The Volkswagen Golf GTI has never been an overt, in-your-face kind of hatch like, say, the Honda Civic Type R, and this one is not about to change half a lifetime’s convention. As you can tell from the numbers, the performance it delivers is sizeable, but it’s also discreet. We’d hope for and expect nothing less.
We mention this only because anyone expecting an engine that will dramatically ‘come on the cam’ and thrust you at the horizon while emitting an animalistic howl is in for a big disappointment. Just like the previous GTI, the Golf prefers a less frenetic approach, applying an even spread of torque from little more than idling to little less than peak power. And when you consider that strategy still produces one of the quicker cars in the class, its merit is clear to see: it provides the same or better rewards for demonstrably less effort. A 0-60mph time of 6.7sec is highly competitive, while the 50-70mph time we achieved in sixth gear shows just how useful all that low-down torque can be, particularly as it is delivered with almost non-existent turbo lag.
And yet we could not escape the nagging feeling that this latest GTI is just a touch too po-faced in the way it accelerates. Easy and impressive though it is, there is a sense of occasion missing here and the impression left is of an engine doing a job efficiently and effectively but with no great appetite. A touch more exuberance at the top end, or even a slightly sharper exhaust note would be all that was needed to make a good engine great; as it stands, it is almost too refined.
The Edition 35 Golf GTI injects some more excitement into the package. Using a detuned version of the Golf R's engine, it offers a 25bhp gain over the standard GTI, packing 232bhp in total. While the on-paper performance gains are minimal, with a 0-62mph time of 6.6sec and a top speed of 153mph, the power does bring a little more engagement to the GTI.
The cabriolet simply can not overcome its significant weight penalty when it comes to performance. Although its 0-62mph time of 7.3sec isn't too far behind the hard top GTI's, the ease of performance apparent in the hatch is lacking in the cabriolet because of the extra weight.
We liked rather than loved the transmission. All the basics are right: a good spread of ratios, short throws and a sensibly shaped lever, but the stick’s action around the gate could feel more tactile and mechanical than it does. At least the clutch is smooth and progressive, so making apparently seamless shifts is no great effort. We liked the brakes too; they’re strong, resistant to fade and easy to modulate.