What is it?
Having already sampled the latest Volkswagen Golf GTI in its ‘standard’ format, we move onto the Performance version, which has also been updated as part of the Golf's wider facelift. The meat of the upgrade, as with its sibling, is a power increase: the output of the same 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine increases from 227bhp to a slightly more respectable 242bhp.
The moderately larger figure is a welcome feature, as is the 15lb ft of extra torque made available between 1600 and 4300rpm. Worthy though it was, the word Performance had started to look like a misnomer when attached to the previous GTI, a car outperformed in a straight line by virtually every direct rival (including some from the VW Group itself), while it was also thoroughly overshadowed by the punchier Golf R.
Volkswagen’s decision to introduce a run-out, limited edition Clubsport Edition model last year with 261bhp only served to underline the power deficit. While opting not to equal that car’s output (and risk upsetting its premium-paying customers) the latest model’s extra grunt does at least serve to marginally drop the GTI’s 0-62mph time to 6.2sec – making encounters with fast superminis less trying for Golf owners.
Somewhat surprisingly, the manufacturer quotes that same figure for both the six-speed manual and the DSG automatic gearboxes; the latter differentiated from the previous version by the introduction of a more parsimonious seventh ratio. As before, the Performance version also benefits from the electronic locking front differential and larger brakes, as well as a smattering of extra equipment, including the Composition Media system, rain sensor and mobile phone interface.
What's it like?
The Golf GTI is the undisputed champion of usability among hot hatches, and this latest Performance variant does nothing to sully that reputation. Certainly, no rival is quite as accommodating inside, where the new 9.2in Discover Pro infotainment system and 12.3in digital instrument cluster only gild what was already a near-perfect amalgamation of ergonomic accuracy and trim finesse. The distinction, though, extends far beyond its perceived quality, incorporating everything from control weights to refinement to the quality of the wonderfully absorbent ride.
In many ways, it is left to the distant gruff blurt of the EA888 motor to provide the GTI with a discernibly harder edge. The manufactured throb fills the interior with every sizeable throttle input; a reminder that its ever-biddable, imperturbable linearity is also meant for examination at higher crank speeds. Naturally, that’s where the extra power abides – although the model’s enhancements are relatively minor; being less febrile than the Clubsport and only modestly leggier than the standard model.
Much like that car though, the power is plumbed into the chassis like a sinew into bone. The four-cylinder unit's free-revving persistence troubles the front end in just about the correct amount, challenging its traction but rarely overstepping the axle’s ability to transmit all available energy to the road. Consequently, upping your effort feels like no practically no effort at all: the car just pushes gently back against you, the progressive steering and adaptive dampers generating just the right compromise of resistance and directness and supple poise.
The only limitation then, somewhat unsurprisingly, is the continuing absence of genuine exhilaration. The GTI Performance is so sleekly competent and forgiving that it can be difficult to find a way under the dynamic gloss – even as you’re going about as fast as you dare on a public road. In this regard, the ‘Performance’ edition’s cleverer diff only contributes to the adhesiveness and integrity of the package; its intrusion is far too benevolent to make the Golf feel much more adjustable than standard – even if you could switch out the electronic stability program (ESP), which you can’t.
Should I buy one?
So comfortable and consistent and thoroughly able is the seventh generation of GTI that it’s hard to see how buying one could ever incite regret. On practically any given day, for a journey of any length, the Golf would gratify its owner in a way no other contemporary hot hatch seriously rivals. In GTI Performance guise, this same broad-batted, indulgent appeal is merely taken up a notch in ground-covering ability – and that’s enough to earn it a clear-cut recommendation.
Just the one proviso remains. The GTI’s shortfall in razor-edged excitement is as understandable as it is familiar – yet expecting the model dubbed Performance to edge it a little closer toward riotousness doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable, given the premium. The niggle inside the proviso is that we don’t currently know exactly how much that premium will be. There’s space between the £27,865 standard 3dr GTI and the equivalent £31,865 Golf R – although coming to rest too close the latter might cause pause for considerable thought. That aside, the model’s place among the industry’s half dozen or so no-brainers remains assured.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance 2.0 TSI
Location Majorca, Spain; On sale now; Price tba Engine 4cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 242bhp at 4700-6200rpm; Torque 273lb ft at 1600-4300rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerbweight 1386kg; 0-62mph 6.2sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 43mpg; CO2/tax band 148g/km, 28% Rivals: Seat Leon Cupra, Peugeot 308 GTi