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First drive: Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.

First drive: Volkswagen Golf GTI
Can the Mk VII Volkswagen Golf form the platform for the best GTI yet?

   



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| First Drive | Nice, France | Volkswagen Golf GTI |

Overall rating: 5 5 5 5 5

As ever, there are many more powerful hot hatches than the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but, as ever, few of them offer the same blend of highly engaging dynamics, everyday usability and utter desirability. The Mk VII reinforces that - and there's no need to spend a fortune on extras.

Key Facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Golf GTI three-door manual
Pricing: £25,845
Engine: turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: three-door hatchback (also available as a five-door)
Rivals: Ford Focus ST, Mégane Renaultsport 265, Vauxhall Astra VXR
CO2 emissions: 139g/km
Combined economy: 47.1mpg
Top speed: 153mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 220hp at 4,500- to 6,200rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1,500- to 4,400rpm

In the Metal: 5 5 5 5 5

Volkswagen hasn't strayed too far from its tried and tested GTI styling template, though the red stripe that extends into the headlights does make it more obvious, as do the black strakes on either side of the deeper front bumper. In the UK, the bi-Xenon headlights are standard and they certainly enhance the overall look. Buyers can upgrade the standard 18-inch wheels to the more extrovert 19-inch option. At the rear, an exhaust either side of the lower bumper, LED lights with a deep red finish and a body-coloured roof spoiler differentiate the GTI from other versions of the Golf.

Inside, the heavily sculpted leather steering wheel and iconic GTI 'tartan' cloth set this car apart from others as standard, and there are also stainless steel pedals and illuminated door sills. The seats hold their occupants snugly, though comfortably and overall it feels sportier than the regular Golf, without losing that car's sense of incredibly high quality.

Driving it: 5 5 5 5 5

Where to begin? How brilliant the new Golf GTI is on the road is best illustrated by the fact that, for the first 50 or so miles of our test route, we didn't realise that our car was fitted with the optional 'ACC' adaptive damping system. It coped with everything from a motorway to a small town with plenty of speed bumps to some of the most exciting corners to be found anywhere on the public road with aplomb. Then we discovered that it was in 'Normal' mode. Select Sport and the steering firms up (arguably unnecessarily), throttle response sharpens up to make heel-and-toe blips easier and the damping and body control ratchet up a degree or three. In this guise the GTI takes on a very different stance, with less body roll and movement under braking and a general feeling of togetherness and tautness - albeit at the expense of a little comfort.

We tested the (mostly) standard car, equipped with a deliciously mechanical six-speed manual gearbox, and not the much-hyped Performance Pack that everyone is banging on about. Hence it has 'only' 220hp. However, I defy anyone that takes the new Golf GTI for a drive down their favourite back road to come back calling the performance lacklustre. Sure, the numbers say that several hot hatches outgun it, but on the road you'd not bet against the Volkswagen.

The steering helps enormously. Like the Focus ST, it features a variable ratio rack and with only 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, turn-in is pin-sharp. Front-end grip is formidable too, even on damp mountain roads. Accelerating hard out of second gear corners the inside wheel scrabbles for grip before the ESP system reins it in, but even so progress is swift. The rear end occasionally comes into play, but most of the time it's quite planted. Despite that you can sense all four tyres doing their job as the car scythes through corners. For most the standard brakes will be sufficient, though after a particularly 'enthusiastic' piece of driving we did experience a little fade. Before that the firm pedal gave a lot of confidence to attack.

The DSG auto versus manual debate rages on and this author is firmly in the manual gearbox camp, though I do concede that the dual-clutch transmission is better than ever, and it's still an exciting car with this gearbox attached to the engine (to confirm that we took it for quick drive - in five-door format).

While the overall package is nigh on unbeatable, mixing everyday usability with proper driver engagement, the engine is still worth a mention. It produces 220hp and 350Nm of torque, which are useful outputs, but when you realise how much of the rev range that grunt is available over it begins to make sense why the Golf feels so quick. Enhancing that sensation is a more prominent induction sound than in the new car's predecessor. There's no mistaking the fact that you're driving the new GTI.

What you get for your Money: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

We're tempted to give the GTI five out of five here, and though the Golf is well-equipped, we've docked it that last half a star because of its price relative to its rivals - most notably the Ford Focus ST. However, the Performance Pack, even at between £980, is a steal, and if you like driving it's a must-have - it includes an electronically controlled limited slip differential, bigger (and ventilated) brakes all-round and a 10hp boost for the engine.

Worth Noting

We've intentionally not talked too much about the Performance Pack in this review, as that car deserves its own piece. The standard model, however, still gets 'Progressive Steering' (variable ratio) and an ESC Sport mode. Briefly pressing the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) button deactivates traction control. Hold it down for three seconds and ESC Sport is selected, allowing more time before the system intervenes.

Summary

We were prepared for the new Golf GTI to be a bit special. After all, the Mk VII hatchback in humdrum format has moved the goalposts for family cars in the class. The Golf GTI, despite its relatively modest power output, continues that theme. It's still the most complete hot hatch money can buy.


Shane O' Donoghue - 30 Apr 2013



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2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Laurens Parsons.



2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image by Volkswagen.
 






 

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