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2008 Volkswagen Mk V Golf GTI Pirelli review: classic MOTOR

By Nathan Ponchard, 11 Apr 2019 Reviews

2008 Volkswagen Golf GTI Pirelli review classic MOTOR feature

Mk5 GTI bowed out on a high note thanks to more grunt and grip

With the new-generation Mk6 Golf GTI having just broken cover at October’s Paris Motor Show, Volkswagen Oz is sending out the fifth-generation model in fine style with the 2008 Volkswagen Golf GTI Pirelli.

This review was originally published in MOTOR’s December 2008 issue

Named after the apparently legendary original GTI Pirelli that launched in May 1983 (in Europe) to mark the end of the Mk1 Golf’s nine-year production run, the Mk5 version is meant to be a limited edition, though VW hasn’t mentioned any build numbers.

They built 10,500 of the original – hardly what you’d call exclusive – but considering the new GTI Pirelli is just like a regular GTI only better, bring ’em on, we say.

The Pirelli’s biggest drawcard is undoubtedly its uprated engine. Borrowed from the Golf GTI Edition 30 (an anniversary model not sold here). VW’s familiar 2.0-litre FSI turbo four has been tweaked to produce 169kW from 5500-6300rpm (up from 147kW at 5100-6000rpm) and 300Nm from 2200-5200rpm (up from 280Nm at 1800-5000rpm). No details on exactly what has been fiddled with to raise power by 15 percent, but the proof’s in the driving, and the GTI Pirelli is definitely stronger.

The 169kW 2.0 doesn’t rev any harder (the limiter still ends play at just under 7000rpm), but it’s considerably punchier at the top end and has some additional turbo whoosh for those who like their extra grunt garnished. Once on the move, I’d bet the Pirelli is an easy match for the 184kW R32, and possibly even quicker. Certainly feels it.

Related: 45 facts to celebrate The Golf's 45th birthday

Euro Pirelli’s get VW’s excellent six-speed manual as standard, but ours are lumped solely with the DSG double-clutcher. As an alternative to a traditional automatic, it remains a highly respectable tool, but it’s a real shame Aussies don’t get to try the pumped-up engine with the best gearbox. Sure, the DSG is faster to 100km/h (by 0.2sec) and uses 0.3L/100km less fuel (making it exactly the same as the regular GTI at 7.9L/100km), but unless you drive it manually – which surely defeats the purpose – it never quite manages to consistently select the right gear.

Drive the Pirelli in, er, Drive and it quickly ramps up its ratio spread to the tallest gear it can handle. And that’s a pretty tall one because the torquey GTI Pirelli often sees itself droning along in fifth or sixth at between 1200 and 1500rpm. Go for Sport and it’s a throttle-blipping, downshifting blast, but also a bit too intense for swift-but-chilled motoring.

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A wiser move was the fitment of 225/40ZR18 Pirelli P Zeros on bespoke, Pirelli-branded 18s. They only serve to highlight just how polished the GTI’s suspension tune is, seeing they take little away from the Golf’s decent ride, but add greatly to its power-down traction and mid-corner grip. Switch ESP off and floor the GTI Pirelli’s aluminium throttle pedal and you’ll be surprised at just how much front-end grip this scorcher has.

The rest of the GTI Pirelli package is merely tinsel – acres of yellow stitching, tyre-tread microfibre trim inserts by Italian company Miko, full colour-coding for the GTI’s bodykit, and a Pirelli tailgate badge. And a unique colour – Sunflower Yellow.

Thankfully for those older than 25, VW also offers black, blue and silver, but the headline news is all engine and rubber. And here, the Pirelli scores

Blasts from the past on classic MOTOR

Engine: 1984cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 169kW @ 5500-6300rpm
Torque: 300Nm @ 2200-5200rpm
Weight: 1360kg
Top speed:
 245km/h (claimed)
0-100km/h: 6.6sec (claimed)
Price: $47,490 (3dr); $48,990 (5dr)

Like: Stronger engine and more grip makes this the best GTI ever
Dislike: No manual option, day-glo yellow an acquired taste