Driven, Written: VW Golf GTI Performance (2019)

They still know how to design and engineer a decent car at Wolfsburg, as proven by Germany’s premier hot hatch. 

Three surprisingly meaningful letters, photo (c) Driven To Write

The rental car lottery: Source of frustration, surprise and disillusionment. In the case of myself and my partner, the feeling of an outright win had eluded us so far – until I was handed the keys to the car I’d booked as ‘VW Golf Automatic or similar’, which turned our to be not just a VW Golf indeed – a first in itself. Moreover, this Golf was arguably in the model’s most appealing guise, which meant we would be crossing half of Germany in a Golf GTI Performance. Hurrah!

Typically any special edition model boasting a name like ‘Performance’ is expected to offer ‘sportier’ looks and little else. Surprisingly, in the Golf GTI’s case, the special edition model turns out to be surprisingly special, featuring not just a rather overwrought wheel design and brake callipers painted red, but also bigger brakes, a seven (rather than six-) speed double clutch gearbox, 15 more metric horsepowers, 20 more Newton metres of torque and a mechanical, rather than electric locked differential at the front axle. It also comes with the seats covered in GTI check as standard, apparently.


Even a few minutes into a bit of dull inner city driving, it becomes apparent that this GTI is a car to be taken seriously. Its exhaust note may be of the artificially roarty, but non-melodious kind (albeit not as embarassingly so as the tune Audi’s S models emit these days), but in terms of power delivery and controls, the Golf immediately feels like a true driver’s car.

Longer stretches of Autobahn driving and on country roads would confirm that the GTI’s steering – although not as mechanical in feel as the Mazda 3’s and slightly impaired by the wheel’s squared-off bottom part – is pleasantly weighted: VW’s engineers clearly didn’t mistake heft for sportiness, as their Ingolstadt counterparts are wont to do, resulting in a calibration allowing for precise inputs, with predictable weighting acting as feedback to one’s inputs. The locking differential may have played a role in this context too, as the GTI Performance never struggled for grip and generally felt more as though all wheels, rather than just the front couple were being powered.

Despite its lack of aural pleasures, the Golf’s 2.0 litre turbocharged engine played to the strengths of this kind of arrangement, offering plenty of torque at all times, without frantically running out of puff. In fact, even when driving at 180 kph, the Golf still held plenty of shove in reserve, which made for a self-assured overall driving experience.


Of course, what with the GTI being a scion of Wolfsburg, the Golf’s infotainment wasn’t exactly standard of the world – with the touchscreen monitor at the dashboard’s centre being as annoying to use it is in any other VW/VAG product. That being said, the safety assist systems that were fitted to the GTI Performance too were clearly recalibrated for this model, resulting in far less intrusive operations than with less driver-orientated models.

Even this Golf’s start/stop system was programmed in a way similar to the Mazda 3’s, which meant the driver was trusted to signal whether he or she wanted the engine switched off or not by applying more or less pressure to the brake pedal.


Generally speaking, it was rather hard to believe that a car based on the same MQB platform, using the same engine block and fitted with (more or less) the same safety assist gadgets as the thoroughly underwhelming VW Tiguan we sampled some time ago could be so utterly different in terms of usability and performance.

Clearly, the Golf GTI was designed and engineered for people who enjoy driving, whereas the Tiguan caters for those who prefer to think most of the strain of piloting an automobile has been alleviated. That the Tiguan’s engine struggled with propelling the far bigger car over the notorious Kasseler Berge stretch of Autobahn to such an extent that we got overtaken by a regular Fiat 500 at some point, whereas the GTI always held more than enough power in reserve, fits this picture too. That the GTI consumed less fuel (35.7 MPG; 7.9 l/100 km), despite being driven both at far higher speeds and in awful congestion doesn’t.

All these impressions added up to a rather fine performance on the whole, even if the GTI’s seats were nowhere near as exceptional as the Volvo V40’s. It would nevertheless seem as though Volkswagen still knows how to build a very good car after all.


The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

17 thoughts on “Driven, Written: VW Golf GTI Performance (2019)”

  1. I fear we are going to miss this generation of the Golf immensely when it is gone. I saw a very similar GTI to this the other day on a new
    plate and thought it looked terrific and not aged in any bad way at all. The design is properly Golf – classless and ageless – making it a really desirable thing.

