatches. The compromise these Golfs stretch is wonderfully broad.
What about the safety features?
The pre-facelift Golf was a strong performer in NCAP tests. Airbag count is seven, including curtain airbags along the whole sides, plus side bags for the front seat.
The new one builds on that passive protection package with new active safety accident-avoidance features. Among those is a driver fatigue detection system. Front Assist with City Emergency Brake (City EB) is also standard across the whole Golf range now, as is a rear-view camera (RVC). The GTI and R get park sensors.
An optional driver support pack includes Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Assist, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Traffic Alert. On the DSG models this will allow the car to control its speed down to a stop, and support your steering. It doesn’t work in busy cities but can be a useful fatigue reducer on highway snarl-ups. It’s not a full highway speed semi-autonomous driving system though.
The Golf can now be had with LED headlamps that actively follow the road, and remain at high beam while blanking off parts of the light so as not to dazzle others on the road. For night driving in rural areas, these have got to improve safety.
Why would you buy one?
As we said, these two refreshed models are much like they were with a touch more power but key tweaks to the body and the interior that make them feel, if not like all-new models, freshened up enough to feel new and exciting. The GTI is lighter than its all-wheel drive sibling but both are great to drive and it’ll arguably come down to pricing and whether you’re using the hot-shoe Golfs as A to B transport as well as for weekend fun.
Against key competitors, the two Golfs might not be as raucous but they feel better built, better equipped, more comfortable and just as sharp as ever.