Open gallery Close by James Disdale 27 September 2021 Share
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History has always weighed heavily on the shoulders of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the car that launched a thousand imitators. Of course, arguments will continue to rage over whether it really was the first hot hatch (Renault 5 Gordini, anyone? Or how about the Simca 1100Ti?), there’s no denying that the Volkswagen was the definitive example of the breed. Melding family-friendly practicality, affordable running costs and a classless swagger with a sports car-slaying turn of speed and high-jinks handling, it’s been a high-performance staple ever since the boxy first-generation machine burst onto the scene in 1976.
In the four and a half decades since making its debut, the go-faster Golf has experienced some dynamic ups and downs, but ever since the fifth-generation car arrived in 2005, it has largely remained on an upward trajectory. Now in its eighth incarnation, the latest Volkswagen Golf GTI promises to be the best yet, distilling nearly half a century of know-how into an even faster and more composed package.
The GTI’s famous golf ball-themed manual gearshift knob has expanded in size, and also become somewhat less than spherical. It doesn’t fit into the heel of your hand as comfortably as it used to.
This update hasn’t come a moment too soon either, with the competition beginning to heavily encroach on the Volkswagen Golf’s corner of the hot hatch market. Both old hands such as the Ford Focus ST and fresh-faced first-timers like the Hyundai i30 N have made a big impact on the class, undercutting the Volkswagen on price, yet delivering greater power, more outright driver enjoyment and just as much everyday versatility.
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And there’s also the ever-present threat from that cuckoo in the nest: the Volkswagen Golf R. Not only has it displaced the GTI as the high-performance flagship, it’s also usurped it in the sales charts thanks to the prevalence of PCP deals that make the faster car barely any more expensive when it comes to the monthly payments. It rather drops the GTI into a bit of a no-man’s land in Volkswagen’s fast family hatch pecking order.
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As with its predecessor, this MK8 GTI is based on the same MQB architecture that underpins almost half of the Volkswagen Group’s output, from the most basic Seat Leon through to the seven-seat Skoda Kodiaq. And while the turbocharged 2.0-litre is also carried over, it now produces 241bhp in basic guise as tested here, the same amount that was reserved for the previous-generation’s Performance Pack upgrade. There are also chassis tweaks, including the now standard inclusion of the clever electromechanical limited-slip differential.
Yet as ever, there’s more to a Golf GTI than raw statistics. Yes, it needs to tear up Tarmac when you’re in the mood, but it also needs to be cosseting when you want to cruise, with just enough of a soft edge that it can slip into daily duties without the need for regular trips to the chiropractor or a family-sized box of Nurofen: a GTI should be fast but never frantic. And, of course, there’s the desirability angle – cliché klaxon, but so few cars can manage the Golf’s trick of being classy yet classless, its cloak of maturity making it an acceptable choice no matter what the occasion. So does the new arrival deliver?
Verdict Model tested: Rating:
Volkswagen Golf GTI
GoodElastic performanceImpressive poise and agilityBadRestless rideLack of driver involvementMisses old car’s more rounded and resolved character
Model tested: Golf GTI Price: £33,460 Price as tested: £37,565 Engine: 4 cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol Transmission: 6-speed manual Driveline layout: Front-engine, front-wheel drive Model tested Golf GTI Price £33,460 Price as tested £37,565 View all specs and rivals Engine 4 cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol Transmission 6-speed manual Driveline layout Front-engine, front-wheel drive Power 242bhp at 5000-6500rpm Torque 273lb ft at 1600-4300rpm 0-62mph 6.3sec (claimed) 0-60mph 6.2sec (tested) Top speed 155mph (governed) Kerb weight (DIN) 1429kg (claimed) