What is it?
The new Volkswagen Golf GTI, of course. On UK soil for the first time. Which, considering this nation’s penchant for hot hatches (and the hot Golf in particular), is virtually a homecoming.
As we found out when we first drove the GTI on the continent, there is much to rejoice at. Volkswagen’s fettling of its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine has rendered modest power gains, but a whole heap more torque. In fact, the new GTI produces 37lb ft more than even the previous Golf GTI Edition 35 managed from its detuned Golf R engine.
This extra torque comes regardless of whether you opt for the £980 Performance Pack or not, although we’d recommend you do, because while the 10bhp gain may be negligible, the tick also gets you Volkswagen’s new electronically activated mechanical limited-slip differential and uprated brakes.
The Performance Pack also has no effect on the car’s claimed economy, which has increased to an admirable 44.1mpg combined with the six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox-equipped car tested here (the manual manages a claimed 47.1mpg). The GTI’s CO2 emissions – 149g/km for the DSG, 139g/km in manual guise – keep it several handy VED bands ahead of its rivals, too.
Being at the top of the current range guarantees a decent amount of kit. Dual-zone climate, 18-inch alloys, bi-xenon headlights, tinted rear glass, parking sensors and the upgraded 5.8-inch touchscreen media system are all standard, and all UK-bound GTIs will get the Automatic Distance Control radar monitoring system responsible for automatic emergency braking, and a subsequent five-group insurance saving.
It’s well that the Golf can boast such savings because it remains a pricy option, with the range-topping five-door model tested here starting at £28,895. Tot up its options and you won’t get much change from £33,000, which makes the car arguably a closer rival to the BMW M135i than it is to the Ford Focus ST.
What’s it like?
Like someone turned up the wick on a standard-issue Golf. Volkswagen has taken much that was praiseworthy about its already incredibly well resolved hatchback – stability, road-holding, ride, responsiveness – and made them the consummate features of an all-purpose express.
An already broad footprint has been sprawled noticeably. Combined with superb body control, the GTI has a change of direction permeated not only with locked-jaw flatness, but also a brand of adhesiveness that instills endless and extreme faith in proceedings.
That confidence comes immediately, and despite the time it takes to adapt to the variable-ratio steering. The progressively geared system responds increasingly quickly as lock is applied more aggressively, which makes it both arcade-game zippy and a wee bit artificial.
However, any cock-ups on initial placement are rarely problematic thanks to the Golf’s ocean-wide and forgiving limits. Brake where ever you like; the rear end is a cautious line-tightener rather than a rabid tail-waver, partly by design and partly because the stability control cannot be disengaged fully.
Your focus is likely to be nailed to the front anyway, especially if you’ve paid extra for the diff. It’s a subtle affair, channeling torque unobtrusively to the outside wheel but encouraging smoother throttle inputs than would strictly be necessary in some of its more aggressive (and wholly mechanical) rivals. That said, actually breaching the GTI’s traction requires anti-social levels of effort.
Simply driving it enormously quickly does not. As slick as it is, the DSG ’box would not be our choice of transmission (it remains tentative in D, overzealous in S and unwilling to hold a gear in so-called manual mode), but that new surfeit of torque, and a ready-for-action willingness to deploy it, makes the Golf seem accessibly fast.
Ally that to a malleable, ground-hugging ride quality that is rarely befuddled by British topography and the Golf GTI will impassively harness that pace everywhere.
Should I buy one?
That depends. The GTI, as it was doubtless meant to be, is a paragon of Volkswagen’s performance values. It’s seriously rapid, unfaltering, fluent, virtually invulnerable and safe. You could drive 300 miles at eight-tenths without doubt, worry or agony, and cluck with real satisfaction at the end.
For the overwhelming majority, that will be plenty enough. It’s enough to ensure that we like it a lot. But for the plucky few, the minority concerned with those final two-tenths, its ultimate lack of dialogue and congenial sense of detachment might just rankle a bit. Truth be told, every question you pose the car is answered with class, proficiency and engineering panache, yet comparatively little is asked of you in return.
In such rarefied air, the case for a more adjustable, care-free and raucous Golf could be made. Let’s hope that is where Volkswagen has found room for the forthcoming Golf R. Which would leave the GTI where it has always been: perfectly judged for the middle ground.
VW Golf GTI Performance Pack 5dr DSG
Price £28,895; 0-62mph 6.4sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 44.1mpg; CO2 149g/km; Kerb weight 1370kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 227bhp 4700-6200rpm; Torque 258lb ft 1500-4600rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch auto
What is it?