Wait a minute, haven't you already reviewed the new Golf GTI?
We have indeed, observant internetist, but that was the Golf GTI with the optional Performance Pack. In a first for the Golf GTI, the MkVII is available in two flavours: hot (217bhp), or, thanks to some software tweakery, extra-hot (227bhp). We first tested extra-hot, so now it's time to give the standard GTI a go.
So what's different?
Well, the MkVII Golf GTI is lighter, more economical and a lot techier than the outgoing model. It's powered by a turbocharged, direct injection 2.0-litre petrol engine attached to either a six-speed manual, or six-speed DSG ‘box. In normal spec that means 217bhp and 258lb ft of torque - which is 51 more torques than the old model and the same as the Golf R.
But what's different about this one compared to the Performance Pack?
Not a huge amount. You get the same amount of torque but ten fewer horsepowers, slightly smaller brakes and an electronic ‘XDS+' differential lock instead of the PP's full-on differential - or ‘E-diff' in VW speak.
No proper diff? Does that mean that I'm going to understeer into a hedge at the first sniff of a corner?
No, because XDS+ is mighty effective. It applies the brakes to the inside wheel, and when you're corning hard, you can feel it biting away at each axle trying to tame your exuberance and stop you branding the front number plate in the nearest rock.
217bhp sounds a bit tame besides the 276bhp Astra VXR.
True, the stock Golf GTI is some way behind the high-horsepower marker laid down by the VXR, Megane RS and Focus ST. But the Golf by no means feels sluggish, just more... composed in the way it gathers speed. Think of the VXR as a hobnail-booted hooligan, and the GTI is as a businessman in a tailored, tartan-lined, suit. With, er, a pair of running spikes in his briefcase. It's a lot easier to extract the Golf's performance, which means you can cover ground quicker and with more confidence - especially with the DSG ‘box.
But I want a manual.
You do indeed, especially as the GTI's gearknob is pitted like a golf ball in homage to the MKI Golf. It feels a bit odd at first, like you're rummaging around Happy Gilmore's pocket, but once you've used it, the analogue box is a proper peach.
The steering is great too, thanks to VW's new ‘progressive steering', which is standard on all GTIs and constantly alters the gearing of the steering depending upon the driver's inputs. Sounds like a gimmick, but it means lock-to-lock takes just two turns, allowing you to keep your hands in the same place on the wheel when driving on tight, twisty roads.
So how do I tell the difference between the stock GTI and the Performance Pack?
The only visual clue is the lack of lettering on the brake calipers. You still get all the GTI elements: the badges, bigger bumpers, a roof spoiler, twin exhausts and red line on the radiator grille that now continues into the standard bi-xenon headlights in a very glam-rock-eyeliner way. Inside, the cloth tartan interior wraps around a cabin that includes a flat-bottomed steering wheel, red ambient lighting and GTI trim strips.
Sounds very... predictable.
Maybe, but the Golf GTI has always been the useable, compact performance car. And this one remains a genuine all-rounder, especially with the optional £800 adaptive chassis that alters the cars dynamics to suit your mood. You can choose from comfort, normal and sport... or set up your own throttle sensitivity, engine responsiveness, steering weight and suspension combo to suit you. Which means you can be softly cruising down the motorway, see some nice twisty roads, so you hit ‘sport' and at the touch of a button everything's sharp, stiff and hot-hatchy for a more focused drive.
So, come on then. Base GTI or Performance Pack?
With GTI prices starting at a weighty £25,845, you may be hesitant about forking out £980 for the Performance Pack. But we'd recommend opting for the extra power, as it turns out to actually be a bit of a bargain. It's the same price as a set of 19-inch alloys, and though the additional 10bhp is broadly insignificant, the bigger brakes and electronic limited-slip diff are worth the extra cash. Though the standard car's electronic differential isn't bad, the ability of the E-diff to shove 100 per cent of torque to the front wheel in need is truly impressive. The Performance Pack enhances the GTI's rep as a fast, compact, useable car for everyday. But even if you don't tick that box, the standard model is a great bit of kit.