The MK7 Golf GTI is now dead, a fate confirmed by the emergence of a number of spy shots of the new MK8 Golf GTI, so I thought as a former owner of a MK7 GTI, it would be nice to write a tribute to the enduring hot hatch.
The Golf GTI has been the de facto answer to “which hot hatch should I get?” for seven generations, a tradition I am sure will continue with the new car. For years it has been the go-to hot hatch for when the downtrodden masses decide to take a break from being oppressed long enough to realise they want a sporty ride to call their own too. The Golf GTI is practical, reliable, relatively quick, fun to drive, and affordable. That was true for the first generation way back in 1975; it was true for the seventh generation when it launched in 2013; and I’d bet a lot of money that it will be true for the new one. Consequently, the sheer reliability of the GTI’s competence has made it a bit… boring.
That was the thought in the back of my mind when I bought my MK7 GTI back in 2017, although obviously it was just a slight niggle as I liked it enough to purchase one. The design is fantastic, I love the shape of the headlights and the light signature at night, and the bodywork is lean and athletic without coming across as faux-muscular – a trap so many hatchbacks fall into today (I’m looking at you, Ford Focus). Short overhangs, crisp lines, and not a fake vent in sight – glorious. However, aside from the dual tailpipes, red stripe along the front grille, and GTI badging, it doesn’t really look all too different from the regular Golf.
That said, it certainly was a lot quicker. Around the same time I bought my GTI, my mother had recently become the proud owner of a fully specced regular MK7 Golf, a car that she still owns to this day. Stepping from that into my GTI was like being introduced to someone’s steroidal twin. 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds and a rough 60 horsepower increase meant that front-wheel burnouts were fully within my grasp, provided you turned the traction control off. The suspension was firmer, which in rural South Africa where the roads are about as flat as a topographical map of the Himalayas, isn’t necessarily a good thing. That said, the car handled superbly and felt very comfortable doing slightly silly speeds across the Western Cape’s Garden Route, happily clawing its way across tarmac that was often more potholed than not.
This brings me to my main issue with the GTI, and this is a complaint that I feel can be levelled against many fast German cars: although it’s undeniably quick, it doesn’t really feel all that fast from inside. Now obviously we’re not talking about 911 levels of pace, but even at double the speed limit the car felt perfectly serene, or so I’m told – please don’t arrest me Mr. Policeman. Part of the issue here was that the engine noise in a MK7 GTI is pretty lacklustre, and I know four-bangers are hardly the most exciting rendition of the internal combustion engine, but still even when you’re really thrashing it the motor barely makes so much as a polite cough. This was an issue I took upon myself to solve by fitting an entirely overkill and ludicrously expensive titanium Akrapovic cat-back exhaust system. Getting the exhaust through South African customs was about as pleasant as smuggling a live chicken through UK border control by hiding it in your rectum, again so I’m told – please don’t arrest me Mr. Policeman. Nevertheless, I fitted it to my GTI, which I had lovingly named Claus, making it the only one in South Africa so well endowed, probably because no one else was idiotic enough to attempt it.
Above all, though, the biggest issue with the GTI is that the regular Golf is so competent and enjoyable to drive that you wonder what the point is. Additionally, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Golf R is basically car Jesus according to most car journalists (I haven’t driven one myself). Although I sold my GTI a few years ago, my mother’s 148bhp Golf is still with us and very much a family favourite. I absolutely love the thing, you can properly spank it and never get into any real trouble because it doesn’t have enough power to let you. It also doesn’t position itself as a car for car enthusiasts like the GTI does, which means you don’t approach it with lofty expectations that eventually lead you into a several-month-long battle with UPS and South Africa’s border control.