What is the best GTI VW sell?

27th April 2018
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

One track. The three members of VW’s modern GTI range. And a guest appearance by the 40-something car that started it all. Welcome to VW’s GTI Performance Day.


Even if you know the story of how the Golf GTI came about it’s worth revisiting. With Beetle production finally drawing to a close the Golf was already a huge step forward for VW. But PR boss Anton Konrad could see further potential and convened a meeting with four like-minded colleagues from product management, chassis engineering, interior design and marketing.

Together they reckoned a Golf with slightly sharper handling, a little more power and some visual flourishes could do everything the new hatch was already doing so well. Just a bit faster. In 1975 the car was ready to share with the public, pessimists in the sales division saying “you won’t sell 500 of these GTI cars” as it made its debut. By the close of Mk1 production, VW had sold nearly half a million.

There have been ups and downs in the 40-plus years since. But GTI is now a VW sub-brand in its own right, with three models in a range topped by the latest version of the Golf.

This remains the definitive GTI and modern expression of the original values. These days that includes lapping the Nurburgring faster than Porsche 911 GT3s of just a few years back. That GTI Clubsport S is a limited-edition special but the freshly updated GTI Performance at is near-as-dammit fast while retaining all the daily conveniences (rear seats included) you’d want from any Golf. 


In most powerful front-wheel-drive cars you get some manner of steering corruption under power but the Golf remains absolutely steadfast and composed. It’s a beautifully balanced and predictable car that flatters everyday drivers but still rewards enthusiasts with an extra, ‘hidden’ level of agility. Whisper it but it’s actually more fun than the Golf R as a result. 

Swapping to the Polo is interesting. While the Golf GTI swaggers with self-confidence you sense Volkswagen still hasn’t entirely settled on the Polo’s role. While most cars in this class have downsized their engines the Polo GTI has recently graduated from a 1.4 to a 1.8 and now shares a detuned 200hp version of the Golf’s 2.0-litre.

You can get the Golf in three- or five-door form and with a choice of gearboxes. But the Polo is five-door and DSG dual-clutch auto only. It’s not that much smaller than the Golf and nor is it a great deal slower. Like for like a five-door DSG Golf GTI is £8,000 more expensive too. So, the Polo GTI is an absolute steal, right?

Reality is it’s probably for those who want the GTI look and performance. But wouldn’t call themselves out-and-out enthusiasts. Without the Golf’s fancier technology and with a gearbox that stubbornly does its own thing rather than let you take control it’s less rewarding on track than you’d hope. On the road, it’s fast, refined and well-equipped but somehow lacks that special sparkle. 


The real revelation is the Up! GTI. With this car, VW has returned to the size and spirit of the Mk1 Golf GTI with a baby hot hatch that ditches the gimmicks and concentrates on fun. The 115ps power output matches that of the Mk1, it’s pretty much the same size and its 1,070kg kerb weight is 300kg less than the modern Golf. You don’t get any driver modes, there’s no pretence it’ll lap the Nurburgring in record time and the on-paper performance stats aren’t that impressive.

None of that matters at the wheel. Because here understand why the original Golf GTI was such an instant hit. It’s a car you can safely thrash without fears it’ll bite you. It’s as fun for city streets as it is twisty country roads. It looks good, with a premium vibe but classless appeal. It costs peanuts to run but has enough toys and gadgets to make the daily commute bearable. The Golf GTI costs twice as much and has more than double the power. But the Up! GTI is not half the car.

The current Golf GTI is arguably the best version Volkswagen has yet built. But the Up! GTI might just be even better.  

  • Volkswagen

  • Up!

  • Golf

  • Polo

  • GTI

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