2023 volkswagen golf gti feature

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review: Still the Hot Hatch to Have?

I’ve owned my 2011 Volkswagen Golf GTI for nearly a decade now. It was my first car and I give it credit for teaching me nearly everything I know about cars today. While your average Joe messed around with 1990s Toyotas and 2000s Subarus, the Golf GTI became my generation’s WRX and I threw every aftermarket part I could get my hands on at my MK6 GTI. In a roundabout way, that car helped me get to where I am today.

It helped nurture a passion for automotive that’s led to memorable drives in Lamborghinis and Bentleys. You’d have to pry the keys out of my hands for me to let it go UNLESS you hand me the keys to a new MK8 Golf GTI like the one that I’m testing here.

Is the Volkswagen Golf GTI still the hot hatch to buy? Take one look at the interior and it’s clear that three generations of Golf have progressed the vehicle from a technological perspective, but it’s a hot hatch for the masses, so is it still fun to drive? Let’s check it out.

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2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

Volkswagen Golf GTI at a Glance

High PointLow PointVerdict
The fit and finish on the interior are exactly what you’d expect at this price point. It starts with a comfortable steering wheel, precise controls, and enough power to have some fun when you need it. The new ‘Vehicle Dynamics Manager’ is a game changer for the platform.With less theatre all around compared to its rivals, there’s a reason many are calling this a ‘mild hatch’ by today’s standards. If you want something that goes around a racetrack well, look elsewhere. I could point the finger at the infotainment system as it’s mildly frustrating, but you’ll get used to it.Still the best ‘do it all’ hot hatch on the market. It won’t blow you away with its outright performance but it’s well-balanced and the technology inside and out isn’t lagging behind the competition anymore, even if the infotainment is a headache.

How Much Does the Volkswagen Golf GTI Cost?

The 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI is priced at $53,100 plus on-road costs, which means you’ll be looking at nearly $60,000 AUD before it even lands on your driveway. That’s nearly $10,000 more than I paid for my Golf GTI back in 2011 ($42,990), however, technology has come a long way and cars are simply getting more expensive. Today, it’s hard to fit the new VW Golf GTI into the ‘hot hatch’ box as we knew it.

Cars like the Polo GTI and Hyundai i20N are priced from $34,990 plus on-road costs and are better aligned with the traditional ‘hot hatch’ ingredients of power, lightness, manual gearbox, and maximum driver engagement for an affordable price.

The car that defined the segment back in June 1976 is doing its best to figure out where to plant its roots today as buyers look for larger cars with more standard specifications. However, that’s not to say that it misses out on any of the performances because the Mark 8 Golf GTI is still a very fun car to drive.

In many ways, I’d argue that it’s looking to redefine a new segment of ‘premium performance hatches’ that sit below the mental Golf R and Honda Civic Type R.

If you were to ask Volkswagen Group Australia Managing Director, Michael Bartsch, he’d have a stronger opinion on the competition.

“Almost anyone can take a brand’s standard hatchback and make it stiffer and faster. This is not in itself an accomplishment. The art that continues to elude the GTI’s imagined competitors is to build a car that is as civilised in daily deployment as you choose, but which can be an accomplished sports car when you wish.”

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“It is these virtues, coupled with a classic rather than kitsch design and the latest in on-board technology, that will ensure the GTI and, next year, the Golf R Mark 8, continue to outsell ‘rivals’ by a great margin.”

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2023 volkswagen golf gti front dashboard and interior
The dashboard has a driver-focused cockpit-like design. | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

What is the Volkswagen Golf GTI Like on the Inside?

Some of the biggest changes from the MK7.5 to MK8 Golf GTI variants start on the inside of the car. It begins with the ‘Innovision Cockpit’ that debuted in the Touareg and is fitted as standard in the Golf GTI.

