From £24,2578

Maybe the most aspirational company car currently made by the manufacturer that invented the aspirational hatchback: this is the Mk 7 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’ over 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.

How does the Mark 7 Golf GTD better the Mark 6 generation?

Power is up from 168bhp to 181bhp, and torque rises to 280lb ft. The 0-62mph dash is cut to 7.5sec while the DSG version cuts that time by 0.1sec. On the emissions front the standard GTD rolling on 18in wheels produce between 122 and 129g/km, while the GTD Bluemotion models reduce the CO2 output to between 116 and 129g/km, which is largely down to the Golf riding on 17in alloy wheels.

On the equipment front, the GTD has gained numerous standard additions as part of the 2017 Golf range facelift. The outside has been given a light makeover, with new bumpers and LED rear lights clusters added to the package. As for the rest of the package, the GTD comes with the same equipment that is standard on the GT trimmed Golfs, which includes tinted rear windows, LED foglights, ambient interior lighting and Volkswagen Discover infotainment system complete with an 8.0in touchscreen display, sat nav, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, smartphone integration and access to Volkswagen's online services.

Added to the sportiest diesel in the Golf range is an aggressive looking bodykit, LED headlights, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and 12.3in Volkswagen's Active Info Display, which is similar to Audi's Virtual Cockpit found orginally on the TT.

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.

Does the Volkswagen Golf GTD manage to be a frugal GTI?

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 ‘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.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Top 5 Hot Hatches

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Renault Captur Dynamique S Nav dCI 110
    First Drive
    26 July 2017
    To keep pace with rivals in this increasingly competitive category, Renault's popular compact crossover has had a mild refresh both inside and out
  • Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid
    First Drive
    25 July 2017
    New top-of-the-line Porsche hybrid, though fast and flexible, is simply too heavy to strike the same sweet sporting compromise as its siblings
  • Caterham Seven 420R Donington Edition
    First Drive
    25 July 2017
    Limited-edition road-legal Caterham track car is a superbly enthralling drive, with enough creature comforts to be used on the road as well. Even more addictive than most of its rangemates
  • McLaren 570S Spider
    First Drive
    25 July 2017
    McLaren has created its most attainable drop-top by removing the roof from the 570S coupé, but none of the car's talent has come away with it
  • 2017 Range Rover Velar
    First Drive
    23 July 2017
    The Range Rover Velar is the most road-biased car Land Rover has made. So does it still feel like a proper part of the family?