Road test: Volkswagen Golf GTI

The compact thrill machine is now in its seventh generation but don't think the 217bhp hot hatch has developed a little potbelly, started wearing clothes from the Littlewoods catalogue and developed a taste for the Archers... in fact, it has done the opposite.

The current GTI is stylish, fit as a fiddle and packed with technology that makes life on the road easier and more comfortable.
The only problem Volkswagen currently has is the crop of sprightly newcomers from rival marques such as Seat, BMW and Mercedes, eager to steal the limelight.

Can the middle-aged machine still hold its head high in an ever-busier market place? We climbed behind the wheel to find out...

What is it?

Volkswagen's range-topping hatchback that packs 217bhp under its bonnet and a glut of premium yet aptly sporty styling. Where other hot hatches go guns blazing with in-your-face exteriors (decals, spoilers, flared wheel arches), the Golf GTI remains the sensible choice for the discerning buyer. The optional Performance Pack - fitted here - adds just shy of 10bhp, a limited slip differential and larger diameter brakes for the ultimate driving experience.

What's under the bonnet?

The tried and tested 2.0-litre TSI unit remains, developing just shy of 220bhp, which in this case is driven through the excellent six-speed DSG gearbox. An impressive 349 Nm torque is available from the plucky petrol unit that can also return 44.1mpg on the combined cycle. Its fast, torque-y and makes all the right noises from the exhaust pipes.

What's the spec like?

Basic GTI trim is impressive. All cars receive stylish 18-inch alloys wheels, the choice of red and black non-metallic paint and the classic Red 'Jacara' tartan cloth interior as standard. Unlike rivals from the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the options list isn't particularly long. Metallic paints, leather interiors and an improved infotainment system are the most expensive options but the one box we would tick is next to the words "GTI Performance Pack". It boosts the top speed, improves the brakes and adds a limited slip differential for improved grip when the roads get more 'entertaining'.

Volkswagen Golf GTI
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Road test: Volkswagen Golf GTI

Any rivals?

The hot hatch market has seen a number of new faces over recent years, particularly from the premium players. Mercedes now offers the ferocious A45 AMG, packing an almighty 355bhp but costing nearly £40,000. The new Seat Leon Cupra (read our long term test reports here) is perhaps the closest in terms of power and price but lacks VW's material quality and refinement.

What's it like to drive?

I was lucky enough to return from the launch of the Seat Leon Cupra 280 and jump straight into the Golf GTI, where I was greeted to a more premium package. The old adage of "often copied, never equalled" is more than just a clever VW marketing strapline. Everything in the Golf feels well put-together and built to last. Whereas the Seat's outright power is instantly impressive, the Golf manages to play the daily driver/mean machine more convincingly. The on-board tech is slicker than its Spanish counterpart, the ride more refined and the interior ambience impressive enough to receive a nod of approval from the parents.

The AOL Cars verdict

The Golf GTI still remains a brilliant car; packed with Volkswagen Group technology and boasting an adrenaline pumping ride to match. Many new players have entered the fray flexing bigger muscles and sporting more outrageous styling but little can compete with the value for money, premium finish and enviable practicality of the Golf.

The Knowledge

Price: £30,400 (as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre TSI
Power: 217bhp
Max speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 6.4 seconds
MPG: 44.1 (combined)
Emissions: 149 g/km CO2
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