Volkswagen Golf 7 GTI & GTD (2017) First Drive


The international launch of the facelifted Volkswagen Golf range took place in Mallorca, Spain. We get to drive the latest iteration of the iconic GTI – the reigning Consumer Awards premium hatchback champion – plus its intriguing turbodiesel-engined sibling, the GTD!

Now in its 7th generation, the Volkswagen Golf has been one of those vehicles that, despite its rivals' best efforts, outmatches them in terms of build quality, refinement and drive quality. Kudos to the rest (including premium manufacturers Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo) for trying to dethrone the Golf; some of them run the Volkswagen very close...

But Golf 7 has that admirable trait where you could get out of something more premium and get into the VW without experiencing a drop in quality. It’s the kind of build integrity and use of premium plastics that annoys journalists everywhere. How can something in this segment be this good? And, how on Earth could VW engineers improve on an already excellent product?

View the (indicative) pricing and specification for the facelifted Golf 7 range here 

The Golf 7 has left many rivals in its wake, so can the facelifted version increase Volkswagen's advantage?

Turbodiesel GTD scheduled to arrive mid-year

This brings us to where we are this week. We’re spending some time with Volkswagen in Europe where we are driving its latest Golf offerings. On hand is the new-engined, run-of-the-mill "normal" Golf, a facelifted Golf GTI and the performance turbodiesel GTD, the latter which has been officially confirmed for South African introduction around the middle of 2017.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI has been a runaway success for the brand in South Africa. The addition of the Performance Pack and outstandingly good Clubsport to commemorate 40 years of GTI, only sweetened the range. South Africa provides a unique situation for Volkswagen. In our market, the GTI that makes up the majority of the sales numbers. Of those, the most popular are the DSG-equipped models and that explains why the Uitenhage-based brand will only introduce the facelifted GTI in automatic guise: the dual-clutch transmission (with shift paddles) GTI is easier to launch off the line, gear changes are quicker and more efficient than by human hand, plus you have all the comfort, economy and convenience of an automatic. Consumer Awards success

The Volkswagen Golf 7 GTI is a vehicle to which we are very accustomed. Not only did the entire team enjoy its complete repertoire of skills, but it also bagged the Premium Hatchback of the Year award twice on the trot, seeing off premium opposition from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The hands-on GTI Clubsport walked off with the Fun Car trophy. You can read more about the Consumer Awards - powered by WesBank here!

What’s new?

A non-GTI facelifted Volkswagen Golf in the launch colour: Kurkama Yellow. It looks suspiciously like BMW's Austin Yellow.

The design has not changed dramatically and there are new bumpers, headlights and LED tail lights. It’ll take the new and the current car positioned side by side to really be able to tell the difference, but for the updated Golf 7, the changes are more under the metal than cosmetic. Other than tweaks to the engines and gearboxes, the cars are mechanically identical.

In the age of downsizing, where car companies have shrunk their cubic capacities and lopped off cylinders, Volkswagen has gone the other way and made a bigger engine. Gone is the tried-and-trusted 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol unit and in its place is an all-new 1.5-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol. Outputs are rated at 110 kW with torque sitting at 250 Nm.

Power goes to the front wheels via DSG transmission. The gearbox has been revised and now features an extra ratio to make it a 7-speed unit. While not immediately available, we expect this engine to potentially make an appearance in our market. In terms of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, power has been increased to 169 kW from 162 kW, while torque has remained the same at 350 Nm. The Golf GTI Performance Pack will be coming in 2018 and it will offer 180 kW.

The business end of the Volkswagen Golf facelift pertains to the connectivity and safety departments. Climb into the vehicle and your eyes will immediately fall on the rather large, buttonless infotainment touchscreen. It’s called Discover Pro and when combined with the all-digital Active Info Display, the entire dashboard feels as if it has been lifted from a more premium product. The graphics on this 9.2-inch screen are crisper and it’s a big leap forward, but the technology doesn’t stop there. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay make their debuts in the new Volkswagen Golf: after a satnav routing error sent us off course, a fellow journalist’s iPhone with Apple Maps linked to the car and set us back on track.

Crisper and prettier graphics on the new large infotainment screen, but where's the volume knob? 

This facelifted Volkswagen Golf now features semi-autonomous capability in the form of Traffic Jam assist, where the vehicle can drive by itself at speeds of up to 60 kph using a combination of active cruise control and lane assist. The updated Golf can also automatically stop in the event of a collision and it can detect pedestrians and finally, for those who tow with their Golfs, Trailer Assist has become available.

