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Model

GTI Performance

Price

$48,490

The Numbers

2.0-litre, 4cyl turbo, 169kW, 350Nm, 6sp dual clutch, 0-100km/h 6.4sec, 6.6L/100km

The Topgear Verdict

A quality evolution of VW’s hot hatch Godfather. Big bucks, but it delivers big enjoyment in return.

2014 VW Golf GTI Performance

So, what is it?

As the name implies, this is an upgraded variant of the already potent Golf GTI with even more power, bigger brakes, a tricky new diff lock, and a unique equipment spec.

Why should I care?

This Performance fills a niche between the standard Golf GTI, and the flagship, all-wheel drive R model. It’s claimed to be marginally faster in a straight line than the base car (6.4 secs 0-100km/h vs 6.5), without any fuel economy penalty.

What's new about it?

The 2.0-litre turbo four has been re-tuned to deliver an extra seven kW (now 169kW), with maximum delivery beginning 200rpm later (now 4,700-6,200rpm). The torque number is unchanged at 350Nm, but its broad plateau of max grunt extends an extra 200rpm higher (now 1,500-4,600rpm).

The brake upgrade is a direct steel from the R, with front ventilated rotors stepping up in diameter from 312 to 340mm, and the rears going from solid 300mm discs, to 310mm vented units.

Standard Golf GTI spec includes an ‘Extended Electronic Differential Lock’ (XDL), which manages brake pressure to the inner front wheel in cornering to minimise slip, and maximise traction. The Performance picks up an electronically-controlled mechanical diff lock, developed in-house, and claimed by VW as a first for the brand. It shifts power to the loaded drive wheel in cornering with the aim of reduced understeer and more precise drive out of corners.

That's all fine. What's it like to drive fast?

The Performance is brilliant fun to drive; light and nimble, with a progressive steering system (just 2.0 turns lock-to-lock) and variable (electric) assistance delivering direct response and quality road feel at all speeds.

A Drive Mode Select (DMS) system offers driver-switchable modes, managing the adaptive suspension, steering weight and gear shift points.

The dual injection engine (multi-point at low loads, direct-injection at high load) is eager, and spins up without any serious lag or response issues. It’s raspy, with cool spits and pops on max rpm upshifts.

Rims are unique 19 inch alloys (up from 18s on the standard car) wrapped with 225/35 Pirelli P Zero rubber, and cornering grip is strong; helped in no small part by the new diff lock. You can feel the car subtly transferring drive to the loaded wheel in quick cornering, with impressive results.

The electronic stability program (ESP) is also switchable through three modes – Standard, with full traction control and stability support, one press for the (ASR) traction control off, and two presses for ESP Sport, which allows a certain amount of drift before the system steps in to save the day.

Single transmission choice is a six-speed (DSG) dual clutch ‘box with Sport mode and flappy paddle shifters. Changes are satisfyingly snappy, especially in Sport mode.

And driving from home to the office in the city?

The beauty of the GTI is that it combines Golf hatchback practicality, with a premium specification and sporty dynamics.

The Performance is obedient and refined in normal city driving, with the DMS set to ‘Normal’ ride quality is excellent thanks to a suspension calibration (strut front, four-link rear) well balanced between comfort and dynamic response.

The sports front seats provide a similar balance between lateral location and comfy long-distance support.

How much would I have to pay for one? And is it worth the coin?

Price entry-point is $48,990, which is a $4K premium over the standard GTI DSG. And for that, as well as the engine and driveline upgrades, the Performance picks up bi-xenon headlights, dark tinted LED tail lights, tinted glass, the 19-inch ‘Santiago’ alloy wheels and Pirelli performance tyres, plus new ‘Clark’ pattern tartan seats upholstery, with Alcantara trim on the head rests and side bolsters.

A Driver Assistance Package (Adaptive Cruise Control, Front Assist with City Emergency Brake, Lane Assist lane departure warning, and Side Assist lane changing assistance) is $1,300 extra, and leather trim is a $3,150 option.

Nudging 50 grand is big money for a hot hatch, but there’s no doubting this car delivers ‘performance’ value.

Is there anything bad about it?

The GTI and GTI Performance can feel a bit clinical in their efficiency; some preferring a looser, more flamboyant personality in their hot hatch experience. The DMS’s Sport mode is also fairly aggressive, and not exactly user-friendly at anything under eight tenths driving intensity.

Would you take this or the Renault Megane RS265?

Gallic flair or Teutonic precision? The brilliant Megane’s around $7K cheaper so it might be worth a look before you commit to the Golf.

Driven: April 11, 2014