It’s near impossible to sit behind the wheel of a Golf GTI without smiling. Little on offer beats the excitement of a pace-setting hot hatch, and this little beauty has always vied for the top spot alongside the more value-driven Ford Focus ST and rapid Renaultsport Megane.
Often its competitors offer greater raw pace, but the success of the GTI is down to its everyday usability and understated looks as much as its ability to set lap times.
The latest GTI hosts a 2.0-litre 217bhp turbocharged petrol engine which produces 258lb ft of torque from as little as 1500rpm. And for the first time, there’s an optional performance pack which bolsters power to 227bhp and gives you bigger brakes and a front limited-slip differential.
Our test car, the standard GTI, reaches 62mph in 6.5 seconds with a top speed of 151mph. And this car is undisputedly fun, really come into its own as the revs climb. On deceleration, there’s the joyful sound of the exhaust’s pops and bangs, while the brakes are seriously responsive.
GTI purists will rebuke the DGS gearbox fitted to our car, arguing it takes away some of the rawness that you want from a hot hatch. And it’s true, being driven the way it was built to be driven, it can be reluctant to change up gears quite quickly enough, but day-to-day is more than fine. Still, it’s a pricey add-on, so we’d still choose the sweet manual given the choice.
Ride and Handling
It’s easier to live with as a daily car than its rivals, without ruining the joy of owning a hot hatch
The Golf GTI has always tempered the Focus ST and Renaultsport Megane by being the comfortable choice as far as hot hatches go – it’s not quite as fast as the ST, and not quite as sharp as the Megane – but this doesn’t take away from its outstanding handling and balanced steering, which leaves you begging for more. Chuck this around a corner and it won’t even blink. The Performance Pack iteration boasts even more unflappable traction on the way out of corners. It also handles urban driving brilliantly, absorbing speed bumps far better than you’d expect. And that’s the thing with the Golf GTI – it’s easier to live with as a daily car than its rivals, without ruining the joy of owning a hot hatch.
Interior and Equipment
The Mk1 Golf GTI was born after a group of Volkswagen engineers built a tuned version of the family hatchback in their spare time, taking the engine from an Audi 80. Luckily bosses loved it, and put a more civilised version into production.
The GTI is definitely a step above for interior finish, while sporty touches include a red-stitched steering wheel, tartan sports seats and GTI badging. Equipment includes two-zone air conditioning, Bluetooth, automatic lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors and a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen with DAB, CD player and all the sockets for Apple-based products and beyond. As with all Golfs, there’s ample room to comfortably fit passengers and a respectable 380 litres of boot space. Choose the five-door version and access to the rear seats is improved, making the GTI an even better model for families.
Fuel economy with DSG fitted is a claimed 44.1mpg on a combined cycle while it emits 148g/km CO2
The Golf GTI costs from around £28k compared to the Focus ST at £24k and the Megane at £26k, making it the most expensive model out there. Fuel economy with DSG fitted is a claimed 44.1mpg on a combined cycle while it emits 148g/km CO2. Choosing the manual is not only cheaper at the outset, but those figures will improve to 47.1mpg and 139g respectively. Nonetheless, DSG or manual options are easily surpassing the competition here – what you lose in price, you make up for in efficiency. The Megane offers 37.7mpg and 174g/km CO2 while the Focus emits 169g and achieves 39.2mpg.
The Golf GTI is perhaps more polished than it used to be, which will disappoint some hardcore hot hatch fans. But for most people, the latest iteration offers the perfect all-round package. A lot of fun, with a plenty of comfort and some practicality thrown in too.