The Mk5 Golf ushered in a whole new rear suspension design with its four-link set-up. It greatly improved ride and handling over its predecessor, while up at the front a MacPherson strut arrangement was retained but attached to a significantly more rigid shell. For the GTI, VW lowered the suspension by 15mm all-round, with the Edition 30 a further 19mm lower than the GTI. Stiffer rear anti-roll bars were used on the GTI, being 20 per cent firmer than the standard Golf's.
Multi-link rear axle improved handling hugely
Electro-mechanically assisted steering was a first for the Golf in the Mk5 model and the GTI's system was further improved to give greater feel at high speeds. Standard ESP on all GTIs worked in conjunction with ventilated front and rear brake discs of 312mm and 286mm diameters respectively. The GTI also gained a 16-inch servo in place of other Golf models' 10-inch servo. Red-painted calipers completed the GTI brake set-up.
Big brake kits are available for this wanting to take their car on track days. Kits from Brembo start at £1,500 and rise to more than £3,000. A set of new standard brake discs and pads will set you back around £280. A dash light warning of failed ABS could be a number of faults. The most common are a failed ABS/ESP module, failed ABS pump or corrosion on the ABS sensor in one of the wheels.
18-inch wheels look best, 17s ride better...
As standard, the GTI came with 17-inch Monza alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE050 225/45 R17 tyres. The 18-inch alloys with 225/40 R18 tyres were available as an option. The same size of tyre was used on the Edition 30 and Pirelli models, but the Ed30 had unique Pescara design alloys and the Pirelli had its namesake Pirelli II wheels.
While the 18-inch alloy wheels are desirable for their looks, they can make the ride of the Mk5 GTI quite crashy over poorer surfaces, so the 17-inch alloys are a good bet if you drive a lot on pockmarked roads. The lacquer on the 18-inch wheels is also easily damaged and can lead to 'white worms' appearing under the lacquer's surface. Another downside of the 18-inch alloys is they are easy to kerb as the rim sits almost flush with the tyre.
The Mk5 GTI seems particularly susceptible to cheap tyres that can upset the handling balance noticeably. Owners recommend sticking to quality brands such as Bridgestone, Pirelli and Michelin. Another strong recommendation from owners is to have the suspension geometry checked and aligned before fitting new tyres to make sure there is no uneven wear. When test driving a Mk5 GTI, listen for a drone from the rear of the car that indicates misaligned suspension.
Stick with decent tyres to really enjoy the GTI
Also keep an ear out for worn wheel bearings rumbling away, rattles from worn suspension bushes and any clunks from the steering rack when turning left. With the car parked up, inspect the CV gaiters for any splits or tears as this is a common MoT fail on these cars.
Uprated suspension is available from the likes of KW Automotive or Bilstein and is ideal if you want to take your GTI on track days. For road use, it will compromise comfort.
"They are great cars, fast, comfortable and reasonably economical - I drove to London and back every week for three years. It was a hoot at 5:30am on the country roads and the with cruise control on would happily sit on the motorway for the rest of the journey.