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, if less distinctive looking than before (despite the fact its red grille frame line now extends into the headlights), but the ‘want one’ factor remains sky high.
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. Spend another £795 and you’ll gain adaptive chassis control, which 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 electrohydraulic diff that absolutely nails the GTI’s front end to the corner. A touch soft overall, and maybe lacking in ultimate drama, but the Golf GTI is still searingly good.
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 both state-of-the-art and best-in-class, with touchscreen multimedia – including DAB as standard – red ambient lighting, and the sort of high quality, purposeful atmosphere many rivals can only dream about. Its active and passive safety systems are peerless, too.
Practicality matters to Golf GTI buyers too. This one doesn’t let them down. Fitting a family of five inside is entirely viable.
Priced from £26,130 to £27,750, it’s hard to shift the feeling that this is pretty much the only car you need. No mean feat. More powerful than before, VW claims a much improved and barely believable combined average of 47.1mpg, while CO2 emissions of 139g/km put it in band E. On top of that, the fitment of an emergency braking radar sensor in the grille means that the GTI sits a full five insurance groups lower than before. There’s not a hot hatch on sale that’s more capable yet more sensible than this.