2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI Pros
– Incredibly satisfying 2.0T.
– Manual gearbox is as sweet as ever.
– It’s got loads of refinement, handling, and practicality built in.
2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI Cons
– The infotainment system still seems like it’s a work in progress though it’s better than it was.
G. T. I. = Grand Tourer Injection. The Golf GTI. I always found it fascinating that “GTI” is always associated with Volkswagen as many other automakers, Peugeot and Citroën immediately come to mind, have offered GTIs of their own. But we’re in North America and there can be only one GTI and it’s celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2023.
Every legend begins with a single step. In this case, some folks over at Volkswagen went semi-rogue and skunk-worked the first GTI, and history was made. And continues to be made as the legendary GTI remains a staple among sport compact cars globally. Over the last 47 years, the sporty hatchback has faced numerous foes and never once backed down from a challenge, up until recently. The GTI, as we know it, will soon face its greatest-ever obstacle in the death of the manual transmission and transitioning into electrification. As things will never be the same, let’s enjoy the present while we still can.
40 years in North America
Wisely, Volkswagen has opted to send off the MK8 GTI with a bang. The subject of this review is one example. The arrival of the 40th Anniversary GTI was reason to celebrate but shortly thereafter, VW ruined the party with the announcement of the GTI 380. I’m distraught…
Again, and sorry, the 40th Anniversary GTI… This car is and will be forever recognizable thanks to a number of unique features such as the superb 19-inch Scottsdale alloy wheels and 40th Anniversary styling elements including the lower door decals with model name and honeycomb pattern. The former are lifted from the European GTI Clubsport and are perhaps the best-looking OEM wheels fitted to the GTI ever. Also part of the visual upgrades are black mirror caps and roof. Colour options include Pomelo yellow, classic Tornado red, Pearlescent, and, like the tester, Urano grey, which is only offered on this trim.
MK8 has grown on me
There isn’t much to say about the MK8 GTI’s looks other than it’s an acquired taste, and I’ve begun acquiring it more than ever. The same goes for the cabin. I’m still lukewarm about the user experience, but with the right mind set and enough patience, navigating the menus and dealing with the absence of physical buttons. If anything, there’s a marked improvement from the Golf R I drove about 18 months previously.
The cabin highlight come down to the incredible highly-supportive plaid seats – Volkswagen Canada’s lucky to have gotten the car back with them still bolted to the floor… There’s also the grippy sport steering wheel which wasn’t going to be returned with the car either. As always, the GTI is a spacious hatchback designed for real life usage and the MK8 is no different with a generous trunk and plenty of storage spots.
Dynamic Chassis Control with Driving Profile Selection – this is a pivotal difference between all other GTIs save for the top trim Performance. At $36,995, the 40th Anniversary GTI is the only other of its kind to be offered with the adjustable dampers. The latter can be set in up to 15 ways with varying degrees of Comfort and Sport. They are responsible for endowing the GTI with such a wide spectrum of abilities. Unlike the Honda Civic Si, it can be driven about town quaintly without fuss or working at it. On the other hand, the VW will happily carve switchbacks with the best of them without ever punishing its occupants.
That summarizes the GTI in several ways. Volkswagen’s legendary hot hatch represents the middle ground among sport compact cars where it’s comfortable and extremely dynamic. With the soon-to-be-dead 6-speed manual transmission, it’s involving and rewarding. This transmission is effortless to operate, furthering the fact that this is an everyday sporty car.
And it’s quick. The GTI’s turbocharged EA888 2.0L four-cylinder engine delivers 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the car to 100 km/h in about 6.5 seconds. Putting the torque to good use is the standard VAQ limited slip differential, a true all-season all-condition asset.
The perfect middle ground
The sport compact car segment has not been this busy since the 1990s but even so, there’s only one Volkswagen Golf GTI. The Civic Si and Hyundai Elantra N Line are it closest rivals. While both are slightly more engrossing to drive, the GTI does not compromise on refinement or performance – it’s perfect.
And will soon no longer be. With the recent announcement that the 2024 model year will be the last for the GTI and the manual transmission as a duo. This shocking news was an inevitability as the giant German automaker is moving towards electrifying its entire fleet.
The GTI as we know it and love will inevitably die however true passionate enthusiast will be around, at least I plan to be, for many decades to come. While I do not have a crystal ball, I dare think that a 2023 40th Anniversary or a 2024 model year GTI with a manual gearbox will hold its value if not appreciate slightly as few will be sold.