2023 Volkswagen GTI 40th Anniversary

The Golf GTI has defined what a hot hatch should look like, and the new one is no different.
The Golf GTI has defined what a hot hatch should look like, and the new one is no different.

by Ben So | May 29, 2023

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In recent years, there has been renewed enthusiasm in the hot hatch market. Honda is offering us their Civic Type R for a second generation in a row, Toyota brought the rally-racing inspired GR Corolla to North America after initially holding out on us from their GR Yaris, and we could buy the fiery Hyundai Veloster N up until last year. There is also the Volkswagen Golf R that we all have come to love, and for all of these we have this to thank – the 2023 Volkswagen GTI 40th Anniversary Edition – the hot hatch that started it all for us back in 1983.

Exclusive for North America, the Golf GTI 40th Anniversary Edition builds on the already sharp looking eighth-generation GTI with a special decal running along the sides and a special set of 19-inch wheels borrowed from the Golf GTI Clubsport 45 in Europe. For four decades now, the Golf GTI has defined what a hot hatch should look like, and the new one is no different thanks to its classic proportions and sporty details all around.

Interior of the GTI 40th Anniversary is the same as the standard model, except for the “40” clasp instead of the standard “GTI” on the steering wheel. The plaid seat pattern and golf ball inspired manual shift knob are both passed on through generations of the Golf GTI and remain some of the best kept traditions in the industry.

The rest of the layout follows a minimalistic design language – maybe too minimalistic for our liking. There are hardly any buttons or switches, and the system is heavily reliant on touch sensitive controls that are finnicky and cumbersome. A simple volume adjustment requires us to slide our fingers across the small touch panel on the steering wheel or below the touchscreen, and temperature is also set by sliding over the non-illuminated panel that proved to be a distraction to night driving. This setup has received enough backlash that Volkswagen is rumored to be reverting some controls back to a physical setup for its upcoming models and we are all for this.

The good news though is that the no-fuss interior layout is pleasing, and materials are above standard for this segment. Ergonomics are also excellent – we had no issues finding our ideal seating position quickly in the spacious cabin, and the large windows offered a great ambience inside. The steering wheel is the right size and the shifter is well within reach. Cargo capacity is measured at 564 litres and can expand up to 977 with the rear seats folded flat.

The GTI’s infotainment is relatively easy to use with vivid graphics and can display a variety of ambient colours that is synchronized with dash and door panels. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is supported wirelessly, and the standard Volkswagen 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster is highly customizable and excellent at displaying all the necessary information in front of the driver. The eight-speaker Harman-Kardon audio system’s sound quality is average but it should not disappoint most hot-hatch buyers.

Sharing the same EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged engine as the more powerful and faster Golf R, the detuned GTI still manages to output 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft. of torque. This is plenty of power to fire this pocket rocket from zero to 100 km/h in as little as 6.2 seconds, and it feels even zippier in real life thanks to its punchy low-end torque. You get the sense that the GTI just likes to be pushed everywhere and power output is in a sweet spot for the daily commute as it allows you to have a bit of fun without getting oneself in trouble with the authorities.

Staying true to the hot hatch spirit, our GTI tester is equipped with a row-your-own six-speed manual transmission (a seven-speed DSG is optional). It is really easy to get going as the clutch is light and the catchpoint is fairly easy to find, and the shifter leans towards smooth operation rather than a notchy one. Shifter throw is just the right amount for a daily driver. We love the standard sport exhaust’s low and guttural tone, which fits the subtlety nature of the Volkswagen GTI perfectly.

If you think the retro theme of the Golf GTI 40th Anniversary would translate into an equally old driving experience, you can think again. Volkswagen engineers had made extra effort in fitting the latest generation GTI with performance goodies that allows it to rival its modern rivals – these include electronically-controlled limited slip differential, adaptive dampers, electronic stability control, and speed-sensitive steering system.

When combined with the standard Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3 summer performance tires, the GTI really comes alive on the streets and its best trait is just how enjoyable it is at any speed. Response is not ultra sharp, but rather the GTI focuses on being accurate and predictable. It will happily rotate around corners as long as you are doing a reasonable speed, and while understeer can happen, it is well communicated before it happens and you never feel out of control behind the wheel. The brakes offer good amount of bite for when you need the fun to stop and the brake pedal feels linear and confidence inspiring.

Fuel economy is rated at 10L/100km in the city and 7.3L/100km on the highway for a combined average of 8.8L/100km, which is 0.3L/100km thirstier than the automatic version across the board. Our observed fuel economy came in at 9.4L/100km which is quite reasonable considering we had certainly not been reserved with our throttle use throughout the week of mixed commute. Good news here is the Golf GTI will happily accept regular grade 87-octane gasoline for its 50-litre tank which yielded meaningful savings over many similarly powered sporty sedan and hatchbacks that requires premium fuel.

Standard on the Golf GTI 40th Anniversary is Volkswagen’s IQ.Drive active safety and driver assistance features, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, Emergency Assist, Front and Side Assist, as well as Park Distance Control and Park Assist features. These features worked well together to add to the driving confidence, with our only complaint being the dual function VW badge on the rear hatch that would have its flip-out camera staying on when parked while the vehicle is idling and we would have to manually turn off the camera from the infotainment in order to access the rear hatch using the handle underneath the same VW emblem.

MSRP of the 2023 Golf GTI starts at $32,495 for the base model, with the mid-trim Autobahn off which the 40th Anniversary Edition is based, starting at $35,895. Our special commemorative model costs a flat-rate of $36,995, which is good value when you factor in the fact that 19-inch wheels are $1,740 option on the Autobahn and you don’t get the unique style of the Anniversary Edition wheels.

For forty years, the Golf GTI has charmed driving enthusiasts with its affordable price tag and a simple yet fun personality. That tradition has thankfully carried on with this 2023 Volkswagen GTI 40th Anniversary Edition that served as a refreshing reminder of just how easy it is to have fun on the roads without needing excessive power or overly complex drive systems.

See Also:

2023 Subaru WRX Sport-tech

2022 Volkswagen Golf R 6MT

2022 Honda Civic Si

Vehicle Specs
Segment
Compact Hatchback
Engine Size
2.0L turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower (at RPM)
241 at 6,500
Torque (lb-ft.)
273 at 4,000
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
10.0/7.3/8.8
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
9.4
Cargo Capacity (in L)
564
Base Price (CAD)
$32,495
As-Tested Price (CAD)
$36,995
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About Ben So

Editor-in-Chief

Ben has been living and breathing car magazines, spec sheets, and touring auto shows for his entire life. As proud member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada, he keeps a close eye on the latest-and-greatest in the auto industry. When he isn't geeking out about the coolest new cars, he's probably heading to the next hidden-gem ice cream shop with his three quickly growing kids.

Current Toys: '97 Integra Type R, '07 LS 460 RWD, '08 Corvette Z06, '13 JX35 Tech

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