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The Top Gear car review:Volkswagen Golf GTI/R
For:Quality, all-round professionalism, ownership experience
Against:Not as exciting to drive as some rivals
2.0 TSI GTI 5dr
What’s this, then?
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Incredibly confident, engaging and very well refined. But maybe you should buy the cheaper Leon FR instead?
Obviously, we’ll tell you to go all out and get a GTI. But if you want to save pennies, this is a fine, well-sorted eco machine.
The GTI vs its upgraded Performance Pack version. Fight!
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You might think it po-faced and humourless, but you just can’t argue with this sort of comfort, economy and quality
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A very nice car, but not actually the hot hatch it pretends to be. And deceit is really quite a bad thing.
The definitive all-rounder for a world in crisis. Cars don’t come more complete than this.
Still the best hot-hatch on the market, even if it’s lost some of that vital visual understatement.
There’s nothing here that will blow your mind, but it’s all where it should be and all works well.
New Golf, new levels of refinement. Even the petrols are better.
Why can’t more eco cars be like this? No leafy logos or pompous wafflings here, which is just how we like it.
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What we say:
It was already great. Now it's even better. It's easy to see why this is many people's default hot hatch
What is it?
You need to ask? This is the definitive hot hatch, the template, the absolute guv’nor. Having mislaid its mojo down the back of the sofa for much of the ’90s, the Golf GTI has been on a roll since 2005’s fantastic MkV iteration, and reaches new levels of sophistication a decade later in this MkVII form. ‘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,’ VW’s chassis boss says.
It’s as crisply styled as ever and the ‘want one’ factor remains sky high. For those who don’t, VW also offers the R ‘superhatch’, with 296bhp, four-wheel drive and a more premium appearance.
The GTI is powered by a 2.0-litre, 217bhp turbocharged four-pot, which is good for 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, and a top speed of 152mph. What more do you really need? We’d take the six-speed manual ’box over the rather numb dual-clutch auto, and the GTI’s fully independent rear suspension and phenomenally capable chassis help serve up an unimpeachable blend of handling accuracy and ride comfort. Adaptive chassis control costs £795 more and beefs up the dampers and overall poise. But if you really want to wring the best out of it, another £980 nets the Performance Pack, principally a clever electro-hydraulic diff that absolutely nails the GTI’s front end to the corner. As for the R, it is all this and more, with stupendous pace (with DSG, it rockets to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds) and ample grip. The performance car you’d hope the GTI could grow into.
On the inside
The tartan seat trim, golf ball gearlever and flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel all invoke memories of the original GTI. The rest of its cabin is best-in-class, with touchscreen multimedia, ambient lighting, and the sort of high quality, purposeful atmosphere many rivals can only dream about. Instead of the tartan, R buyers get Audi-like flourishes: lovely.
Practicality matters to Golf GTI and R buyers too. Neither lets them down. Fitting a family of five inside is entirely viable.
It’s hard to shift the feeling that this is pretty much the only car you need. No mean feat. VW claims a barely believable combined average of 47.1mpg for the GTI, while CO2 emissions of 139g/km put it in band E. On top of that, the fitment of emergency braking means the GTI sits a full five insurance groups lower than before. The R is pricey, sure, but equipped to match and even this can average 40mpg. There’s not a hot hatch on sale that’s more capable yet more sensible than these two.