Small changes make a big difference to VW's latest hot hatch

What is it?

This is the new VW Golf GTI, the Mk6, although it’s not quite brand new. Beneath the new VW Golf GTI’s freshened body lurks an upgraded version of its predecessor’s underpinnings and floorpan. Given the praise heaped on that car, it’s a great starting point. Still, there is still plenty that is new about Wolfsburg’s latest hot hatch.

The styling changes successfully set the latest VW Golf GTI apart from the standard Golf. At the front, the angular headlamps with unique inner graphics are neatly offset by a shiny black honeycomb grille and a front bumper with an integrated splitter.

Further back, black extensions are added to the side sills, a spoiler is mounted above the rear window and a deeper rear bumper houses chromed tail pipes.

Step inside the VW Golf GTI and you find an upgraded version of the standard Golf’s excellent cabin. The heavily cushioned seats support and secure your body well, and offer a broad range of manual adjustment. They are, however, mounted higher than those in the VW Scirocco, so you get a slightly less sporty driving position.

It might appear the same on paper (right on down to its bore and stroke) but the VW Golf GTI’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is, in fact, different to that found in its predecessor. Part of Volkswagen’s new EA888 engine family, it produces 207bhp, an increase of 10bhp over the old Golf GTi and generated 200rpm further round the dial, at 5300rpm. Torque remains the same as before, peaking at 206lb ft from just 1700rpm.

What’s it like?

The first thing that hits you is just how flexible this latest Golf GTi engine is; it’s as happy on the autoroute behind Nice as it is screaming up the snaking roads leading into the surrounding mountains.

You can feel the shove begin to swell from 1500rpm, and it remains wonderfully consistent. It is only when you approach the abrupt 7000rpm cut-out that it begins to run out of breath. And boy, does it sound good; there is a delicious rift of induction blare and a hearty rumble through the exhaust.

The new VW Golf GTi’s 0-62mph time remains at 6.9sec in manual guise. Top speed has increased by 3mph to 149mph. Still, Volkswagen’s data is notoriously conservative, so don’t be surprised to see independent tests improving on those figures. And there’s no doubting the efficiency of the new engine; its CO2 emissions of 170g/km are 54g/km less than a Focus ST’s.

A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard, while VW’s six-speed DSG double-clutch unit is an option. Our test car was a manual; the shift action is light and the travel is long, meaning it can sometimes snag when you hurry the lever across the gates. However, it is imbued with an excellent spread of ratios.

In suspension terms, the new Golf GTi follows the lead of lesser Golf models, using MacPherson struts up front and a compact four-arm multi-link rear. It’s little changed over the old model. But while the hardware is familiar, it has all been tuned to provide the sort of sharpness and response that hot hatch customers demand. Firmer spring and damper rates lower the body by 22mm (front) and 15mm (rear) compared with other Mk6 Golfs. Beefed-up anti-roll bars are also fitted for added body control.

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Other developments include VW’s ACC adaptive chassis control system. It links the dampers to the steering and throttle, adjusting the bump and rebound properties for added ride refinement. An associated system called dynamic chassis control also adjusts the electronic assistance of the steering.

Even in sport mode, the ride is nicely controlled, and since this has been achieved without resorting to overly soft damping, the GTI has excellent body control too.

At lower speeds the electro-mechanical steering can sometimes feel over-assisted; the apparent lightness is aimed at aiding manoeuvrability around town. Where it really shines is out on the open road, where it weights up progressively and proves impressively direct as you tip in to tightening corners.

A good part of the precision within the steering can be traced to the adoption of an optional electronic differential for the first time, for Volkswagen has done an excellent job of quelling torque steer without resorting to a mechanical limited-slip diff.

There’s sufficient performance, a heightened level of handling and accompanying composure to ensure that the Golf GTI punches well above its price tag.

Should I buy one?

It would be hard to argue against it. While still possessing the ingrained sporting character that made its predecessor so memorable, the new VW Golf GTI displays small but important improvements in its overall dynamic repertoire. Detailed as they may be, they help make it even more compelling to drive while introducing a further degree of refinement.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Uncle Mellow 30 March 2009

Re: Volkswagen Golf GTI

TheStig wrote:
What else could one want?

One could want better build quality and one could want to be able to work the indicators or dipswitch while one changes gear...Like one can on a left hand drive Golf....

Uncle Mellow 30 March 2009

Re: Volkswagen Golf GTI

TheStig wrote:
What else could one want?

One could want better build quality and one could want to be able to work the indicators or dipswitch while one changes gear...Like one can on a left hand drive Golf....

QuattroPlus 30 March 2009

Re: Volkswagen Golf GTI

You are so right! why the hell would someone pay that sort of money on a vw golf gti, when you can have an Audi s3 for a little bit more.

Hot hatch killer, looks meaner, better residuals, proper build quality, drives amazing, forget what the critics say, go try one for yourselves, and then post your comment.

I know where my money goes!

PS - dont be fooled by the vw salesman, who tells you its the same as an Audi, he is lying and trying to get the sale!