- Available from around £11,000
- 2.0 litre TSI petrol inline four-cyls
- Extremely capable and rapid 5-seat hatch
- 2017 facelift freshened looks and added power
- Clubsport S was most powerful Golf ever
- Watch out for coolant leaks from the thermo housing/water pump
- Sunroofs and doors can be surprisingly rattly/leaky
Bringing sharp new lines and a certain lightness of foot to the Golf's well established attributes of classless refinement, practicality, comfort, and composure, the MQB-platformed Mk7 was welcomed as a significant new chapter in the Golf story when it debuted at the Paris Show in September 2012.
The big question for PHers of course was, what would the quick one be like? We found out in 2013 when the GTI was launched.
Historically, GTI Golfs have always been carefully considered by Volkswagen. Sometimes a bit too carefully from a power perspective, to the detriment of the badge. Sure enough, if you looked at the numbers on their own, the 217hp Mk7 GTI looked like another disappointment. Contemporary rivals like the Focus ST-3 and the Megane 265 had a lot more power (250hp and 265hp respectively) and were cheaper (£25,495 and £26,455) than the £27,915 GTI.
But Golfs have always had a knack of adding up to more than the sum of their parts, and the Mk7 GTI was no exception. For fast everyday driving, peak torque is where it's at, and at 258lb ft the GTI was just 7lb ft down on the two rivals we've just mentioned. Better yet, its torque peak began at a usefully lower point in the rev range (1,500rpm against 1,750rpm and 3,000rpm).
Intelligent marshalling of the 2.0 turbo's output through either a six-speed manual or a DSG dual-clutch auto gearbox, plus low weight (around 1,350kg vs 1,430kg for the Ford and 1,390kg for the Renault) gave the GTI a 0-62 time in the mid-sixes and in-gear acceleration times that were also very class-competitive. On top of all that, the chassis was reputedly honed by the engineer responsible for the 997 Porsche GT3, so it handled brilliantly for a front-driver.
Being a Golf it was a strong ownership proposition too, with good cargo space, plenty of room for passengers front and back, and a surprisingly reasonable insurance classification. If you really felt short-changed on power you could buy a Performance Pack to create the GTI Performance. This gave you a power hike to 230hp, bigger brakes all round, and a VAQ limited-slip diff (which we'll get into later), all for less than £1000 on top of the base price.
Unsurprisingly this was taken up by nearly half of Mk7 GTI buyers. In the used market, that price gap between the GTI Performance and the straight GTI has actually increased over time, thanks to the GTI-P's relative rarity and the bargainaceous perception of the Pack's price when it was new.
In case you're wondering, we haven't forgotten about the 300hp all-wheel drive Golf R which came out in 2014. That's a car we'll be shining a separate torch on because we don't want to deny the GTI its own place in the spotlight, especially as by general agreement it's a very well deserved place.
Road tests are one thing, but the proof of a car's pudding from a used buyer's perspective is not just how it performs for a day or a month, but how it stacks up over much longer periods. Here, the Mk7 GTI really scores. A chap from one of the big car monthlies had a long-termer for the best part of a year. At the end of his time with it, he gave it five stars and talked about the 'colossal' appeal of its brilliant design, engineering and execution. He wasn't the only one either - and that's actually quite a big thing.
When a journo gets to the end of a long-term test, they'll generally have a few negatives to report. You won't find many in any of the long-term Mk7 GTI reports. It's fashionable to have a sly dig at car journos for being in the pocket of the manufacturers. That's been an urban myth for a very long time. The writer of the piece you're reading now has been around for far longer than he perhaps should have been, but even he has to cast his mind very far back indeed to recall any proven instances of cheques-in-the-post type journalistic mischief. Those scribblers who were lucky enough to have the keys of a Mk7 GTI tossed on their desk knew full well how lucky they'd been by the end of their tenure, and they didn't need a bung to say so.
