From £25,845
Forty years since the Volkswagen Golf GTI first set the tone for hot hatches, we find out whether it is still a leader or another chasing the pack

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Can the hottest Volkswagen Golf GTI ignite the passion and reclaim its crown now lost to the Ford Focus ST?

Mark Tisshaw
22 December 2017

Why we're running it: We have six months to discover if, after 40 years, the Golf GTI remains the world’s best all-round hot hatch

Month 1 - Specs

Life with a VW Golf GTI: Month 1

Welcoming the Golf GTI to our fleet – 29 November 2017 

Just look at this: three doors, front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox. When did you last see a new hot hatch like it?

Chances are it, too, was a Volkswagen Golf GTI, which has now been in the UK for 40 years, and this year there was a new one.

Well, new-ish. The changes don’t turn the GTI into an all-new car, but they run deeper than a light nip and tuck. Better than a Mk7 but not yet a Mk8, the Mk7.5 name that’s been bandied about seems the best fit.

That ‘point five’ gets you a little bit more everywhere. One of those little bit mores is extra power for its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine – 10bhp, up from 217bhp to 227bhp.

That power output says a lot about the Golf GTI. It has made its name by being the everyday, usable hot hatch that’s far more about accessibility than being at the leading edge of Nürburgring lap times and a member of the 300bhp-plus, four-wheel-drive club.

Of course, VW gave the pre-facelift Golf GTI a send-off by stripping it out and increasing the power in creating the Clubsport S.

That was a car VW used to tell the world: “Yeah, we can make a hot hatch like that if and when we choose to, but we think the world still needs a good, honest, wholesome hot hatch like we’ve been selling for 40 years, thank you very much.” So arrived the Mk7.5.

We want to celebrate and discover the continued relevance of that message by sampling the Golf GTI in the purest 1977-spec form as the 2017 spec sheet will allow.

For us, that means three doors instead of five, a six-speed manual gearbox (they don’t do a four-speeder like the original but will sell you a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch auto that goes without the golf-ball gearknob, so where’s the fun in that?) and the famous tartan fabric seats.

That gearbox sends the drive to the front wheels only – four driven wheels remaining the preserve of the Golf R.

This is a Golf GTI as high-tech and customisable as it has ever been, thus very easy to push well beyond a Golf R in terms of price if you spend too long browsing the options list.

Yet with my purity brief, speccing one beyond those aforementioned must-haves took no time at all, such was the ease of the configurator to create a car that just feels right.

The big decision was around turning down the £1360 Performance Pack, which takes power to the heady heights of 242bhp as well as adding more torque, a diff, beefier brakes – and more weight.

But in our original tests of the car earlier this year, as good value as the pack is, purity would raise an eyebrow to it, so we thought our money was best spent on a few options instead, such as the £830 Dynamic Chassis Control that adds adaptive dampers.

Within a week of its arrival, the £295 Climate Windscreen that clears the winter’s first morning frost as quickly as it takes the standard heated front seats to create a more agreeable temperature for one’s backside seemed a sound investment, while the £265 rear-view camera appeared a good value way of keeping that new-look rear bumper and subtle twin split exhausts nice and shiny.

The Oryx White Premium Signature paint was a bit of an extravagance at £990 (given a less pretentious name for it could be ‘shiny white’), the 18in alloys less so at £495.

The colour I love; the alloys are the one bit of our car’s exterior specifications I’m having doubts about, because the car looks a touch underwheeled on 18in wheels and rides so well that I doubt this would be a case where a larger wheel ruins the ride. Maybe larger wheels are something we’ll come back to. (Yes, I admit that’s not exactly ‘pure’.)

Inside the car, your eyes will be drawn to the new infotainment features offered on the Golf as part of some quite wide-ranging changes to the interior. All the 9.2in infotainment display’s buttons are removed when you go for the £1325 Discover Navigation Pro system, leaving it to be operated via the touchscreen, gesture, voice and steering wheel controls.

