There’s a fine line to tread here. The GTI must have the capacity to thrill and excite, but it would never do if, by over-endowing it with punch, VW made this driving experience approach the extravagant.
So, in the main, it doesn’t. The hot Golf – in full 242bhp Performance mode and DSG dual-clutch gearbox-equipped form – recorded a 6.5sec 0-60mph sprint and picked off 100mph in 16.4sec. These figures are competitive, if a bit run-of-the-mill for a front-drive hot hatch at this level.
But it’s only the lack of a decent launch control mode that prevents the GTI from performing better against the clock. With the traction control on, the software regulation is – like so many ASR systems – too heavy-handed for the perfect standing start.
With it off, the gearbox calibration overcompensates, giving you far too much spin at the driving wheels. We’d expect to take at least a couple of tenths off that 0-60mph time in a manual-equipped GTI, putting it there or thereabouts with the likes of the Focus ST and Mégane 265.
Wring that motor out and you can tell that it has been tuned for flexibility rather than top-end thrills. It’s gruffly tuneful and the knockout blow comes between 2500rpm and 4000rpm, which is where you want it for real-world overtaking and short-squirt response.
But it’s a little bit lacking when you’re chasing the red line on track, or even on a cross-country blast. Not lacking generally, we hasten to add – just lacking compared with some of the Golf’s hot hatch rivals.
Our reservations about a dual-clutch ’box in a car like this remain valid. If you want an affordable driver’s car with as many paddles as pedals, you won’t find many better than this. The gearbox is smooth and judicious in auto mode, quick-shifting in manual.
But if you want a more involving driving experience still (and we do), you’ll want the manual.