There was a GTI Mk7.5 facelift in early 2017 which brought new bumpers, new LED lights front and rear, 18in wheels, a slick new infotainment package, Active Info Display (VW's version of Audi's Virtual Cockpit) and the option of a new 9.2in Drive Pro Navigation system with gesture control. Power was lifted to 230hp/258lb ft in the standard GTI and to 245hp/273lb ft in the 1,397kg Performance version. In Performance guise the 7.5 was given the DQ381 7-speed version of the DSG auto, which knocked about 10 percent off top gear revs.
Just before the 7.5 came out, a Clubsport Edition 40 popped up in late 2016 to celebrate the GTI's 40th birthday. Sitting between the standard car and the R, and available in 3- or 5-door bodystyles, it had 265hp between 5,350-6,600rpm and up to 290hp for 10-second bursts on overboost. Torque was 258lb ft from 1,700rpm to 5,300rpm with 280lb ft on overboost, and the 0-62 time was around 6.1sec. There was a small rear diffuser to cut lift, plus retuned dampers and 10 per cent stiffer springing. Standard tyres were 18in Bridgestones, with Megane 275-type Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 19-inchers as an option.
The Clubsport Edition 40 started at £30,935 for the 3-door or £32,290 for the DSG. Five-door cars began at £31,540. A thousand were commissioned by VW UK but we're not sure what percentage of that number actually sold because 'high-number' cars seem strangely absent from specialist forums. Dealers were busy putting out the new 7.5s at the time and the CS may have been seen as a bit of a distraction to be quietly leaked onto the market among the common herd as and when. Whatever, the Clubsport 40 was described by Dan Prosser as the fastest and most engaging GT to date.
That all changed about four months later when the Clubsport S was launched. Shorn of its back seats to trim 30kg off the straight Clubsport's weight, with another 15kg trimmable by deleting the aircon, this 310hp/280lb ft track-focused car had a 0-62mph time of 5.7sec and a top speed of 165mph. It also had a named amount of downforce (8kg front, 17kg rear), and this was a key factor in allowing VW's engineers to make significant changes to the suspension. The most powerful and fastest Golf ever, its Individual drive mode was set up specifically for the Nürburgring. That specialisation allowed it to hold the 'ring record for front-drive production cars at 7min 47sec until the Honda Civic Type R nabbed it. Four hundred CSSs were built. 150 of them came to the UK, and every one was sold before deliveries started.
If you want and/or need a 3-door GTI, the Mk7 is your last chance because all Mk8 Golfs from late last year (2019) are 5-door only. At heart, the current Mk 8 GTI is essentially a Mk7.5 GTI Performance with 245hp and the 7-speed DSG gearbox.
SPECIFICATION | VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI MK7
Engine: 1,984cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic (7-speed on 7.5 Performance model), front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 220@4,500-6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@1,500-4,400rpm
Top speed: 153mph
MPG: 47.1 (official combined)
CO2: 139g/km (DSG 148)
On sale: 2013-2019
Price new: £27,915
Price now: £10,000-£35,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Like internet speeds, car performance isn't always just about the numbers. Specs only tell a part of the story. The GTI's EA888 engine may only have 220hp but it's a do-it-all peach, being both torquey low down and rewarding high up. Squirting past traffic in an intermediate gear is a cinch. You'll rarely be left wishing you were in a more powerful car.
The official combined fuel consumption figure is a somewhat unbelievable 47.1mpg, which we guess must have been set while driving in a funeral cortege with a hangover while the car was in its Eco setting. The best figure you're likely to see on the readout is probably going to be 40mpg, and the worst around 18mpg, with a real-world average somewhere in the high 20s or low 30s.
These engines are known for liking a sip of oil. Nothing to worry about there other than the cost of putting upwards of a litre of synthetic in If the oil light comes on. EA888 timing is by chain, and this is classified as a non-serviceable item, but as seems to be the way with just about anything that a manufacturer assures us is fit for a lifetime, in actuality there's no such thing. The Mk6 GTI (which also used the EA888 engine) did suffer from chain tensioner problems. These resulted in the expensive lunching of quite a few engines, but VW did more than one redesign on this component and as far as we're aware the Mk 7 has got this particular bear off its back.