You’ll notice the fixed headrest seats that remind me of the optional Recaro seats from the MK5 R32 and MK6 R and all but add to the sporty appearance on the inside. I’d prefer the classic shift knob over the little nub to select drive modes as there’s nowhere to rest your hand on longer journeys.

The ‘Innovision Cockpit’ also includes a Digital Cockpit Pro with a high-quality 10-inch Discover Pro infotainment system that includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s no resolution drop in either system and the overall speed is above average, but far from tablet-like.

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The digital instrument cluster reminds me of a Porsche with the central rev counter | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

The driver’s display is fully customisable and I love the addition of the centre rev-counter option with cool GTI-specific graphics that instantly remind me of the Porsche GT3.

In many ways, the interior has been thoroughly thought out. The wireless charger fits my giant Samsung S23 Ultra and it even features a clamshell design that clamps down on the phone to stop it from moving around. There are two USB-C ports and lined door bins to prevent rattling, but that’s where the buck stops.

The capacitive steering wheel controls have been spoken about ad nauseam by every car reviewer on the internet for their frustration-inducing idiosyncrasies. Having just been at the launch of the new Volkswagen Amarok, I was reminded why physical buttons are often the only logical answer to simple controls like track skip, volume, and climate.

Slider controls for temperature and volume just below the infotainment screen work fine during the day, but lack any backlighting so they quickly become a guessing game at night. Like many commuters in Sydney, I travel through the Harbour Tunnel every single day and having to go into the screen to adjust aircon recirculation amongst a myriad of menus is a simple frustration.

If it’s any consolation prize, spy shots of the facelifted 2024 VW Golf models showcase a new screen layout with the potential for backlighting on the slider panels.

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Volkswagen introduced a two-stage ESP intervention system. | Image: Supplied

How Does the Volkswagen Golf GTI Drive?

There are a few key features to call out that take the new generation Golf GTI to the next level. It starts with the new Vehicle Dynamics Manager that controls the electronically controlled shock absorbers (Adaptive Chassis Control) and differential lock to enhance the lateral dynamics of the vehicle.

Adding to this, Volkswagen introduced a two-stage ESP intervention system that now offers an ESP Sport Off setting alongside the ESP Sport setting. Both will still activate in emergencies with the Front Assist safety feature. The result is a car that doesn’t cut power at a sniff of wheel spin, a typical drawback of front-wheel drive vehicles.

I’ll also give special mention to the electronically controlled shock absorbers (Adaptive Chassis Control) that are now adjustable on a slider through the infotainment system. There are pre-configured drive modes, however, if you want to fine-tune your ride from comfy to sharp just slide the slider.

2023 volkswagen golf gti whats under the bonnet
The 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

What Powers the Volkswagen Golf GTI?

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI Specifications
Engine2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine
Power180kW at 5000 rpm
Torque370Nm at 1600 rpm
Drive-typeFront-wheel drive with LSD
TransmissionDQ381 7-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) with twin wet clutches
Weight1,477kg tare weight
Acceleration0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds

Under the bonnet of the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI you’ll find the fourth evolution of the brand’s famous EA888 engine. A 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces a modest 180kW at 5000 rpm and 370Nm at 1600 rpm.

It’s a fair chunk less than its competitors that eclipse the 200kW mark, however, it doesn’t lack much for acceleration, completing the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.4 seconds.

The engine is matched to a 7-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) with twin wet clutches. It’s come a long way since the gearbox in my 10-year-old Golf and you’ll struggle to tell the difference between the DQ381 and the torque converter automatic in the standard TSI in terms of smoothness. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a baby Porsche PDK, but it’s getting pretty close.

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The Volkswagen Golf GTI received a 5-star ANCAP safety rating in 2019. | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

Is the Volkswagen Golf GTI Safe?

The Volkswagen Golf GTI received a 5-star ANCAP safety rating when it launched back in 2019. Scores were measured as 95 per cent for adult occupant protection, 89 per cent for child occupant protection, 80 per cent for safety assistance, and 76 per cent for vulnerable road user protection. The full test can be read here.

