The GTI’s affinity for British roads is alive and well. When equipped with the optional Adaptive Chassis Control system, the GTI has compliance to spare on uneven surfaces in Normal mode.

But it also has enough support in its suspension to maintain an unerring sense of precision in its controls, even when stretched. Its Sport mode is also supple enough to use out in the real world – and we can’t say that about every hot hatch.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior

Road test editor
I miss the blissfully honest steering of the VW Golf GTI Mk5

Out of this flows the Golf GTI’s enduring dynamic persona; welcome back to the pragmatist of the class. That sounds like a contradiction, but the car’s charms are convincing all the same.

Its steering is quite light and never takes you by surprise with its directness – new steering rack and all. Its handling is poised but proportionate – accurate and never a handful on the road. And its ride is very nicely judged for the UK. There’s just enough edge to it to remind you that you’re driving something a bit zesty, but not a smidge more.

This is a use-it-every-day kind of performance car, just as the Golf GTI always has been. But by almost inevitable extension, it’s not a spectacular, attention-grabbing drive. If you’re in the market for glittering driver engagement, instant cornering response, neck-testing grip levels and the like, it’s not for you. 

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Not even in Performance guise, which does seem a shame. You’ll dig deep and in vain into the Golf’s handling reserves, on road or track, to find much evidence of that diff. 

There have been front-drive cars with open differentials before (just about all of them). There have been front-drive cars with pure mechanical limited-slip differentials before (Ford Focus RS, Vauxhall Astra VXR). And there have been cars with ESP functions extended to mimic a locking differential (like the Ford Focus ST’s torque vectoring).

However, no production front-driver, Volkswagen claims, has had an electronically controlled locking front differential found in Performance versions of the Volkswagen Golf GTI. This features a motor that drives a pump, producing hydraulic pressure to close a multi-plate clutch on demand, which in turn limits the amount of slip allowed between the individual front wheels. 

Jaguar’s F-type V8 S uses a similar system. The advantage is that it’s more refined than a pure mechanical differential (and corrupts the steering less in a front-driver). The downside is that the electronic controls inevitably take a short time to wake up and the system is a touch heavier – although VW claims no weight difference between normal and Performance GTIs.

It's no great aid, however. Put simply, the GTI lacks the voracious front end of a really compulsive hot hatch, either on or off the throttle, and its handling never really comes alive under pressure. It just grips, until that grip gently fades away. 

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