New Golf GTI: too little, too late?

The arrival of a new Golf GTI is an important event, you might think. The quintessential practical performance car returns in June with either 220hp or 230hp depending on the version with prices starting at roughly the same as the old one. With a useful 6.5 seconds to 62mph and a claimed 47mpg, it ticks all the right boxes on the way to certain sales glory.

Over a quarter of Mk1 Golf sales were GTIs
Over a quarter of Mk1 Golf sales were GTIs
Or maybe not. In the showroom stakes, the GTI is a shadow of its former self. Last year VW shifted just 1,770 of them according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, or 3.2 per cent of total Golf sales.

That's a far cry from the glory days. Following its right-hand drive launch here in 1979, the Mk1 GTI climbed into UK car buyers' affections so steadily that by 1983, just over 25 per cent of all Golf sales were GTIs, according to figures from VW. That equated to more than 6,000 sales.

Same went for the Mk2. The big year was 1989, ahead of the pre-big bumper, when 30 per cent of all new Golfs wore the GTI badge.

Enthusiasm waned with the Mk3 but this next stat will surprise you. The now-reviled Mk4 was a big hit, with a whopping 17,557 GTIs sold in 1999, or 29 per cent of the total. The following year that rose to 30 per cent, even if sales were down a bit. Of course the Mk5 restored pride to the badge in 2005, but even in that first year with all the review praise it accounted for just nine per cent of Golf sales.

Mk4: critical flop but a huge sales success
Mk4: critical flop but a huge sales success
So why is this? Okay, last year was a run-out for the Mk6, but that doesn't explain it given the paucity of competition. There was no Ford Focus ST for example and the Vauxhall Astra VXR arrived late. Last year's GTI numbers actually beat 2010 sales.

More likely is competition within VW, what with the R, the GTD diesel and the Scirocco all competing. And the hot hatch market itself had deflated massively. Amazingly, the Golf GTI was actually the biggest seller among the mass-market players, even taking into account all the supermini rockets such as the Polo GTI and Abarth 500. The Renault Megane Renaultsport achieved a measly 306 sales.

Mk5 got rave reviews but sales relatively modest
Mk5 got rave reviews but sales relatively modest
With the new car starting from £25,845, perhaps it's all got a bit too expensive and that hot hatch enjoyment now lies in the affordability of the old cars. How about a mint-looking Mk1 GTI 1.8 in Lhasa Green for £5,995? Or maybe it's time for a reassessment of the Mk4 - the 150bhp 1.8T rather than the 2.0 of course. This unmolested, low-mileage car from 2001 here is a tempting £2,850.

VW has done all the right things with the new car, such stripping weight and adding a pioneering electronically controlled active limited-slip diff. But it could be all too late to apply the paddles to an ailing hot hatch market.



P.H. O'meter

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Comments (134) Join the discussion on the forum

  • jason61c 28 Feb 2013

    I'd be amazed if it does much more than 35mpg too.

  • marlons69 28 Feb 2013

    "Same went for the Mk2. The big year was 1989, ahead of the pre-big bumper, when 30 per cent of all new Golfs wore the GTI badge."

    Can someone please explain what mkII golf came ahaead of of the "pre-big bumper"...?

  • pycraft 28 Feb 2013

    I think the key factor here is the rising cost of insurance, not of the cars themselves. The hot hatch is the natural preserve of the young, who now can't afford the insurance costs.

    Astonished at how few hatches are actually sold, though. 306 Renaultsport Meganes? It does put things like Lotus sales into a different context.

  • toppstuff 28 Feb 2013

    Interesting article.

    The point that struck me was the fact that only 3.2% of Golf sales are GTI's.

    This is the crux of the matter. PH is an enthusiasts site, so there is natural selection of a like minded group here, but the reality is that "people like us" are a tiny minority.

    VW still makes the GTI because it is a good image builder and because they know the media will write about it. But it is sad state of affairs when sporting cars are being produced more for the press attention and "halo effect" it will provide on the rest of the range, rather than actual justification in sales.

    GTI's could die off today with no car maker ever making any in the future, and the financial impact on the car companies would be negligible.

    And with the number of young people even bothering to take their test falling quite dramatically, this state of affairs is not likely to improve.

    We are a dying group !!

  • BRMMA 28 Feb 2013

    I'd say the biggest competition to the Golf GTI is the Golf GTD

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