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, a 2017 facelift of the Golf range saw Volkswagen give the GTI tools to compete in an ever expanding sector with the standard GTI's power increased to 228bhp, while the GTI Performance gets 242bhp - the same as the hottest Skoda currently on sale. The seventh generation Golf GTI was given special makeovers to mark the 40th anniversary with the GTI Clubsport Edition 40 and a limited run Clubsport S.

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

Top 5 Hot Hatches

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week