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The Top Gear car review: Volkswagen Golf GTI/R

£17,540£35,465
8/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Quality, all-round professionalism, ownership experience

Against: 

Not as exciting to drive as some rivals
Overlook the fact it’s so good that it’s almost joyless: the latest Golf GTI is very desirable indeed.

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Our choice

Volkswagen

2.0 TSI GTI 5dr

£25,570
N/A
39mpg
6.90s
210bhp
170g/km

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.

Driving

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. 

Owning

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.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
2.0 TSI R 3dr DSG
4.9s 159g/km 40.9 300 £32,000
The cheapest
1.2 TSI S 3dr
11.9s 113g/km 57.6 85 £17,540
The greenest
e-Golf 5dr Auto
10.4s 0g/km 115 £31,270

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

9/10

Renault Megane Renaultsport

£16,515£22,900
Renaultsport Megane 265 with the Cup Chassis pack, and wild is the word