Engine options, top speed, acceleration and refinement

James Disdale
27 September 2021

You’re on familiar ground when you get going in the Golf. That tried-and-tested EA888 isn’t the most charismatic of performers, but the lusty and eager delivery have been part of the GTI DNA for more than a decade now. There’s more power than before and it’s cleaner-burning than ever, but in all other respects it’s a cut-and-paste job from the old car, which is no bad thing.

The GTI’s performance calling card has always been its elastic mid-range muscle rather than its all-out, emergency start energy. Where rivals have strived to achieve ever-increasing and headline-grabbing power outputs, the Golf has shied away from the arms race, preferring instead to provide an everyday accessibility to its performance that arguably makes it a faster real-world option – a theory that’s backed up by our figures.

Part of the GTI’s problem is that it struggles to get off the line cleanly. Even with the ESP fully disabled, the traction control will spring into life in extremis, cutting the power momentarily and knocking tenths off your 0-60mph sprint. Get it right and you’re rewarded with a time of 6.2sec, which is quick in isolation but looks a little tardy against a backdrop of 300bhp-plus four-wheel-drive, launch control-equipped hot hatches (including its R rated brother) that’ll comfortably complete the same benchmark spring in around two-thirds of the time.

Nope, with the GTI it’s best to avoid the traffic light grand prix and instead revel in the thick seam of mid-range torque that serves up scintillating in-gear pace that translates into rapid and fairly unobtrusive cross-country pace. The turbocharged 2.0-litre pulls heartily from just above 1000rpm and spins smoothly all the way around to the 6500rpm redline, delivering a pleasingly muted growl as long as you steer clear of the synthesised ‘enhancements’ provided by the sportier driving modes.

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The engine works particularly well with the six-speed manual, allowing you to take the lazy approach and simply stick with the gear you’re in and let the torque take the strain, or drop a couple of cogs down the precise but slightly notchy box and make that overtake just a little bit quicker. Yes, the quick and crisp seven-speed DSG dual-clutch will make the GTI faster still, but it does so at the expense of driver interaction.

Stopping power is equally impressive, the GTI able to cope with repeated big stops from high speed with little or no fade and only the merest lengthening of the pedal. On the road, the set-up is confidence-inspiring in its progression, allowing you to slow swiftly and smoothly, your inputs directly proportional to the amount of retardation you get.