In an era of 276bhp Astra VXRs and 247bhp Focus STs, the base Golf GTI - with its 217bhp turbo 4cyl - looks, on paper at least, like a relic from the early years of the Noughties: a time when Von Dutch was cool and MSN messaging was seen as a legitimate activity.
Last month, we tried the 227bhp Performance Pack GTI, but this is our first shot in the standard car. And, yes, the Golf is noticeably slower than, say, the VXR, taking 0.6 seconds longer to reach 62mph. But it's so much more composed in the way it gathers speed. With 258lb ft of torque on tap, power delivery is strong and far smoother than the Astra's manic turbo detonation, meaning you cover ground with more confidence and thus, in the bumpy real world, likely just as quick. Especially with the optional £1,415 6spd DSG.
But don't disregard the manual. The gearknob is pitted like a golf ball in homage to the MkI GTI, which feels a bit odd at first, but once you're accustomed to the weird bobbles, you'll find the transmission a proper peach.
So is the steering, a new variable-ratio system that alters the gearing depending on driver inputs. Lock-to-lock takes just two turns, negating the need for frenzied wheel-shuffling when driving on tight, twisty roads.
Visually, the base car retains the same GTI elements as the Performance Pack: badges, bigger bumpers, roof spoiler, twin exhausts, cloth tartan interior and red line on the radiator grille that now continues into the standard bi-xenon headlights in a very glam-rock-eyeliner way. There's also loads of safety tech as standard (intelligent cruise control, emergency braking and automatic post-collision braking) that drops the GTI five insurance groups below the previous generation.
Which should save you a bit of cash... though probably not the £980 of the Performance Pack. So is it worth the upgrade, or should you go base? Well, in addition to that extra 10bhp, the PP gets you bigger brakes and trick electronic LSD, and it's the latter that really makes it the GTI of choice. The standard car's XDS+ electronic diff won't leave you understeering into oblivion, but the posher, torque-vectoring e-diff offers up astonishing traction in even the tightest corners. Spend the grand on the Performance Pack. You won't regret it.
1984cc, 4cyl, FWD, 217bhp, 258lb ft 47.1mpg, 139g/km CO2 0-62mph
in 6.5secs, 152mph 1351kg
The standard GTI is perfectly fine - but we'd be finding the extra cash to upgrade to the Performance Pack.