Maybe the most aspirational company car currently made by the manufacturer that invented the aspirational hatchback: this is the new Volkswagen Golf GTD.

It has become a status symbol for the upwardly mobile middle-management set, just as the original GTI came to represent the cash-rich ‘yuppie’ nearly 30 years ago, and continues to thrive in spite of the charge of cars such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. In a normal year, VW sells twice as many GTDs as GTIs.

But, evidently, Wolfsburg would like you to take this car a bit more seriously as a performance machine. For this latest version, performance levels have therefore been increased, along with efficiency, in an attempt to make the car ‘the business’ as much as it is about day-to-day business.

Power is up from 168bhp to 181bhp, and torque rises to 280lb ft. The 0-62mph dash is cut to 7.5sec, while carbon dioxide emissions tumble to a remarkable 109g/km.

There are extended sports bumpers and side sills that add a bit of visual intent, as well as a honeycomb front air grille, 18in alloy wheels and GTD identifier badges, front wings and bootlid. The result looks quietly purposeful without risking extravagance – as most owners would want it.

Don’t want anyone mistaking us for Flash Harry, do we?

On the inside, there’s the usual obvious material quality to admire, as well as an appealing smattering of classic GTI trim additions: tartan cloth seats, a special steering wheel and instrument cluster, and the obligatory golf ball-themed gearlever.

Underneath, you get lowered and stiffened sports suspension and an enhanced version of VW’s ‘XDS’ limited-slip diff-apeing traction control system, working here on all four wheels instead of just the front two, to reduce power-on understeer. You also get beefier brakes and the quickened, variable-ratio steering setup from the Golf GTI.

The four-cylinder engine is refined for a high-output diesel. More importantly, it’s responsive for an oil-burner and delivers a pretty potent turn of speed. The torquey dig you get as you flatten the accelerator comes promptly, and it’s hefty. The motor also seems happy enough to rev beyond 3500rpm, without rewriting the rulebook on the best way to get outright performance from a diesel: you're better off staying in the mid-range, in other words.

VW’s new ‘progressive’ steering rack brings extra directness to the car’s handling mix at normal speeds, and as hard as we could push it on the road, and it doesn’t seem to add unwanted understeer off-centre. Chassis balance is good, albeit not great. Our test car – fitted with VW’s optional ACC adaptive dampers – rode fairly firmly at low speed, even in Comfort mode.

At cross-country pace, the chassis has a good breadth of ability, with the softer settings allowing better ride comfort and some body movement, and Sport tightening things up to a level of body control unknown even by the previous-generation Golf GTI

But you still wouldn’t describe the car’s handling as exciting. The GTD continues to go about its business in an effective but slightly aloof way. It’s quick enough, but doesn’t grip or involve quite like a full-fat petrol hot hatch. It balances the wish for occasional thrills against the one for an easy, undemanding everyday drive. But again, that’s probably exactly as it should be. 

As an alternative to a Ford Focus ST, it’s lacking edge. But next to a BMW 120d – a poverty-spec 320d Efficient Dynamics, even - it’s easy to see the equipment-rich, understated sporting appeal.

Volkswagen Golf GTD 

Price £25,285; Engine 4cyls, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Power 181bhp at 3500-4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750-3250rpm; 0-62mph 7.5sec; Top speed 142mph; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1377kg; Economy 67.3mpg; CO2 109g/km

Top 5 Hot hatches

  • Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R
    The Trophy-R is a track-focused 271bhp front-drive hot hatchback

    Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R

  • Ford Focus ST
    This four-cylinder Focus feels lighter at the front than its five-pot predecessor

    Ford Focus ST

  • Seat Leon Cupra
    The new Leon Cupra is offered with a choice of 261bhp or 276bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines

    Seat Leon Cupra

  • Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7
    This is the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI

    Volkswagen Golf GTI

  • Skoda Octavia vRS
    It's not difficult to distinguish the standard vRS from the more conventional models

    Skoda Octavia vRS


First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    21 October 2016
    Can Seat’s first SUV impress, even with the heavy burden of expectation?
  • Car review
    21 October 2016
    The last hurrah for the current Aston Martin Vantage adds the track-ready GT8 to the range
  • Audi S5 Sportback
    First Drive
    20 October 2016
    New S5 Sportback is more spacious, better to drive and offers a calmer ride than before, but rivals offer greater involvement
  • Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy
    First Drive
    19 October 2016
    Mildly revised hot hatch is enjoyable on UK roads but continues to play second fiddle to the Ford Fiesta ST
  • 2016 Smart fortwo Brabus cabrio xclusive
    First Drive
    18 October 2016
    Mechanical upgrades make the Smart Fortwo Brabus cabrio better to drive, but it’s too pricey to recommend