The pump in the fuel tank can fail and the thermostat housing/water pump assembly can leak to a greatly varying degree, from hardly anything to A Lot. Just keep your eye on it. Turbos on pre-2016 models did have a reputation for blowing. VW dealers (in the States anyway) were good about replacing these on non-tuned cars. We're not sure whether the UK was quite as generous, though.
The VAQ limited-slip diff that came with the GTI Performance is interesting. At the time that the Mk7 was coming onto our roads, manufacturers were well into software LSD, using a car's ESP brain to clamp on individual wheel brakes for optimum progress through corners. Volkswagen was a prime mover in this area, and the regular Mk7 GTI had an XDS+ electronic-braking diff-mimicker.
VAQ was different though. A proper Haldex-style mechanical LSD with a mutliplate clutch between the differential and the right driveshaft, it rerouted power to the outside wheel in bends rather than bleeding power off through braking, interfacing with the car's brain to get the necessary throttle position, steering angle and whatnot info required to optimise the operation.
The GTI Performance was the first production front-driver to feature this kind of electronically-controlled diff lock. Around the Ring, the VAQ translated into an 8.5sec difference between two identical Sciroccos, one of them with the system and the other one not. On a wet British road, where you can take ridiculous liberties tromping on the throttle, it's nothing short of a revelation.
The Mk7's 6-speed DQ250 DSG auto was a £1,415 option that was replaced by the DQ381 7-speeder in the Performance version of the 7.5, but not in the regular GTI. That didn't bother everybody as many were quite happy with the way their old DQ250 6-speeder operated. One common, not to say perennial, criticism of the DSG, in either 6- or 7-speed guise, is that it tends to want to change up to a higher gear quite early and that it can be dull-witted in non-Sport mode when you're calling for acceleration after coasting into a roundabout or trying to exit a side junction. Putting the gearbox into Sport will sharpen that response up a bit (even when the engine is in Eco).
If you're the sort who likes to boot it, bang on the brakes and then boot it again, you might be better off with the manual. Some testers preferred the manual transmission to the DSG auto on the grounds that the manual kept the Golf nearer to its more feelsome rivals in the area of driver engagement. Note however that manual clutches are not mega-long lasting.
If you're a smoother type of driver who is not that bothered about what you might be missing in the CS or CSS experience, the DSG is a more than acceptable helpmate for the engine. The 7-speed had 80,000-mile service intervals rather than the 40,000 intervals of the 6-speed. Don't ignore these intervals.
The standard exhaust makes a decent noise, with amusing upshift flatulence on DSG cars. For more noise and a bigger overdraft you could blow £3,500 on a full Akrapovic system (£4,500 including the rear diffuser), or you could save money by modding the stock system. Options there could include a Remus backbox, a VagSport resonator delete for under £200 which reportedly cuts out motorway drone, or a Clubsport backbox with Mk 7.5-sized tailpipes (slightly smaller than those of the Remus).
The GTI rode 15mm lower than a normal Golf, but that didn't stop it having a lovely mix of ride and handling even on Britain's notoriously bad B-roads. 'Individual' in the Driving Mode Selection menu - which also had Eco, Sport and Normal modes - permitted an owner to pick their own combination of steering, engine and acceleration (and, in DSG cars,h gearbox) responses.
Electronically-controlled Adaptive (also known as Dynamic) Chassis Control was an £815 option to adjust the suspension. This had Sport, Comfort and Normal settings, but magazine testers quickly found there to be little point in using anything other than Normal, so you shouldn't fret if a car you're looking at doesn't have D(or A)CC.
Rear dampers do fail but that's a handy excuse for bunging in a set of Bilsteins. Suspension rattles generally are not unknown. Front top mounts and wishbone bushings go. The biggest compliment you can pay to the speed-sensitive steering is that you'd never know it had anything other than normal assistance. It's sharp and pointy.
Those distinctive five-spoke Austin 18in diamond-cut alloys are extremely easy to kerb. They will also develop 'white worm' if you give them half a chance. At £985 the 19in Santiago alloys were a popular option. For an aggressive look, 19x8 wheels with 235/35 tyres or even 19x8.5s with 245/35s will do the job with no rubbing.