After driving both the Volkswagen Golf GTI and GTD, we came to the conclusion that the gesture control was a bit of a gimmick as it didn’t quite work properly and that we missed the rotary knob to turn the volume down. A touchscreen volume control without haptic feedback was very tricky to master and we resorted to using the steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Our test cars also came absolutely jammed with all the options, while necessary to test out the new kit, will raise some eyebrows in terms of the total vehicle cost.

Diesel GTI? What?

A 2.0-litre diesel engine with 130 kW and 380 Nm powers the Volkswagen Golf GTD.

Yes, that’s right folks. It’s all kicking off. The performance diesel Golf GTD has been confirmed for the South African market and on paper, it promises credible pace. Power is sourced from a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine, which has a healthy 130 kW and 380 Nm on tap. Power goes to the front wheels via a new 7-speed DSG transmission. Volkswagen claims a 0-100 kph time in 7.5 seconds, but of more significance is the fuel economy which sits at 4.4 L/100 km.

Does it work? Yes, absolutely. You can use the driving modes to personalise your experience and while the car is perfectly adequate being left to its own devices and in full auto mode, putting the gearbox into manual mode and changing the engine mapping to Sport results in some good driving fun. You'll find yourself shifting early, making use of the abundance of torque located from just before 2 000 rpm and without too much effort, will find yourself doing three-figure speeds. This engine and gearbox combination work well together and unless you’re deliberately putting your foot flat, you can pick up speed without any real exertion.

You don’t need to wring the engine’s neck to get the best out of it either. Sure, the turbo petrol GTI is quite happy to fling the needle of its rev counter around the dial without so much as a hint of fuss, but the turbodiesel GTD does tend to sound a bit rough as you approach the redline. No amount of insulation and synthesised sounds through the speakers can mask that. Drive gently though and you’ll find it hard to believe you’re in a diesel at all.

The handling is just as good as the GTI and you can thank the excellent chassis and MQB platform for that. The steering is quick to respond and thanks to a low ride height and stiffer sports suspension, flinging the GTD around the twisties is a pleasure.

As it stands, Volkswagen SA has confirmed the GTD for launch in the South African market with pricing said to be cheaper than that of the petrol-powered GTI. Sure, it won’t be as fast as the GTI, but there’s enough performance to keep the petrolheads happy. The ace up its sleeve is its economy and despite the sporty suspension setup, it’ll make for a magnificent mile-munching family hatchback. It’s a great trade-off and pretty much what a Golf GTI sibling should be.

The Volkswagen Golf GTD: A fun and frugal family hatchback. Coming to SA!

The Volkswagen Golf Family Arrival in South Africa

As mentioned earlier, the 1.5-litre turbo petrol Golf is not yet confirmed for our market.

A 1.0-litre Trendline with 81 kW kicks off the local range and there’s a Comfortline derivative available for this engine too. The 1.4-litre Comfortline with the choice of either a manual or DSG transmission will still be offered. The flagship non-performance Golf will be the 2.0-litre diesel Comfortline with only DSG. For the performance fans, the five-door Golf GTI with 169 kW will come with DSG only. All of the above vehicles will arrive in May 2017. In July 2017, we’ll see the Volkswagen GTD and Golf R come to our shores.


The facelifted Volkswagen Golf is just that: a facelift. There's nothing groundbreaking in terms of ride and handling, and it's still the performance hatchback that we've come to know and love for its all-round skillset. The real changes come in the form of the new infotainment system and digital dashboard, as well as the introduction of a new 1.5-litre engine. As good as this Discover Pro infotainment system is, there were some user experience issues with the gesture control and we will miss the rotary volume knob. It's good to see semi-autonomous technology being introduced in this car and while there are some detractors of this tech, the majority will appreciate the benefit Traffic Jam Assist. The real news here is the confirmation that our market will be getting the 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTD... it's a brisk and comfortable hatchback that will broaden the appeal of the Golf even further.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Price in South Africa

130 kW 2.0 TDI GTD DSG               Price to be confirmed at a later stage

169 kW 2.0 TSI GTI DSG                R545 800

213 kW 2.0 TSI R DSG                   Price to be confirmed at a later stage

Further Reading

Volkswagen Golf Facelift Revealed [with Video]
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S (2016) First Drive
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport (2016) Video Review
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport (2016) Review
Is The Golf Segment Dying?
Comparative Review: Opel Astra vs Volkswagen Golf 7

Would you like to buy a Volkswagen Golf?

Find stock on now.