Bye Bye GTi – Saying Auf Wiedersehen to a Wolfsburg Legend

Tonight, ESM’s Mate Steve explains why he’s surrendered ownership of the iconic MkV Golf GTi, along with noting the highs and lows of owning a hot-hatch legend.

Last week I handed back the keys to a VW Golf GTi MkV, you might ask why, hopefully this will become clear.

Just over 3 years ago I cheerily told my girlfriend “Don’t worry, I’m just going to look, not buy” as she went off to do some shopping. An hour and a half later and I’m dragging her out of the supermarket to have one final test drive before sitting down to agree the deal.

Over the course of the 3 years I’ve had it, the car has been reasonably reliable; the air-conditioning being the exception to this! The compressor on the air-conditioning is a known weak spot on the Golf MkV and, true to form, it failed resulting in a very warm car in the summer. Happily it was covered on my extended warranty as the cost including fitting came to just over £600.

The car also developed a small patch of rust at the back of the roof, which VW refused to cover under the anti-corrosion warranty. This was very disappointing and really knocked my faith in VW. Their decision was based on some blurry photos taken by my local dealer and emailed to their HQ, with them unwilling to discuss the matter further.

Unfortunately last winter I also had problems with the sensor in the coolant expansion vessel. This was remarkable, given that VW had this same fault on the Mk3 and Mk4, they still hadn’t fixed it for the MkV so a replacement vessel was required. Again this falls short of the standard I expect from a brand such as VW.

These issues aside, the car has been fantastic; it lived up to all the excellent reviews I read before purchasing it. It can be driven sedately and comfortably or it can be driven aggressively, either way it’s an excellent drive and has always returned circa 30mpg, which I consider pretty good for a 200BHP hot hatch. The suspension is the perfect compromise between bone shaking firmness and French softness and is therefore far better than the Seat FR equivalent with its horrifically stiff suspension. The seats are supportive and hold you well through the turns but the downside to this is the seat bolsters do wear badly and older people find it difficult to get in and out.

Each and every time I’ve driven the GTi I’ve had fun, its blend of performance and practicality makes it an easy car to live with but its performance is what makes you love it. The power-band is so large that there’s always plenty of torque available. This makes overtaking in 6th a breeze, but bother yourself to drop a cog or two and the GTi can really take off. So much so that I had to set the onboard computer to alert me at 95mph since it was so effortless to break the speed limit one had to keep a careful eye on the speedometer. Not that I ever speed you understand, simply as a precaution.

The interior of the car is as well-engineered and designed as the rest of the car, buttons and switches in logical places, well labelled and the fit and finish was top-notch with not a single rattle in the whole 3 years I had it. The party piece of being able to get the display on the Climatic automatic air-conditioning to display information such as current speed, oil pressure etc. was a lovely little hidden Easter Egg. However it would have been nice if some of this information was available a bit more readily, such as in the Ford Focus ST where there’s an extra pod of dials for turbo boost pressure etc.

Indeed the GTi has been fun not just for me but for friends and family too; most friends have had a go of the GTi and not a single one has been disappointed. Every time I parked the car at my parents it seemed to disappear off for several hours with my brother who couldn’t get enough of it. Having a hot hatch is an itch I needed to scratch and the GTi certainly scratched that itch!

Its performance in the snow is probably best forgotten (it doesn’t perform!) but I can forgive it, given that it was shod with 17inch summer tyres. The standard brakes never caused me issue and always had just the right amount of stopping power. I am certain my car had a modified exhaust due to it being fully stainless steel and pretty loud. However, when it was serviced by VW they did say it was a standard exhaust again showing how poor VW are; they can’t even recognise a non-standard exhaust on one of their own cars!

In fact VW customer service really lets the brand down, when I phone my local independent garage all I have to do is mention it’s a Golf MkV GTi and they know what I’m talking about. When I phone VW dealerships even with the information about it being a GTi they without fail always ask if it’s a petrol or a diesel. Now I know some UK dealerships sold Mk4 GT TDIs badged as a GTi but really there’s never been a diesel GTi and I expect VW dealerships to have a better grip on their own products than they do. They also seem to have a problem keeping up with VW Germany since VW Germany issued a technical memo several years ago that only LongLife oil could be used in the MkV Golf, but every time it’s been serviced by VW I’ve had to argue this point to ensure it gets the correct oil.

Unfortunately, this review seems to have spent more time talking about VW customer service than the car itself, but this is a major problem. VW price their cars higher than their competitors and trade on their reputation for quality. My experience is that their products are no longer worth the price and, although I consider myself a VW enthusiast, I would not consider purchasing another VW at this time.

So I’m sure you’ll be wanting to know what I’ve purchased to fill the GTi shaped gap in my life and, unfortunately, you’ll have to be patient since I won’t be purchasing a new car until March next year. I’ll be running around in a 56 plate Seat Leon FR TDI until then but my choices in March will likely be either Mini or BMW – you’ll just have to wait for my next blog post to find out which. Oh and just by the way VW, the reason it’ll be a MINI or BMW is down to the excellent customer service received recently when looking for a new car for my girlfriend. I never intended for her to purchase a MINI, but their customer care and product are so good she couldn’t resist. So she now has a rather excellent MINI Cooper D Countryman All4 (a stupidly long name for a car).

The GTi next to the new MINI Countryman

I have to admit having driven the MkV GTi when it first went on sale, along with driving Steve’s also, it was an addictively fun car to be behind the wheel of. It’s a huge shame that the overall ownership experience for Steve hasn’t lived up to the basic product underneath.

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