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Week at the wheel: VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

Week at the wheel: VW Golf GTI
The latest Golf GTI is more a keen makeover than an all-new car, but like Leona Lewis, a little work has made it a superstar.


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| Week at the wheel | Volkswagen Golf GTI |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

It isn't revelatory to say that the Golf's interior is the best of all the family hatchbacks in terms of quality and ambience, but it also shames a load of cabins that cost thousands more. In a riposte to criticism that the fifth-generation car's cockpit strayed mildly off the tactility path trodden by its forebear - it didn't, it just stayed about the same - VW has made sure this one returns to form. It does more than that though: it lays a deep pile red carpet on the path.

The striking thing about the Golf's cabin, especially with GTI accoutrements, is its executive ambience; it really is a wonderful place to be. Stick with the traditional GTI tartan seats (leather strips away some of the personality) and the interior, complete with flat-bottomed, red-stitched, leather bound steering wheel rim and nouveau white backlighting, delivers its sportiness without the grand dollop of cheese that sometimes accompanies fast versions of regular cars.

Changes to the outside comprise a tailpipe at either side of the rear valance, red pinstripes for the honeycomb front grille and - on our test car - a fat set of Monza 18-inch polished alloys. Whatever you do, tick the box for those when ordering yours.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

The Mk VI gets a mild power gain over the Mk V, rising from 197bhp to 207bhp. Not a lot, as the lovely Debbie McGee's multi-millionaire husband used to say, but it makes its presence felt in a sense of extra oomph right across the rev band compared to the unit now found in the Scirocco. The outright accelerative difference is negligible, but the GTI feels smoother in its power delivery and better at putting its power down now. More composed.

But it still doesn't feel riotously fast, which is why we've stripped it of the extra star it possibly deserves. Ultimately, as effortlessly pokey as the GTI is, it's just not got the drama of a number of other hot hatches: the new Mazda3 MPS, the venerable Civic Type-R and, of course, the epoch-changing Ford Focus RS to name three. That said, the combination of engine and transmission here is among the sweetest you'll find on any hatchback; shifting cogs using the light, direct six-speed manual is satisfying in the same way slotting a cassette into a VCR player used to be, and despite 206lb.ft of torque at 1,700rpm feeling plenty, pinging the four-pot turbo all the way to the red line is satisfying because there's no let up as the revs rise. Sounds decent too; nice and grumbly moving into a fizz at the top end.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

It's the subtle balance of day-to-day comfort, cornering composure and feel that marks the GTI out as one of the great hot hatches. It's not a scalpel of a point-to-point machine by anyone's standards - its ride is far too supple for that - but there's still a poise and neutrality about the way it tackles corners. The tyres bite hard into the road, making it surprisingly difficult to throw the Golf into understeer at low speeds no matter how aggressive the steering and throttle angles. Even when the front end does break free, the electronic XDS active 'differential' applies braking pressure to a traction-less wheel to tuck the nose in nicely.

And it has a far higher quota of steering feel than its pliable setup suggests it should. It lacks an edge of resistance that would make the electrically assisted rack feel truly natural, but it's light and points the front end like a darty paper aeroplane on a windy day. In addition, the ACC three-way adaptive chassis control system makes a noticeable difference. 'Normal' mode is active, so it beefs up the damping and steering resistance the harder you drive, increasing what you can feel both through your hands and backside. In Comfort mode the suspension takes on an elastic quality that soaks up bumps tidily without the car lolloping from side to side - and that's despite the anti-roll bars being thicker here than on standard Golfs. A dual-natured car, then? Not quite, but certainly one with a very wide breadth of talent.

In contrast to the slightly frisky Scirocco, the GTI feels like it could handle far more power; some will find that anaesthetising, others a comforting sign of the chassis's capabilities. The former group should perhaps hold out for the 267bhp Golf R.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

Starting at 23,015 for a three-door, the GTI isn't cheap, but it is well-equipped, and while comparing its list price to other cars' it's prudent to remember the type of build quality and rock solid residuals it offers too. Standard kit includes a flat-bottomed, red-stitched leather sports wheel, dual-zone climate control and a set of unique 17-inch wheels. However, add the satnav, bigger rims, xenon headlamps and active chassis of our test car and you're into inhaling through your teeth territory.

But as is now the norm, CO2 emissions and fuel economy are improved in the face of a power increase. The all-new turbocharged TSI four-pot engine is - while being 10bhp more powerful than the last Golf's T-FSI unit - 2.8mpg better of and 19g/km cleaner: 35.3mpg and 189g/km versus 38.1mpg and 170g/km.

Overall: star star star star star

Volkswagen's Golf GTI isn't the quickest, cheapest or most exciting hot hatch on the market, but as far as we're concerned only the 91bhp more powerful Focus RS eclipses it. Even then, we'd still recommend the Golf to most because sometimes, believe it or not, hot hatch owners just want to get around in relaxed tranquillity. You could genuinely step from a junior executive into the Golf and not feel cheated, and it won't result in being on first-name terms with all the sales assistants at the BP around the corner. That it's also a thing of such dynamic aplomb makes it great. If only it had a little more power though. Bring on the R...

Mark Nichol - 29 Sep 2009

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2009 Volkswagen Golf specifications: (2.0 TSI 3dr)
Price: 23,015 on-the-road (test car was fitted with optional extras).
0-62mph: 6.9 seconds
Top speed: 149mph
Combined economy: 38.7mpg
Emissions: 170g/km
Kerb weight: 1339kg

Full technical specifications

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.

2009 VW Golf GTI. Image by VW.


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