Buying a VW Golf GTI is quite a confusing event these days. You can’t just walk into a dealership and order one – you must first work out what you want from it.
To start with, how many doors do you want – three or five? Also, how would you like to change gear? There is both a manual and DSG double clutch automatic gearbox to choose from. Finally, in a first for the new Mk VII model, there is a performance pack add-on which can be ordered with your Golf, giving a little extra power and other improvements in handling abilities.
And all of that is ignoring the diesel powered version of the GTI – the GTD.
For the sake of simplicity, I will stick with the GTI proper – a petrol powered icon – since the GTD is a different beast altogether.
So to start with the GTI is, as always, based on the standard Golf. The latest Mk VII model has continued the tradition of being safe, solid and reliable – not a particularly exciting choice but one that is usually made when your own money is on the line.
The interior is well built, reasonably good looking and gives a clean, uncluttered feel to the cabin. The seats are comfortable and there is plenty of space in the rear for passengers which is matched by the boot, offering a decent capacity and completing the impression that the Golf is a sensible family hatch.
The difference that the GTI makes is that the Golf becomes a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The usual build quality and practicality remain but, with fettled suspension, a larger engine and tweaked styling, it can become a snarling animal at the press of a pedal.
When looking at buying a Golf GTI, the question of getting a three or five door body simply depends on whether you often need the added practicality of easy access to the rear seats. The rest of the options depend on budget and driving needs.
Having used the excellent DSG gearbox on other models in the VW Group, normally it is easy to recommend specifying it. In the Golf GTI though, I would advise against it.
It’s excellent at changing gear quickly and is easy to use but it never had the near telepathic link that the best automatic gearboxes have. It must just be the set-up in the Golf but I found myself a couple of times accelerating hard up towards the red line, and changing gear with the paddle. It turned out that the gearbox decided I needed to change gear too and so I changed up two gears in quick succession accidentally, losing revs, power and momentum. This is a small problem but it made for a disappointing experience occasionally and, when the six-speed manual is so good, I don’t see much point in spending almost £700 more for something that actually detracts a little from the driving experience.
So, you’ve picked the body style and gearbox, finally you have to see whether you want the performance pack or not.
Normally, I wouldn’t advocate spending an extra £980 on a few performance tweaks but, in the case of the Golf GTI, I most definitely would.
To break down the extras over the standard GTI, the performance pack adds and extra 10hp, larger front brake discs, ventilated rear brake discs and a limited-slip differential. This doesn’t sound like much, and to be honest the first three of those four points are negligible to say the least. The limited-slip diff though is a different matter.
With the standard GTI, the handling is good but not excellent. The car stays pretty level through the corners and the suspension soaks up bumps along the way. The problem that I found with it is that is a little too easy to drive. The steering is light enough to spin it around car park ramps and it is supple enough to soak up speed bumps easily.
But this is supposed to be a hot-hatch and, although you would be able to extract a lot of the performance out of the GTI easily, there isn’t much of a challenge.
Add in the performance pack and the game changes. The suspension feels tauter and the steering is far more alive. It offers better feedback through the wheel and is heavier, allowing you to make more confident decisions when you put the car into the bends. It is also easier to power out of a corner early as there is plenty of grip available and the VW engineers haven’t put too much power through those front wheels. It takes a lot to get the traction control to kick in because the VW Golf GTI with performance pack is beautifully balanced.
The performance figures are not quite as quick as the most powerful rivals sitting at 6.4 seconds in the 0-62mph sprint. It is better through the bends than most though and the GTI remains a delight to drive.
Put simply, the added kit of the GTI (you get plenty of gadgets and safety systems as standard) and the improved styling make the Golf a more exciting prospect to buy than the standard one. Throw in the fact that the performance will trouble all of its rivals and that it is easier to access that power and handling, while keeping something of a driving challenge, and you come to one conclusion. The VW Golf GTI with performance pack and a manual six-speed gearbox is one of the best all-rounder’s money can buy. If you’ve got a little under £30,000 to spend on a car, you will be hard pushed to find a better one.
Drive Specs – Volkswagen Golf GTI
Price: £25,845 – £28,895
Engine: 2.0 litre, 4 cylinder TSI petrol
Power: 220 or 230hp
Torque: 258 lb ft
Economy: 44.1 or 47.1mpg (Combined)
Emissions: 139 – 149g/km CO2
0-62mpg: 6.5 or 6.4 seconds
Top speed: 151-155mph
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