In truth, it takes some getting used to, and a precise hand to operate the screen, no matter how lovely the graphics or how fast it is to respond. I’ve found myself so far mostly using the digital instrument binnacle for key information now navigation is only displayed on it. It’s closer to my eyeline and doesn’t need a hand off the wheel to operate.

But I wouldn’t mind if there was a cassette player in the middle of the dash so long as the car turned in and had a turn of pace like a Golf GTI should. Thankfully, first impressions reveal that the Mk7.5 does.

For the Golf GTI, it seems life’s not beginning at 40, more it’s continuing to age most gracefully. A fun months-long birthday party surely lies ahead.

Second opinion

For our Readers’ Champion prize in this year’s Autocar Awards, we asked you to vote for the car that most changed motoring – and your winner was the Mk1 VW Golf GTI.

Can a modern GTI live up to the high regard the original is held in, and remain an enjoyable hot hatch once that warm glow of nostalgia has subsided along with new car smell?

Tough ask, although we’re very much looking forward to finding out.

James Attwood

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 TSI 230PS specification

Specs: Price New £28,320; Price as tested £32,520; Options Onyx White Premium Signature paint (£990), Seville Dark Graphite alloys (£495), Dynamic Chassis Control (£830), climate windscreen (£295), Discover Navigation Pro (£1325), rear view camera (£265)

Test Data: Engine 4cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 226bhp at 4700-6200rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1500-4600­rpm; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 6.4sec; Claimed fuel economy 44.1mpg; Test fuel economy 34.2mpg; CO2 148g/km; Faults None; Expenses None

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Comments
15

22 December 2017

love these things

Had the MK2 when it came out and kept it for nearly 10 years

reliable and tough as well as fun

Wish I was young again

22 December 2017

Should have been ordered with standard suspension.. never seen a road test without DCC

why waste £990 on paint when standard white would be more pure, no need for Nav Pro

It would be good to see how a standard car stood up, for all the money spent on 'soft' extras you may 

as well gone ahead and bought the Performance Pack and had a more enjoyable car..

Switchie

22 December 2017

I'm getting suspicious - you rarely see reviews of cars on standard dampers any more.   Yet that's what many customers end up with because the option is always cripplingly expensive, and creates an expensive maintenance issue once out of warranty.

Why cant companies make cars that ride AND handle any more on one setting?  Roads are not smooth and stiff springs/damper settings rarely help on the road anyway.  I kind of get the point of switchable damping on a car that's going to be tracked, but otherwise no.   Give me one setting that works and quality dampers.  The Bilsteins I fitted to my GT86 make it better handing AND better riding so it can be done.

 

22 December 2017

Still the aspire Car for many, it still looks fresh and fulfills all the important criteria too!

Peter Cavellini.

22 December 2017

How much better is this than a mk5 which was the golf that got its mojo back? I don't mean faster just better or more fun?

22 December 2017
si73 wrote:

How much better is this than a mk5 which was the golf that got its mojo back? I don't mean faster just better or more fun?

I haven't driven a current GTI, but have driven the 5 and 6 both in DSG form. The Mk6 felt quicker than the 5 with more instant acceleration. However, the 5 was probably the more fun of the two. A 40 mile drive to the coast along twisting and crucially, empty, B-roads is in my top three drives of all time. So much fun - I had a smile on my face throughout and so did my passenger (who was also the owner)! 

22 December 2017

Thanks, I was wondering mainly because the 5 was so highly rated and later versions only seem quicker, wasnt the 5 also over engineered and too expensive to manufacture? Must make it an excellent used buy and a guaranteed future classic.

jer

22 December 2017

after the adaptive suspension is not typical. also these extras reduce discount or are charged at 100% depreciation on lease.

23 December 2017

Does most things you would want, and few you would not want. 

Spanner

23 December 2017

As has been said, they should have gone for a completely standard spec for this type of review. A 3-door would always be my choice for a hot hatch, but how much longer will Volkswagen offer that option? Along with Renault, they seem to be one of the main proponents of the "no-one wants a 3-door these days" viewpoint.

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