Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 35 2011 Review

It’s been 35 years since Volkswagen’s Golf GTI trail blazed a new automotive sub-genre – the hot hatch. To celebrate the birthday of the iconic GTI badge VW has released a special anniversary model named the Edition 35 and the good news for kiwi Golf fans is that 60 of the 5-door cars are heading down to NZ.

So what’s so special about the Edition 35? Well, it’s built for true GTI enthusiasts and comes packing a boost in power, some subtle styling treats and an air of exclusivity. It’s for Golf GTI junkies who crave just a little bit extra GTI. Car and SUV took a dose of the Edition 35 to test if its effects are mellow or mind mashing addictive.

Any special edition will find itself graded in three core areas over the standard model it’s based on. These are; how much harder it goes, how much sleeker it looks and what extra features are included. The Edition 35 improves on the Mk VI Golf GTI in these three areas but by varied strengths.

Visually, it’s a ‘Spot the Difference’ game to find every exterior styling tweak the Edition 35 has over its stock sibling. Perhaps most noticeable are the new “Watkins Glen” alloy wheels, which at 18-inches fill out the guards and are well suited to the Golf shape. Harder to spot is the remodeled front bumper and bi-xenon headlights with LED running lamps. Along the flanks there are discrete “35” badges on the front fenders, there’s lower side skirting and gloss black wing mirror caps. The unique exterior design is finished at the rear with darkened tail lamps. Overall, the updates are subtle but fitting for the GTI, a model known for deft styling touches and a sleeper aesthetic. The Edition 35 is available in four colours – Tornado Red, Deep Black, Carbon Steel Grey and our sweet-looking test car was finished in Candy White.

In the cabin the Edition 35 delivers even more treats for fans. Sports seats are trimmed in the traditional GTI family tartan “Jacky” cloth and have a “35” integrated into the head restraints. The seatbelts receive a fine read border, which is repeated on the floor mats and in the leather steering wheel stitching. Other touches include special doorsill kick plates and a classic golf ball gearshift grip. While the tartan seats won’t suit all tastes the Edition 35 interior is thoughtfully uniformed and has just enough going on to feel a bit special.

Elsewhere in the cabin it’s the same Golf practicality and high quality materials that help make this one of the most popular hatchbacks on the market. The back seat, while not capacious will swallow two adults comfortably and there’s a usable 350 litres of luggage space in the hatch with a cargo net to keep your gear safe. In terms of standard equipment the Edition 35 receives the colour touch-screen CD stereo system with 8 speakers. There’s cruise control, two-zone climate control air-conditioning, rain sensing wipers and parking sensors front and rear with a graphic display on the control screen. The MkVI Golf GTI has a genuine premium feel for a hatchback, add in the extra tweaks and high specification level and the Edition 35 is the GTI to have.

It wasn’t fancy equipment or pretty badges that enchanted drivers of the first GTI, 35 years back, it was about how the hot hatch moved. Can the Edition 35 repeat the spell? Well, it’s not going to shock anyone with its performance but it’s definitely quick and can lay claim to being the fastest Golf to ever wear the GTI badge. Instead of being powered by a tweaked version of the standard GTI engine the Edition 35 uses a detuned Golf R motor. The more robust two-litre EA113 turbocharged four-cylinder delivers 173kW of power and 300Nm of torque. This predictably sits the Edition 35 squarely between the stock GTI (155kW) and the hardcore Golf R (188kW). The anniversary model sprints from standing to 100km/h in 6.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 247km/h. It is definitely no toy and while it doesn’t have the same cutthroat power delivery as the Golf R, it feels gruffer and sounds angrier than the regular GTI. Max torque is available from just 2,200rpm giving the Edition 35 broad power delivery and eliminating any serious turbo-lag.

Power is put exclusively to the front wheels through Volkswagen’s 6-speed DSG automatic gearbox. Like in other applications this transmission is silky smooth and lightning quick. It works diligently to get the most from the engine and has a sports mode for holding gears at higher rpm – ideal for exiting corners rapidly. A dedicated manual transmission Edition 35 model isn’t offered in NZ but the DSG has steering wheel paddles if self-shifting is desired. Fuel consumption is quoted at 8.0 litres per 100km, higher than the standard GTI but still a respectable figure for a performance-focused machine.

On road, the Edition 35 shows all the virtues of an everyday hot hatch. It’s rapid off the line but feels controlled with predictable acceleration delivery. Get your thrills on the open road on a Sunday afternoon but come Monday it can be a low-key comfortable commuter. That’s always been the strength of the GTI and the Edition 35 doesn’t sacrifice this in the search for more power.

Away from the engine the Edition 35 differs little from the standard GTI and shares its same handling characteristics. It’s a precision tool for slicing up twisted back roads and can be engaging for drivers at any skill level. There’s a lot of power heading to the front wheels but VW’s XDS electronic diff lock means torque-steer is absent and grip-levels remain high mid-corner. The Edition 35 body sits 15mm lower than the standard Golf and maintains a flat, balanced feel.

Our tested model was fitted with VW’s three-stage adaptive damper control tech, which allows the driver to choose between, comfort, normal and sport settings. It’s a clever piece of kit but the normal setting is more than capable for most NZ roads. Even with the sports setting engaged the Edition 35 has good compliance and doesn’t feel overly firm. This isn’t a jarring hot hatch and the ride is only unsettled by large bumps or dips in the tarmac. Steering is sharp and feedback through the wheel is positive particularly on the open road where it gains weight progressively.

Safety features include a clever stability control system, ABS braking with Brake Assist and a full cache of airbags with a driver knee bag. It’s a comprehensive package that’s earned the Golf a 5 Star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Priced at a cool $65,000 the Edition 35 carries a $7,500 premium over the stock GTI. The big question is, is it worth the extra coin?

Yes, if you’re a true enthusiast and absolutely must have the best GTI ever built. The extra power is noticeable and the Golf R engine gives it a more aggressive sound and demeanor. The cosmetic updates are fairly low-key but are enough to promote it above the army of Golf GTIs on our roads. There is extra equipment on board as well like the bi-xenon headlights and adaptive damper control system, which are handy features. Additionally, special edition models like the Edition 35 usually hold their value better than standard fare. This really is the ultimate GTI and with only 60 available in NZ they’re certainly exclusive. If you’re looking at buying a standard GTI or the Golf R right now, then don’t purchase before you take a considered look at the Edition 35.

Price: $65,000

What we like:

  • Macho Golf R engine
  • Fresh alloy wheels and subtle cosmetic tweaks
  • Extra equipment
  • Exclusive appeal

What we don’t like:

  • Worse fuel economy than standard GTI
  • Three-door version not offered in NZ

Who will buy this car: Those who love the Golf GTI and have researched and saved in anticipation of the Edition 35 and also those who were about to buy a standard GTI and got lucky with the timing.

Cool Factor: Extreme, in many ways it’s a cooler car than the top dog Golf R. It’s exclusive, it has a staunch look and it retains the all-round ability and practicality that makes the GTI so popular.

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

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