Golf is a Golf is a Golf. Class-defining and at the same time class-less, it has been an icon and talisman for the Volkswagen
brand and its treasurers since 1974. True to the maxim ‘never change a winning team’, the design changes introduced for 2017 are subtle. The sheet metal remains untouched; bumpers, lights and grille get fresh make-up. It’s the familiar GTI but looking a little leaner, a little sharper than you remember it.
There are new wheels, extra brightwork and four little red winglets underlining the LED headlights. The turbocharged 2.0-litre four gets more power, thereby matching the acceleration times of the outgoing VW Golf GTI Performance Pack: the Mk7.5 GTI boasts 227bhp in standard form and 242bhp in its Performance iteration. Gearbox options remain a six-speed manual or a DSG twin-clutch auto, but the latter gets another pair of ratios for seven in total.
VW Golf GTI: a quickie history lesson
The first Golf GTI was, in essence, a grown-up Mini Cooper made in Germany. The 110bhp engine had an easy time bringing to life a 810kg crackerjack which made history for its amazing handling, roadholding and performance. Four decades on the very latest top-of-the-line Golf more than doubles that power output, though weight too has also soared by over 70% to 1386kg.
At 6.4sec from 0-62mph, overtaking is as effortless as ever; at 155mph, the GTI is almost always the fastest car in the fast lane; and at 44mpg, the GTI doesn’t lag far behind the super-frugal 184bhp Golf GTD. The most telling number, however, is the midrange in-gear urge.
Put your foot down hard in fifth and the GTI lunges from 50 to 75mph. Although the GTD fields an extra 22lb ft of torque, it loses that particular fraternal feud by 1.5sec.
Unlike the equally cult BMW M3, which has journeyed from four-cylinder to straight-six to V8 and back to six, the engineering fundamentals of the Golf GTI have not changed much over the decades. Instead the car’s focus has wavered from lean (Mk1) through diluted (Mk3 automatic) and clueless (badge-engineered Mk4) to back-to-basics (Mk5).
Browse VW Golf GTI for sale.
What’s new on the VW Golf GTI 2017?
The latest metamorphosis is into GTI in the purest sense of the acronym; a gran turismo powered by a feisty fuel-injected and turbocharged engine. Overt sportiness is no longer the prime ambition of this high-visibility Golf with trad plaid upholstery and ’80s stripework.
Instead, this is now the most refined and effortless hot hatch on the market. The Peugeot 308 GTI is rawer and more chuckable, the Astra has a good deal more power, the ill-mannered Honda Civic Type R appeals to a different audience and the BMW 125i is underwhelming and overpriced – twist things however you like but there still is no better all-rounder than the GTI.
On the road in the new Volkswagen hot hatch
I’m driving a red four-door manual GTI with fat 19-inch wheels and adaptive dampers. Pressing the starter button activates two sources of sound: initially, it’s Dynaudio versus EA211 (below), but after a fingertip correction, the powerplant beats the amplifier. It emits marginally less CO2 through marginally larger-diameter tailpipes, humming along happily at idle speed.
While the drive mode selector invites you to tweak engine and transmission response, damper setting and steering behaviour, it won’t let you turn up the exhaust volume. For a loop of wild Spanish C-roads, I lock the shocks in Comfort and leave the other elements in Sport. Although there is an ESP button, you can only deactivate traction control. So it’s a ‘yes’ to take-off wheelspin but a ‘no’ to lift-off oversteer.