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Driven: Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.

Driven: Volkswagen Golf GTI
The original hot hatch faces stiff and plentiful competition - does it make a case for itself?

 



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Volkswagen Golf GTI

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: rock-solid image, truly classy all-round abilities, stunning engine.

Not so good: it's still not the most exciting thing to drive...

Key Facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Golf GTI
Price: from £26,580; car as tested £27,445
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 139g/km (Band E, £130 annually)
Combined economy: 47.1mpg
Top speed: 152mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 220hp at 4,500rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1,500- to 4,400rpm

Our view:

It seems like barely a day goes by without a hot hatch of some form or another being launched. Whether it's a modestly-powered, warm motor like the Hyundai i30 Turbo, a bastion of engineering such as the turbocharged, 310hp Honda Civic Type R, or a storming über hatch with the sort of power to embarrass a Porsche - Audi RS 3, we're looking at you - the general recipe for making a basic three- or five-door car into something sporty is currently being used by many automotive cooks.

So where does that leave the original and, some would say, crème de la crème of this group? The Volkswagen Golf GTI has been around since 1975, a full four decades, and is now into its seventh generation. It's not only challenged by a whole raft of external competitors from the usual sources - Ford, Vauxhall and the French marques - but it faces 'in-group' competition from cars that are spawned from its platform: SEAT's Leon Cupra, Skoda's Octavia vRS and the Audi S3. Not only that, Volkswagen itself seems determined to undermine it; there are two more frugal performance versions, the GTD diesel and GTE plug-in hybrid, while for not too many pennies more you can slot yourself behind the wheel of the sublime, 300hp, all-wheel drive Golf R.

It seems like the GTI is in danger of becoming an irrelevance in a crowded marketplace, yet there it is, still happily sitting in Volkswagen's price list and remaining a relatively uncomplicated offering. There are estate versions of the GTD and R Golfs, but there is no such variance for the GTI. It comes as a three- or five-door hatchback only, with a choice of one 220hp engine and two gearboxes - both six-speed items, one a classic manual and the other one of Volkswagen Group's superb DSG twin-clutch automatic units. The Performance Pack adds another 10hp and some mechanical upgrades into the GTI mix for a £980 premium.

The MkVII looks great, although (Mks III and IV excepted) that's never been an issue for the Golf GTI. All the classic signifiers are there, inside and out: the red pinstripe in the honeycomb grille, the discreet GTI badges front, sides and rear, Jacara Red tartan cloth seats, red needles in the dials and red illumination in the door sills, plus that 'golf ball' gear knob (on the manual, at least). And they're all brilliant, working with the newer devices such as spaced, twin exhausts at the rear, black slats at either extreme of the front bumper and gorgeous 18-inch five-spoke alloys. That everything to do with the visuals and the build are of the highest quality almost goes without saying.

Nor is the Golf GTI ludicrously expensive or sparsely equipped. By the same token, it's not exactly cheap at a basic £26,580 for the three-door manual, yet you'll benefit from the XDS+ electronic differential lock, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Bluetooth, all-round parking sensors, bi-Xenon headlights and dual-zone climate control for that cash. Our car's only option was £1,765 for the Discover Navigation Pro touchscreen satnav, controlled via an eight-inch colour display, and featuring both voice control and three years' worth of map updates in the cost. It feels about spot on in terms of price point as a result.

If you're buying a hot hatch for its ability to fizz along your favourite road in a manner no other car can compete with, then the Golf GTI is not for you. Seriously. It's probably eight, maybe even nine out of ten in all dynamic areas, but it never quite scales the stellar heights in one single discipline to make it feel a cut above certain competitors. It always maintains a slight air of aloofness that will frustrate you on those odd occasions when there's no one else on board, the sun is shining and the quiet, rural road unfurling ahead of you is empty. Find another seven grand and buy the Golf R if you fall into this category.

What the GTI does, and has always done so well, is put in an effortless display in all circumstances that makes it a doddle to live with on a daily basis. The 220hp engine is muscular, willing and makes a great noise, with rudely healthy acceleration in the lower gears. It's also tractable enough - thanks to that 2,900rpm-wide torque curve - to pull keenly in fifth and sixth gears from lower speeds. The manual gearbox is wonderful and slick, if not quite as tight as some other transmissions we can think of (they're usually from Japan), while the brakes are epic. It used to be the case that Volkswagen over-assisted its stoppers, leading to difficult-to-predict modulation, but there's no such issue here, just good, clean bite from the pads and perfect pedal progression.

All of this makes it capable and mildly amusing on a twisting road, yet the Golf's real forte is how it deals with the mundane driving. And, let's face it, that's what all cars have to put up with on a much more regular basis. It's also why the Golf GTI endures, because it settles back into a hugely refined cruise when the traffic demands it, the engine dying away to a whisper, the ride supple and comfy, and the real world fuel usage of a level way in advance of what you'd expect for a car capable of 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds - we saw an economy return of 42.4mpg on a long motorway run that involved a lot of stop-start flow and some 'enthusiastic' bouts of acceleration to make up for time lost to congestion. So the 47.1mpg official figure looks like it might be attainable.

The long and short of all of this is that the Golf GTI is no longer the de facto class-leader for hot hatches, certainly if driving involvement is top of your list. Both Renault and Ford offer cars that will put more smiles on your face per mile. But as something that can still entertain to a reasonable level on a B-road blast, while also demolishing drab motorway runs and urban commuting with consummate ease, there's next to nothing out there which can offer the same blend of abilities that the Golf GTI possesses. That it also looks fantastic and has the sort of badge cred that its rivals would kill for are reasons enough to understand why the Volkswagen Golf GTI is celebrating 40 years in 2015 - and why it's highly likely to be around for many decades more to come.

Alternatives:

Ford Fiesta ST: the bargain one. No, we've not gone mad - of course the Focus ST is the Golf's natural rival. But performance-wise, the smaller, lighter Fiesta isn't a million miles off the Volkswagen and it's more fun to drive - if some way short of the Golf in terms of refinement, usability and credibility.

Renaultsport Mégane 275 Trophy: the dynamic one. Not as cheap as you might imagine and while it has an excellent interior, it's still not as classy within as the Volkswagen. Yet the driving dynamics on this thing are simply sublime and the GTI can't emulate it.

SEAT Leon Cupra 280: the awkward one. For Volkswagen, anyway. The Leon has always been a bargain and quick, but for some reason Volkswagen Group let SEAT make the current model almost as refined as the Golf. Which means that, with 60hp more and a broadly comparable price tag... we'd probably have the Cupra instead of the GTI.


Matt Robinson - 13 Aug 2015









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2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.



2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 






 

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