Volkswagen Golf GTI review

The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI moves the hot hatch into a different era. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.

Ten Second Review

The Volkswagen Golf GTI returns and with each generation, it just becomes more polished. The slightly underwhelming Mk 6 model makes way for a car new from the ground up. It's a big step forward but little of the original GTI DNA remains.

Background

It was hard to know quite what to expect from the Mk 7 Volkswagen Golf GTI. My first impression looking at its polished alloy wheels and expensively-surfaced exterior was that this was a car nothing like the original. That was considered an inexpensive car that appealed to those who wanted practicality and fun at the same time. Adjusted for inflation, its price today would be a tad under £20,000. This car looked very different, but as I dropped into the driver's seat I noticed a couple of things. There was a similar tartan upholstery pattern as seen in the original car. The gear knob was also lightly dimpled; a nod to the original car's golf ball visual pun. Was Volkswagen really so neurotic about this car diverging from the original's script that it needed these superficial reminders? I reckon the latest car might well be good enough in its own right to forge its own fortune.

Driving Experience

The big news for enthusiasts is that this GTI is available in two different power outputs. The standard car offers 220PS between 4,500 and 6,200rpm, enabling it to hit 62mph in just 6.5 seconds before reaching a top speed of 153mph. That'll be quick enough for most but for those who think that merely represents a good start, there's a 230PS GTI Performance model which covers the sprint in 6.4 seconds and reaches 155mph. If these gains sound like small beer to you, consider this. The GTI Performance also gets bigger brakes and an electronically controlled mechanical front axle differential lock for improved cornering. Both cars get a 'progressive steering' system which means low effort at parking speeds but a smooth, natural feel when moving from small steering angles to larger ones at speed, something that has often escaped designers of modern electrically-assisted steering systems. A six-speed gearbox is fitted as standard to both cars, with the option of a six-gear DSG twin-clutch transmission for those who don't fancy a clutch pedal.

Design and Build

There's no doubt that this is a seriously good looking car these days. Some of the detailing is quite exquisite such as the red grille piping extending inside the headlamp clusters, the smoked rear light lenses and the honeycomb grille, while the 17-inch Brooklyn alloy wheels also look the part. I predict that most customers will opt for the bigger 18 or 19-inch alloy wheel options. Red, black and white production paint finishes hark back to the Eighties heyday of the Golf GTI, while the bigger roof spoiler is neatly integrated to the roof line and door pillars. The original Golf's 'Jacky' tartan seats have been reprised, this time called 'Clark', and fitted with height adjustability and an adjustable lumbar support. There are even sliding drawers incorporated beneath. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is a delight, with a circular hub and a deep dish with audio, telephone and cruise control buttons mounted on two of its three spokes. The dash is finished in an interesting capping which at first looks a little like carbon fibre but is in fact a technical finish that manages to escape the essential cheesiness of fake carbon. There's also a set of drilled pedals and a big alloy foot rest.

Market and Model

The GTI is offered in three and five door guises and all variants come with air-conditioning, Driver Alert system, seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS with ESP, XDS electronic differential lock and ISOFIX preparation for two rear child seats. There's also a touch screen Composition Touch media system includes a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, DAB digital radio, a CD player, MDI interface (for connecting iPod or MP3 player), Bluetooth telephone preparation and audio streaming with eight speakers. There are also LED reading lights, ambient lighting in the doors and centre console and electrically foldable door mirrors with puddle lights, plus front and rear parking sensors with visual display. The optional infotainment upgrade can include a zoomable 3D Google map view with Street View functionality included. It was a bit slow to respond when I used it, but the level of detail is amazing.

Cost of Ownership

All versions of the GTI are equipped with Stop/Start as standard and are built around the relatively lightweight MQB chassis. The upshot of this, good aerodynamics and a host of other detail improvements is a fuel consumption figure of 47mpg for the 220 PS model, which is some 18 per cent better than its predecessor, a car hardly renowned as a gas guzzler. Emissions are also very well controlled, this model emitting just 139g/km. Choosing the six-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox doesn't affect fuel consumption.

Summary

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a different car to the original. It has grown up, become more refined, smarter and, yes, better in virtually every regard. It doesn't need to constantly remind its customers of its roots. Time has moved on and it is what it is. And what it is is the go-to car if you want a quality hot hatch. Yes, it now campaigns in the upper echelons pricewise but the value proposition nevertheless looks good, with this Mk 7 model promising some really strong residual values that take the edge off the cost of ownership. Volkswagen hasn't forgotten about driving enjoyment as the Golf enters middle age. This one's still got the chops to entertain with its clever front axle diff lock signalling that this isn't just for people who merely want the most expensive Golf. There are some formidable vehicles in the hot hatch division, but the Golf GTI almost campaigns in its own sub niche. It's all about authenticity something true hot hatch buyers don't need unsubtle history lessons to understand.