Has it really been 30 years since the original hot Golf first arrived?
Actually the first 1.6-litre four-speed GTi went on sale in Germany in 1976 so the German market got its hands on this anniversary model last year. But Brits had to wait until 1977 for the first imports and even they were left hookers – right-hand drive didn’t happen until 1979.
So how are we celebrating?
With this limited edition GTi edition 30, the latest in a series of anniversary Golfs we’ve been offered over the years. Just 1500 Edition 30s will be available to UK buyers priced at £22,295 for the three-door, or £22,795 for the five-door we drove. Which makes it £1935 more expensive than the regular GTi.
What do I get for my investment?
The changes aren’t massive – this is a special edition, not a completely re-engineered car. Outside there are smoked lights, 18-inch multi-spoke wheels that look just like the ones fitted to the GTi CAR Magazine raced in the Volkswagen Cup last year, and various bits of colour coding on the normally black body kit. You might think differently but we think it looks awful – less like a performance car and more like a regular Golf 1.6 with a set of aftermarket rims.
What about inside?
The dimpled golfball gearknob makes a return, there are leather bolsters and headrests for the gorgeous tartan seats, red stitching for the best hot hatch steering wheel in the business and some pretty garish red edging to the floor mats. But there's no extra equipment, which means that while you get ESP, dual-zone climate control and six airbags as standard, you have to pay extra for things like a CD changer.
I’m struggling here. Where’s the extra £2k been spent?
Thankfully some of it did get spent on something useful – the engine. It’s the same direct injection 2.0-litre four but power has been raised by 30bhp to 227bhp and torque by 14lb ft to 221lb ft. So it’s still not the hottest of hatches – Vauxhall’s Astra VXR and Seat’s new Leon Cupra both outpoint it with 237bhp - but it's at least on a par with The Focus ST.
So it’s even better to drive than before?
Yes, it is. There are no changes to the suspension - although the GTi’s chassis wasn’t exactly in need of a makeover - but the engine’s extra sparkle really adds some urgency to the driving experience. Our one complaint of the regular GTi is that it’s sometimes too good for its own good and therefore lacks a bit of drama. But the 30 goes some way to answering that criticism. It’s not just a subjective feeling of extra performance, either: as you’d expect, the 30 is faster against the clock, knocking almost half a second off the sprint to 62mph (now 6.8sec down from 7.2sec) and taking the top speed past the 150mph mark for the first time. Which makes it blow-for-blow as swift as the newer Focus ST, if even more expensive. Where the ST can’t compete is at the pumps. The ordinary GTi’s best-in-class 35mpg fuel economy is virtually unchanged for the Edition 30 and 5mpg ahead of the Ford’s best effort. And only the Golf is available with the DSG two-pedal semi-auto option.
Let’s get straight to the point: we love the extra poke, like the leather on the seats and pretty much hate all the other changes. The problem is that the standard car is just so good that this really does feel like gilding the lilly. Having said that, we do think that Volkswagen should make the more powerful engine standard or at least available as an option on the regular car. If it doesn’t, there are plenty of companies out there who can tweak your standard GTi for a few hundred pounds and from what we hear these software mods are undetectable by your dealer.