The ‘GTI’ term has been stuck at the end of car names for decades – but what does it mean and why should you care?
Well, it was first used by Maserati in the 1960s for its 3500 GTI and is an acronym for ‘Gran Turismo Iniezione’ in Italian or ‘Grand Touring Injection’.
Volkswagen started using the GTI badge on its Golf models in 1975, which saw the arrival of a new generation of hot hatches that would go on to dominate the market.
At the time of writing, Volkswagen has produced eight generations of Golf, each offering a mid-to-top spec GTI variant, with the Golf R sitting at the top.
You can plenty of these used VW models on the market if you want to make savings on the cost of a brand-new car.
How the GTI model differs from standard models
Aside from the subtle red stripe across the grille and the small GTI badge on the front and rear of the car, Volkswagen GTI models offer a lot.
The main reason you’d buy a Polo GTI or Golf GTI over a regular one is for the added performance, which transforms the way it drives. This includes more horsepower, better handling and some added features to give you the best driving experience possible.
You also get a few interior changes such as red stitching and ambient lighting, along with larger and sportier wheels.
If you’re a GTI owner or are looking to buy one, then the chances are you’re tuned into what they’re all about and appreciate their capabilities.
What are they like to drive?
When you get behind the wheel of a GTI model, you are greeted with one of the most dynamic and impressive hot hatch experiences on offer.
Instead of the standard 1.4-litre petrol engine you’d find in a normal Golf, the Golf GTI is fitted with a 2.0-litre unit that produces almost twice as much performance at 228hp.
You will sacrifice a little bit on MPG figures, but it’ll hardly be noticeable unless you’re using the car to its full potential on a track day or similar.
Another improvement is adaptive chassis control, which allows it to handle better around corners, reducing understeer so much that it sometimes doesn’t feel like a front-wheel-drive car at all.
The same goes for the Polo and Up models, which receive tuned engines and better handling.
Interior and technology
Inside, VW’s GTI models are very similar to the standard cars but with a few subtle differences to add to its sportier persona.
This includes red stitching around the flat-bottomed steering wheel and seats, added metal trim, and the option of the iconic ‘Clark Plaid’ seats that have appeared in Golfs for many years.
Tech-wise, the GTI models have the same infotainment system and features as every other Volkswagen.
Bootspace and practicality
Increasing performance often comes with a price to pay for bootspace and practicality, but this isn’t the case with Volkswagen’s GTI models.
The bootspace is the same no matter which Golf, Polo or Up model you have, measuring 380 litres, 351 litres and 251 litres respectively.
Overall, practicality remains the same too, with plenty of legroom for all passengers and lots of storage solutions for bottles, phones and sunglasses.
Safety and reliability
Like all modern Volkswagen models, the GTI variants are no different when it comes to reliability. You’re getting a well-put-together car that’s fitted with tried-and-tested engines and parts.
If something were to go wrong, parts are readily available so fixing the issue wouldn’t be a problem.
As for safety, both the Golf and Polo models scored a full five stars following their most recent Euro NCAP crash testing. The Up scored a little less, but that’s due to its smaller size and stricter crash test regulations that came into effect in recent years.
Either way, you’re buying a very safe and reliable car that’s also fun to drive.
Size and dimensions
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen Polo GTI
Volkswagen Up GTI
Who the GTI is best suited for?
We’d recommend a GTI model to the petrolheads among us. They’re great for the kind of person who needs a sensible daily driver but likes to have some (safe) fun behind the wheel.
You get extra power, better handling and a sportier feel when behind the wheel. It’s the ultimate compromise between a sports car and a practical family car.