The sensor for the windscreen washer fluid was apparently quite sensitive to certain types of fluid and could flounce off in protest. One odd foible you might find is the electric handbrake deploying itself while you're reversing, but only if you unlatch your seat belt for a better view back. The car is worried about you and wants to protect you. Aww.
The GTI came in three- or five-door bodystyles, but there was no estate. Fast shifting requirements were fulfilled by the GTD diesel wagon, which was more nose-heavy to drive but then it was also dishing up fuel consumption figures beginning with a 6 so it seemed churlish to complain.
Most would agree that the Mk7's low, wide stance, neatly blended bodykit, slanty headlights, red grille stripe and twin exhaust make it one of the best-looking Golfs ever. Other cool style-ensharpening details like the parallelogram fuel filler flap help to take your mind off the fact that the Seat and Skoda takes on this hot MQB platform were quite a bit cheaper than Volkswagen's. It was ever thus though.
Parking sensors were standard front and rear, and they produced a handy graphic on the screen to help you if the first owner didn't spec a £165 rear-view camera. If you did crack a bumper, the material used by Volkswagen is heat-upabble so you can have it melted and filled. That's not always the case with some premium marques. Some Mk7.5 owners actually might not mind leaving a crashed front end in an unmended state if it altered the somewhat cheesy looking bumper strakes.
Other options included Front Assist radar to spot stuff in your way, and City Emergency Braking which did what the name says when stuff got in your way and the car thought you weren't going to do anything about it. GTI sunroofs are very famous for leaking, squeaking and rattling. They can actually create cracks in the roof itself, which is a bit scary. Mk7 GTI bodies generally can develop a surprising amount of rattling, especially in the door area. Water sometimes gets in through the doors as a result of poor seals. Loose check straps will create creaking when opening and closing a door. VW dealers will ask you for over £100 to fix it.
The smallish (50 litre) petrol tank in the GTI meant you'd be stopping for fillups more often than might be the case in other performance hatches. Your brim-to-brim range would effectively be under 300 miles.
Getting into a Mk7 GTI will give even Mr Freeze a nice warm feeling, and not just because somebody left the heated seats on. The quality, fit and touch of the materials is beyond reproach and generates a deep sense of satisfaction every time you climb aboard.
Those heated seats were included with bi-xenon headlights and heated washers in the £355 Winter Pack. Standard seats are comfy and supportive, the optional sports seats ramping up the support with no obvious reduction in comfort. The 8in central touchscreen was nice although it could go blank. Pressing the on button for 10 seconds to do a hard reset would normally sort it, but that wouldn't necessarily be a permanent solution. Generally speaking though all the tech, connective or otherwise, worked with the easy authority you'd come to expect from a modern Golf.
When you think of a Golf, you probably wouldn't immediately think 'Scotland', but it's hard not to if the GTI you're looking at buying has the standard Jacara Red 'tartan' cloth trim (black leather being a £1,700 option). On the other hand, when you think of a Golf, you might well think of the golf that is a good walk spoilt. Even if you don't, you might do when you see the dimply golf ball gearknob on manual versions.
If you like your choons, Dynaudio sound is considered to be a very worthwhile option. The metal on the Start/Stop button can flake up and stab you in the thumb, and the heater matrix can fail. One of those is a £1500 repair, guess which one.
Some will scorn the GTI 'because it's a Golf', but that will be their loss. This is a car that works on many, many levels, and it's a great under-the-radar performance hatch option that won't attract too much attention - compared to the R at least.
It would be easy to categorise the GTI as a car for all seasons and just leave it at that, but doing would be criminally underestimating the depth of its talent. Other cars may be more exciting, but few will deliver so much, so consistently.
You can find damaged/repaired Mk7 GTIs for under £10,000 (and there are plenty of them out there, sadly) but realistically you'll be looking at a five-figure sum to join the club. The good news is that these cars hold their value well. When the 2013 GTI was new, its 3-year residual value was 52%. On a Focus ST-3 it was 38%.