Volkswagen Golf GTI 2013 new car review

Looking slightly more chiseled than its predecessor, the Golf GTI tempts you with a strong engine and handling setup.

Darren Cottingham
Darren Cottingham
Expert reviewer | Auto Media Group

Looking slightly more chiseled than its predecessor, the Golf GTI tempts you with a strong engine and handling set up to use those angles to slice through the wind at high speed. The six-speed DSG gearbox eggs you on with gear changes that seem impossibly fast, and acceleration that’s almost as rapid, repeating each rev range as you gain speed like a record skipping the groove.

The good
  • Brilliant piece of engineering made incrementally better since the last version
The not-so-good
  • Delays in engaging reverse gear

Five modes are available to fine-tune the performance of the Golf: comfort, normal, sport, eco or individual (where you can choose from a number of settings and store your favourite combination). They are selected using the touchscreen in the centre of the dash. Sport mode is a huge amount of fun, blipping the throttle automatically on the downshifts and making you sound like you know what you are doing with the heel-toe technique.

On the road

Normal mode is what you will probably use the Golf in that majority of the time unless you’re trying to be frugal. Even using it in sport mode most of the time I didn’t notice that fuel economy was particularly bad.

If you throw fuel economy caution to the wind you can use the built-in lap timer/stopwatch to measure how heavy your right foot is. Bear in mind, though, that the Golf’s front-wheel drive, 350Nm and 162kW leads to a surplus of enthusiasm overgrip, and in the wet that traction control light will be twinkling like a distant galaxy. 

VW quotes 6.5 seconds to 100kph, which is adequately rapid for most people. If you need anything faster you’ll need to stump up another $13,000 for the Golf R and that drops the time to the tonne to 5.5 seconds. Fuel consumption combined is 6.4l/100km, and driving around with sports mode on all the time and with no apparent regard for global warming, I still managed under 9l/100km.

Inside and out

Move to the inside and you’ll see tartan. The only Golf with tartan should be played at St Andrews. The Golf steering wheel follows history and features a flattened bottom. It’s trimmed in leather, as is the gear lever. The rest of the cabin is a little bit on the frugal side, but that does contribute well to the Golf’s measly 1370kg weight.

The central dashboard area contains buttons for the functions you will access via the touchscreen – radio, media, phone, voice control, satellite navigation, traffic, vehicle information and the main menu. Traffic information isn’t available in New Zealand. The entertainment system links to your phone using Bluetooth and you can stream audio, such as an internet radio station or music from your phone, directly through the speakers.

The Golf scores a 5-star EuroNCAP safety rating and comes with electronic stabilisation programme (ESP), multi-collision brake (it automatically initiates braking if you’re involved in a collision), seven airbags including driver’s knee) and some pretty sharp handling to help you avoid adverse situations yourself. If the Golf detects things are about to go really wrong it will also close the windows and pre-tension the seatbelts.

The reversing camera uses the same trick as the New Beetle, popping out from under the VW badge like a timid meerkat poking its head out of its burrow. The reversing image appears on the screen in the middle of the dashboard. It’s augmented by sensors front and back (Park Pilot). When manoeuvring slowly forwards, ParkPilot displays graphics showing you how close you are to obstacles. There’s also a kerb view on the passenger-side exterior mirror.

Overall

There are two things I didn’t like about the Golf - the first of which was the tartan seats. My mum has a five-year-old Golf GTI and it has leather which is much classier. The second problem is much more annoying and potentially could cause a minor prang.

If you change from a forwards gear to reverse while manoeuvring, it can take ages for the gear to engage. If you are facing downhill and you lift off the brake, expecting there to be some reversing power available, you can roll forward quite a way before the gearbox figures out what it needs to do. This is totally out of character with the DSG’s forward gear prowess, but as I’ve experienced it on both the TSI (read the review here) and the GTI I can only assume it’s a feature, not a bug.

The Golf GTI does take it to the Ford Focus ST, though (read our review here). I’m torn between the two. The Focus ST seems more raw (in a good way) but it’s a bit more fiddly on the inside with its terrible dashboard and small screen. The Golf is more refined both on the inside and outside, and an easier drive, plus you get the DSG gearbox, but it doesn’t quite seem such good value for money, being seven thousand more. I’d be happy with either one, though.

Note: this was reviewed as a new vehicle.

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Darren Cottingham
Darren Cottingham
Expert reviewer | Auto Media Group

I've been obsessed with cars since crashing my toy cars together as a toddler. Since then I've worked on some of NZ's biggest automotive websites. I've been reviewing cars for ten years and am passionate about driving standards, training and education.

Opinions are my own and not those of Trade Me.