    1. In that spec, the Golf is an impressively accomplished machine. It never felt like a ‘small’ car, but like a compact, nimble, powerful ‘full-size’ car, if you get my drift.

  2. Good morning, Christopher. That really was a big win, although you’ve got to wonder what a mainstream car hire company is doing with a Golf GTI Performance on its fleet!

    Black paint and those slightly naff wheels do the car no favours in aesthetic terms. I’d have a bright red three-door like this instead, thank you:

    That touch screen would give me the creeps, and having me reaching for the screen wipes. My Boxster has one but, surprisingly and thankfully, it’s slightly recessed and doesn’t seem to catch reflections like the Golf’s.

    1. The touchscreen is the sole source of constant irritation – I believe the pre-facelift Golf VII’s system would be preferable and more in keeping with the overall quality of the car.

  3. I know that DTW isn’t an automotive news website, but I couldn’t resist sharing this little beauty, revealed today:

    I’m going out now, and may be some time…

    1. Over two hours, and no comments: admirable restraint, sullen resignation, or stunned silence?

    2. Daniel,

      Sadly a pointless, hideous-looking BMW isn’t news nowadays.

    3. It’s no good, I just can’t help but ask some (rhetorical) questions about the new X6:

      1. What were they thinking when they designed that lower front valance? It’s just comically overwrought, with so many different shapes and sizes of openings.

      2. Big, bulging wheel arches, so why do they still have to add body coloured extensions, the rounded profile of which bears no relationship to the angular profile of the arches?

      3. Why do they insist on adding that sagging lower bodyside crease that seems to have no purpose other than to visually continue the rear bumper to bodyside shut line?

      4. Dummy vents behind both front and rear wheels? WHY?

      5. Are there really two small round exhaust pipes hidden behind those big chromed quadilateral “exhausts”?

      6. Why is the rear valance giving the “V” sign (three times) to following drivers?

      7. Christopher, was it you who coined the phrase “post-truth design”? The X6 must represent a new peak.

    4. The answer to your questions, in my opinion, is this: chinese (asian) market rules…it’s the end of design as we knew it…

    1. Had it been applied to the Mk.3 it would have bee oxymoronic.

  4. Nice review.

    The GTI is very nice to drive, yet hell for me to get out of. Levering myself out of a veritable coal scuttle across a wide sill, just like with the A3, crosses this one of my list. If the car is in a tight parking situation, things just get even worse – I’m not as sinuous as I once was, but other vehicles are simply better designed for the older human form and don’t inhibit me. The four doors in such a small car simply means the B-pillar is too far forward what with the super sporty rake of the A-pillar. As even the latest Mazda3 is fine with me, then VW should be able to be more ergonomic too – I don’t want a crossover.

    I find the DSG hesitation from rest as the automatic clutch engages a bit annoying as well, especially when having to manoeuvre backwards and forwards in tight situations at low speeds, but it behaves like a champ on the open road. The electro-mechanical front locking diff is nice, and might obviate the need for AWD in my winter climate. It’s been available optionally since 2015 here. But all these possible palliatives fade into nothingness if I cannot find some ease in merely hopping in and out of the thing. So near and yet so far. The previous generation was fine, so maybe the Mk 8 will be again.

    That Budack-cycle cylinder head EA888 VW sees fit to ruin the Tiguan with, and our entry level A3 FWD as well, surely costs as much as or more to manufacture than the GTI version. Yet it moos lie a cow, hates to rev over 4500, is dispirited and manages only OK fuel economy. What’s the use of it, one wonders?

  5. Your remark about the noise leaves me wondering: are these sound generators in all modern ‘sporty’ cars a delete option or at least something that can be switched off? I’m sure there are people who’d enjoy driving a performant car, but don’t want to piss off the whole neighbourhood and walk out of the car deafened after a longer drive.

    1. The sound generators are mandatory.
      Depending on how the sound is generated you can deactive them by using some OBD II ‘jail break’ software which is recommendable on modern cars anyway. Some cars, amongst them the GTI, create the sound using a membrane in the bulkhead that is connected to the induction system. This would be very difficult to deactivate.

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