It is commonly known and agreed within the motoring world, that the VW Golf GTI is the hot-hatch you buy with your own money. It is the most sensible option as it does absolutely everything you could want, which is the whole point of a hot-hatch really isn’t it? You can tootle through the town in comfort, (and style) carry a chest of drawers in the back with the rear seats folded, and when you feel like it, give it a good seeing to.
I was fortunate enough to test both the standard car and one with the GTI Performance pack option. The Performance pack offers an extra 10 bhp, larger brake discs and a mechanical limited slip differential. The car with the Performance pack was a white five-door and had the DSG gearbox. Not something I would opt for in a GTI though. Yet, I suppose it would make sense in busy cities, but as a drivers’ car and being a keen driver myself, I would always choose the manual ‘box. DSG though, is such an effortless and rewarding gearbox, both in fully auto and manual modes. The kick-down function on the gearbox in Sport mode is immediate, as is throttle response.
The limited slip diff comes into its own when you load up the front axle through a corner and your line is tightened up. The Normal and Comfort driving modes are best for steering feel and weighting and the overall ride quality. Front axle feedback is good, and although the ride is harsh in Sport mode, feedback is not diminished. The car has a great chassis which you can really settle into and lean into corners with confidence and pleasure.
For a turbo motor, it makes a rather nice noise indeed. When you put the power on, you get a nice induction roar – not as artificial as the new Ford Focus ST. Although the new GTI has not really had much of a power increase to speak of in standard form – a 7 bhp increase over the MK 6, the MQB chassis (shared with the Audi S3 and soon TT and Volkswagen Scirocco MK 4) is an improvement which allows a more engaging drive.
Interior quality has came a long way. Even further down the Golf range, the plastics are soft to the touch and the dashboard is very well designed. There are absolutely no confusing tiny little buttons like the Astra VXR or Focus ST. It is a great place to sit and is very well put together. The golf-ball gear knob and Jacara Red tartan upholstery are characteristics of the GTI and they do not look or feel out of place. The steering wheel with the huge centre boss sporting the VW badge and the contrasting red stitching is beautiful to hold and looks it too. The black headlining gives a superior, high quality appearance and goes well with the Cyclone style fascia trim. It is a much nicer place to sit than the BMW M135i. The materials both look and feel more expensive and of course, there’s no other car sounds the same on closing the door.
The central command unit with driving modes is a good addition to the Golf, allowing the driver to tailor the car to their mood. There is an Individual setting, which the driver can spend time fiddling with to have the throttle mapping of Sport mode but the ride quality of Comfort or Normal. These two chassis settings allow a little roll in the chassis which makes skipping over bumps and uneven road surface more pleasing and more control becomes available through the steering rack. The Renaultsport Megane 265 has a chassis to shout about, all the magazines love it, it also has a nice amount of power. On the other hand though, the quality just isn’t in the same league as the Golf which appeals to everybody – this is likely to have something to do with its reputable history.
Although the car with the GTI Performance pack was fitted with bigger brakes, I think you would only really be able to appreciate the difference in stopping power on track – to me they felt equal. That said, the standard brakes are very, very good. The bite from the pads was progressive and can be modulated through the brake pedal which gives excellent feedback allowing you precisely judge how hard you need to squeeze before entering a corner.
The Golf GTI if it is going to be driven for pleasure, should always be fitted with a manual gearbox. The six speed manual ‘box in the car pictured in this road test was a peach. Apart from everything else about it, it comes with a signature hereditary golf-ball gear knob. I am unsure why Volkswagen did away with this in the standard car until the MK 6 as it is a major characteristic of the GTI. Nevertheless, working the gearbox is joyous. It has a short, smooth throw and a beautifully firm purchase is felt when you slot the lever into your chosen ratio. The clutch is very nicely weighted and works harmoniously with the gear change. Involving the driver in the operation of the gearbox is just something that will never become obsolete with drivers seeking thrill. I therefore maintain that all Golf GTI’s should be equipped with a six speed manual as I had much more fun being able to heel and toe on down shifts. Though the DSG gearbox is now so advanced and pretty much perfect and the eight speed ZF gearbox fitted to the M135i is raved about, there is just something about a hot-hatch that suits a manual ‘box better. I suppose its the urge to drive like your trousers have caught fire and engage yourself with the experience as much as possible.
Although I have not driven the M135i, given the money, I would buy the Golf GTI. Yes, I will miss out on the glorious soundtrack of the famous BMW in-line six motor and the dynamics of the rear driven axle of the BMW but for something to own, the Golf would be the better car. As I mentioned above, the quality just seems superior; it is a nicer place to sit and of course there won’t be the traction issue when there is a significant amount of rainfall or worse, snow. Volkswagen have been making the Golf GTI now for 37 years so I am more than damn sure they know what they’re doing.
Engine Size: 2 litre, turbocharged in-line four, 16 valve
Top Speed: 152 mph
Power: 217 bhp
Torque: 258 lbs ft
Transmission: six-speed manual
Driven Wheels: front
0-62 mph: 6.5 seconds
Combined MPG: 47.1
Length: 4,268 mm
Width: 1,799 mm
Height: 1,442 mm
Kerb Weight: 1,351
OTR Price: £26,125
Star Rating: * * * * *