First DriveForty 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
First DriveThe Golf GTI Performance adds the faintest froth to the standard car's character but makes it no less lovely
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
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?
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.
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.
First time in a Mk5 GTI, it's rather good. pic.twitter.com/EyP4YzLuSQ
— Alan Taylor-Jones (@alantaylorjones) August 22, 2017
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.
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.
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