Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 35 (2012) Driving Impression

Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 35

Believe it or not, the iconic Golf GTI is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. And boy oh boy, there have been highs and lows… Following the introduction of the Golf 6 GTI, this model is arguably in better shape than it’s ever been, a welcome result given the lacklustre Golf 3 and 4 iterations which made it appear as if Volkswagen had given up on the hot hatch genre altogether. Now, to celebrate the milestone, VW has pulled the wraps off the Golf GTI Edition 35 and promises that it’s not merely a “cosmetic” special edition, either…

Subtle, but effective design tweaks

At first glance the Golf GTI Edition 35 doesn’t look radically different to its standard sibling, but that’s to be expected from Volkswagen. At the same time, it looks special enough to get the pulse racing, too. The so-called “telephone-dial” wheels are gone, replaced by striking 18-inch “Watkins Glen” items. There are subtle “35” emblems on the flanks, a hungrier front bumper, LED daytime running lamps to accentuate the standard bi-xenon headlamps, and even different side sills. Overall, the Golf GTI Edition 35 looks every bit as intimidating as a Golf R, without resorting to such over-the-top efforts as Renault’s more “colourful” Megane RS special editions.

Given the fact that the Golf 6 already has the best cabin finish and design in its segment, with the standard GTI model adding just enough pizzazz to the recipe, Volkswagen has been similarly subtle with the interior changes. An obvious one is the very retro golf-ball shaped gear lever knob. There are also red safety belts (perhaps a bit OTT for VW), metal pedals, partial leather upholstery on the sports seats and red stitching on the steering wheel and gear boot. The subtle use of shiny metal accenting does just enough to lift the somewhat sombre ambience in the cabin. Build quality is exceptional, as is to be expected.

The Golf GTI Edition 35 makes use of the five-door Golf bodyshell, so there has been no compromise in terms of practicality. In fact, even though this is the most hardcore iteration of the GTI you can buy, its usability on a daily basis still rates far superior to anything the competition can offer. And while the standard features list is not exactly very long, it’s really only the “frills” that are missing, such as park assist and satellite navigation. You still get climate control, a multi-function steering wheel and seven airbags.

More power, exceptional balance

Usually when manufacturers release special edition derivatives, they use the donor car’s engine almost untouched. Not in the case of the Golf GTI Edition 35 though. Instead of upgrading the turbocharged 2.0-litre 16-valve engine in the current Golf 6 GTI, VW has adopted a slightly downtuned version of the powerplant used in the Golf R and Audi S3. It delivers 18 kW more than the GTI’s, and 20 Nm of torque is added to the mix, too.

Mated with the marque’s excellent six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission, the engine delivers strong performance, from the word go. The full 300 Nm of torque is already available at 2 200 rpm and there’s even a “launch control” function to assist in really fast pull-away starts. So, although the 0-100 km/h time of 6.9 seconds is not quite the fastest around, the ease with which it is achieved, time after time after time, makes the Golf GTI Edition 35 a really dangerous robot-to-robot rival. A top speed of 246 km/h is claimed, but far more impressive is the engine’s flexibility and mid-range punch. Even the fuel economy figure of 10.7-L/100 km is more than acceptable given the overall performance capability.

Composed, yet fun

Putting the power on the ground effectively has never been a problem for the sixth-generation Golf, partly because the power output has never threatened to “stretch” the capabilities of the underpinnings. But what now, with significantly more power? Thankfully, the balance and composure that makes the standard car such a devastatingly fast, yet refined competitor have not been lost. The ride is firm, certainly, but there’s still enough suppleness in the suspension to ensure the Golf GTI Edition 35 retains its easy daily driver credentials. And yet it is also massively impressive when driven with vigour. The platform resists roll very well, so the Golf GTI Edition 35 feels very stable upon fast corner entries and there’s little evidence that the power is too much for the front wheels. If anything, it feels as if it could easily cope with more power! What helps in this regard is the fitment of an XDS electronic differential lock on the front wheels.

Also offered, but as an option, is an adaptive chassis control system that firms things up even further. It costs less than R11 000, but the standard set-up is already so good you have to wonder whether it is worth the expense.

VW Golf GTI Edition 35 - Verdict

The Golf GTI Edition 35 is more than just a special edition of a special car. Volkswagen could easily have added a few stickers and different upholstery to the GTI and most shoppers would have been happy. Instead, it has carefully honed the best bits of the GTI, and added some new elements to not only add visual appeal, but also driving pleasure. As ever, GTI doesn’t mean excessiveness, but in the Edition 35’s case the subtleties are just that little harder to ignore. It’s a great car.

We like:

  • Subtle, but effective design details
  • Strong performance
  • Exploitable dynamics
  • Comfort
  • Build quality
We don’t like:
  • Pricey

Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 35 fast facts

Engine 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power 173 kW @ 5 500 rpm
Torque 300 Nm @ 2 200 rpm
Transmission six-speed dual-clutch
Wheels 18-inch alloy
Top speed 246 km/h
0-100 km/h 6.9 seconds
Fuel economy 10.7 L/100 km

Also consider:

Renault Megane RS 2.0 265 Trophy:

Similarly priced the Renault may be, but it’s a very different type of machine. Forget the Golf’s subtleties, the Megane is a hardcore road racer that will please old-school hot hatch fanatics. Great fun.

Audi S3 2.0 TFSI quattro S-tronic:

Shares some genes with the Golf but sports a sexy three-door body, more power and, of course, that Audi badge. If you need five-doors the pricier S3 Sportback may be just the ticket. Somehow not as special as the Edition 35, though.

Mazda3 MPS:

For significantly less (especially when buying used), there’s the absolutely bonkers Mazda3 MPS. It’s not nearly as polished dynamically as the Volkswagen and downright unruly in some circumstances, but at the same time boasts a very appealing cabin.