The Numbers

1984cc, 4cyl, FWD, 162kW, 350Nm, 6.2L/100km, 139g/km CO2, 0-100km/h in 6.4secs, 250km/h, 1351kg

The Topgear Verdict

More than ever, the Golf is all things to all men and women. But in hitting every target, it denies you deep driving satisfaction.

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Like the weather and Larry Emdur, the Volkswagen Golf is omnipresent. It's the answer to roughly 85 per cent of all car-related questions that ever get asked, and 60 per cent of all questions, full stop. The downside to this crushing ubiquity is that occasionally you might want to set about its bonnet with a large branch because it's so boringly good.

VW has arranged for TG to go on an exclusive advance sortie to a private circuit beside a château near France's Aix-en-Provence. A handful of VW engineers are waiting for us, armed with graphs and diagrams. "The Golf GTI is a car that everyone, regardless of their ability, should be able to drive to maybe 90 per cent of its maximum within a few minutes," Karsten Schebsdat, manager of passenger car chassis tuning, tells me. Lots of wavy lines and pointing to schwimmwinkel - slip angles - certainly suggests that this is a car that can handle a whole load of abuse. "We did a slalom test in the GTI at 225km/h, and, as you can see, there are no sharp curves on the graph," Karsten adds contentedly.

Its clever new diff is an electro-hydraulic set-up that can lock 100 per cent, and uses a multiplate coupling on the diff box and right driveshaft. The aim: reduced steering angle, more precise handling, increased cornering velocity, slingshot exit speeds.

Here we go, then. There's a long, fast straight, interrupted by a coned chicane, into a fairly long right-hander. You only have to look at it to know that this is understeer city. The approach to the corner is a good indicator of the GTI's overall character: it's smooth, unruffled and fast without kicking you in the back or grabbing you by the balls. Taking the cones at 150km/h reveals how little effort you need at the wheel - it's an electro-mechanical set-up and a wrist-flick will do - and how fantastically composed the car is; not too hard on the brakes, surprisingly throaty rasps from the exhaust as you work your way down through the gearbox, then turn in. Everything feels enjoyably linear, if a little… aloof.

But midway through the corner, you can simply stand on the throttle, then more or less go on holiday while some torque-shuffling front-axle voodoo hauls you around. The GTI has never been a car whose back end was particularly mobile, but more than ever the slip angles are minimal. Drive it like a gorilla with pepper on its bum, and still the Golf hangs on. And on.

Being out on the French roads delivers a more realistic tableau. All GTIs come with Driver Profile Selection (DPS) which allows you to tweak steering 'feel', throttle and DSG shift times (if you have it), but you'll need to stump up for the Adaptive Chassis Control to take charge of the suspension and damping.

On choppy rural black-top, I opted for Sport in everything bar the suspension; Normal mode is firm enough on the 18-inch wheels. The GTI in Performance trim does 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds, which is more than enough pace. It covers ground with less drama than a Ford Focus ST, BMW 135i or Renault Megane RS. The brakes are fine, too. Consequently, you find yourself travelling a fair bit faster than you probably realise.

But is the GTI now too refined for its own good? Could be. It flatters the normal driver, which is obviously the point, but if you like your hot hatches a bit more edgy and interactive, it's still a bit… aloof.

Lovely with it, mind you. No one else can craft a car quite like VW. The subtle red grille strip that arrived with the MkV is now all over the shop: in the bi-xenon headlights, the brake calipers, and the tasty GTI wing badge. As ever, the GTI is a solid-looking article, more chiselled in this latest form, but still with the big wheels and C-pillars and tight shutlines.

Pull the huge and heavy doors shut, and the cabin is distilled Essence of VW. There's red in the door sills, on the Alcantara seat facings, in the door rests, and, of course, in the long-running tartan Jacara seat trim (not a clan we've heard of). There's a chunky three-spoke, flat-bottomed wheel, a golf-ball gearknob on a curious supporting structure, black roof-lining and red ambient lighting. It's best-in-class stuff, as is the touchscreen multimedia, which includes DAB as standard, and whose satnav controls spookily appear as your hand nears the screen. The system itself is also excellent, though we won't know if it's included as standard until the GTI is launched in Australia in the fourth quarter of 2013.

The new Golf GTI is as sound a bet as ever. But this one feels almost like a risk-averse hot hatch, as though it's holding back a bit from fully expressing itself. So it's not quite the home run its predecessor was. If the GTI is a barometer of the times, then this one reflects where we're at in 2013. And, as you've probably noticed, it's somewhere pretty serious.

Reviewed by: Jason Barlow

Driven: June 21, 2013