No matter how ubiquitous the letters ‘GTI’ become, they are synonymous for much of the population with only one car: the Volkswagen Golf GTI. This has less to do with their original placement and more to do with serious, unbroken longevity. 

There has been a Volkswagen Golf GTI on sale for as long as any of the current Autocar road test team has been alive. Although other manufacturers have been dabbling in hot hatches for close to four decades, none comes close to imprinting a single model identity on the segment in the way that VW has done. 

But while it may stand alone as a recognisable icon of the class that it pioneered, the Golf GTI has been acknowledged as its leader only sporadically. Instead, VW has sought to stretch its ‘hot’ brief as thinly as possible so that it might be pulled down over a car of incredibly broad appeal.

There are few model introductions as notable as the Golf GTI’s debut at the 1975 Frankfurt motor show. In the UK, the car struck a chord, and what started as a trickle of left-hand-drive Mk1 cars in 1977 turned into a torrent by 1989, when the all-conquering Mk2 sold a remarkable 16,000 GTIs in one year.

The Mk3 and Mk4 were a comparative disappointment, but the Mk5 and copycat Mk6 marked a welcome return to better form, especially in runout Edition 30 and 35 formats.

In a bid to drag this new performance-orientated Golf towards the eyeline of those of us fixated on the Renault Mégane 265 and Ford Focus ST, VW has also opted – for the first time – to sell a 'Performance pack' version of the standard GTI.

So is the new Volkswagen Golf GTI worthy of the top billing once again? Let's find out.

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

    1
  • Ford Focus ST
    This four-cylinder Focus feels lighter at the front than its five-pot predecessor

    Ford Focus ST

    2
  • 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

    3
  • Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7
    This is the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI

    Volkswagen Golf GTI

    4
  • Skoda Octavia vRS
    It's not difficult to distinguish the standard vRS from the more conventional models

    Skoda Octavia vRS

    5

First drives

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