Should I buy a Volkswagen GTI?

This is VW’s current GTI family in its entirety and we were lucky enough to sample all three cars both on the road, and on the track, around Spain’s Ascari circuit. Though the GTI line-up isn’t intended to be a series of hardcore track monsters, all three coped remarkably well with the high-speed work on a shortened version of the famous Ascari track.

What are Volkswagen GTIs?

Consisting of the Mk7.5 Golf, Mk6 Polo and Mk1 Up!, they’ve all been breathed on by the brand’s GTI division and gifted more power, stiffer chassis, glitzy makeovers and iconic design touches such as tartan seats and the GTI’s signature red pinstripe. With power figures ranging from 113bhp for the tiny Up! GTI to 242bhp for the Golf GTI with Performance Pack, there’s certainly a wide spread of ability here; buy, all share the same end goal – to be fun pocket rockets, built with VW quality and tame enough to be more than usable day-to-day.

What’s new with the Volkswagen GTI family?

The Polo and Golf GTI ranges have been around for a while, so it’s the Up! that’s the newcomer here. VW claims its effervescent character channels that of the original Golf GTI, and being similar in size, power and weight, the comparison isn’t as mad as you might think.

The Polo is relatively new too. It’s based on the Mk6 Polo and is lower and wider than its predecessor. As in all of the three cars, there’s been a full GTI makeover – tartan seats, red pin-striping, unique alloy wheels and, in the case of the Polo and Golf, resculpted exterior fixtures all feature.


What’s under the bonnet of the VW GTI family?

The Up! GTI is the baby of the trio. It packs a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, producing 113bhp for a 0-60mph sprint of 8.6 seconds and a maximum speed of 122mph. It’s a wonderfully fizzy engine – keen to rev, more than powerful enough for the tiny body and it sounds ridiculous thanks to a portal which amplifies the engine noise into the interior. The Up! GTI doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s very appealing.

The Polo GTI is a rather more grown-up proposition. It packs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with 197bhp – it’s the same unit as the one in the Golf, but detuned slightly. The Polo’s still capable of a sub-seven-second 0-60mph sprint. Currently only available with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (a six-speed manual is coming later in the year), what it lacks in character it makes up for in performance. This is a genuinely rapid car, even if excellent refinement means it doesn’t always feel it.

Finally, the Golf. We know this car well – this Mk7.5 model is barely an update over the previous Mk7, and features a virtually identical powertrain to the outgoing model. We drove the full-fat Performance Pack model with 242bhp, in both six-speed manual and seven-speed DSG forms. Both are excellent.

What is the VW Up! GTI like to drive?

Even the baby Up! didn’t feel out of its depth, despite being pushed to its limits (and a little beyond). With a snickety manual gearshift and great response from that dinky engine, it’s great fun to throw around – though for sheer pace, it can’t keep up with its larger siblings.

How does the VW Polo GTI fare?

The Polo seemed as though it wasn’t entirely at home on track. With a comparatively porky 1,355kg kerb weight, it’s a little less willing to be chucked around.

Head onto a flowing B-road and the Polo’s balance makes for a seriously fast cruiser, though, and ample reserves of grip ensure that the car’s mature character is never in danger of becoming unstuck. For us, though the Polo is less compelling a choice than its siblings. As the prodigal middle child, it should be aiming to be the best of both worlds – in reality, it’s a compromise between the two, without the ability of the Golf nor quite the cheeky character of the Up!

Black Golf GTI driving on road in a wooded area

What about the VW Golf GTI?

It’s as good as it’s always been. Of course, for track supremacy, you’d be far better off with one of the race-biased Clubsport cars – but the standard GTI is still very quick, beautifully balanced and incredibly mature.

On track, it understandably left the Polo and Up! in its wake – you can thank the extra horsepower for that. On road, the Golf’s best feature is still its real-world pace and usability. Comfortable over all surfaces, refined and relaxing when you take it easy and powerful and punchy when you put your foot down, the Golf wears its four decades of development with pride.

What’s the VW GTI quality like?

Regardless of which model you sit in, the first impression is one of rock-solid build quality. This is a VW strong point across its entire model range, and compared with the slightly tinny feeling of many a hot hatchback it’s rather reassuring.

The feeling of quality is most exceptional in the Up! – not that it’s the best-built of the trio, but that it’s so remarkably solid for its light weight. It does suffer somewhat due to its city-car origins – there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, for example, and the included phone mount and free VW app are a poor substitute for a full-on infotainment system.


There’s no doubt that all three of these cars are true GTIs, despite being very different in character. The Up! GTI has the most to live up to – as the newest member of the family, direct successor to the brilliant Lupo GTI and spiritual successor to the Mk1 Golf, it’s been dealt a tough hand; but, the result is utterly brilliant, brimming with character and pep while remaining totally usable every day.

The Polo is immensely fast and capable, but does feel like the weaker link here. Its price tag and slightly disappointing interior are downsides and the Polo has plenty of rivals including the Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport which is cheaper than the Polo and offers more thrills, if less maturity.

Finally, the Golf. It’s the world’s most iconic hot hatchback, and one that has the most scrutiny on it every time it’s updated. And we’re glad to say it doesn’t disappoint. It may be pricey and lack the thrills of some rivals such as the wild Honda Civic Type R or Renaultsport Megane. But as a daily driver? There’s not much better, at any price.

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