For this model year, the Volkswagen Golf GTI receives the brand’s new IQ.DRIVE level 2 autonomous safety equipment that can accelerate, brake and maintain the Golf’s position within that lane in open road driving situations. This includes the following features:

  • Travel Assist
  • Front Assist with Pedestrian and Cyclist Monitoring
  • Adaptive cruise control (ACC)
  • Lane Assist
  • Oncoming vehicle braking when turning
  • Driver Fatigue Detection
  • Side Assist
  • Rear Traffic Alert
  • Rear View Camera (RVC)
  • Park Assist
  • Emergency Assist
  • Exit Warning System
  • Parking distance sensors, front & rear
  • Manoeuvre braking, front & rear
  • Tyre Pressure Loss Indicator

In addition to IQ.DRIVE, the GTI’s standard safety systems include:

  • Driver’s airbag
  • Front passenger airbag
  • Front side airbags
  • Rear side airbags
  • Curtain airbags, front and rear
  • Front and rear seat belt tensioners
  • IsoFix and top tether child seat anchors
  • Proactive occupant protection system
  • Multi-collision brake
  • Front and rear seat belt unfastened warning

RELATED: 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid Review.

2023 volkswagen golf gti front wheel design
2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

Man of Many’s Verdict on the Volkswagen Golf GTI

While it might be down on power compared to the competition, the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI is a well-balanced hatchback that I’d be happy to drive every day. It’s not as raucous as the competition from Hyundai, nor is it as fast in a straight line. However, it’s still the best all-around hatchback money can buy at around the AUD$60,000 mark.

As an enthusiast, I find it hard to consider the new GTI as a traditional ‘hot hatch’ by pure definition – it’s simply too expensive compared to cars like the Polo GTI and Hyundai i20N. Although there’s no mistaking it for a premium performance hatchback that’s continuing to define its class in technology.

The infotainment and capacitive touch buttons present quite a steep learning curve, but with a facelifted model coming in the next 12 months (maybe sooner), we’d expect these issues to be rectified almost immediately.

Even a standard 2023 Golf GTI without options presents a feature-packed vehicle that’s both safe and fun to drive every day. Take it out on a weekend and the new chassis controls might even surprise you in the bends.

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2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

Volkswagen Golf GTI Option List

There are two option packages available for the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Sound and Vision Package – $1,800

  • Head-Up Display
    • Speed
    • Driver assistance system messages
    • Navigation instructions
  • Harman Kardon 480W premium audio system
  • 8x speakers, 1x subwoofer and 12-channel amplifier

Luxury Package – $3,800

  • Vienna leather-appointed upholstery
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Electrically operated driver’s seat with memory
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Panoramic electric glass sunroof

Volkswagen Golf GTI Colours

The Mark 8 GTI is available in seven colours, including Pure White, Moonstone Grey Premium, Dolphin Grey Metallic, Atlantic Blue Metallic or Deep Black Pearl Effect. An optional Kings Red Premium Metallic can be had for $300, as seen on our test car.

Warranty and Servicing for Volkswagen Golf GTI

In terms of servicing, the GTI is available with a Care Plan for five years at $2300 (saving the cost of the first scheduled service) or three years at $1450. It comes with Volkswagen 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty.

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Ben McKimm
Journalist - Automotive & Tech

Ben McKimm

Ben lives in Sydney, Australia. He has a Bachelor's Degree (Media, Technology and the Law) from Macquarie University (2020). Outside of his studies, he has spent the last decade heavily involved in the automotive, technology and fashion world. Turning his passion and expertise into a Journalist position at Man of Many where he continues to write about everything that interests the modern man. Conducting car reviews on both the road and track, hands-on reviews of cutting-edge technology and employing a vast knowledge in the space of fashion and sneakers to his work. One day he hopes to own his own brand.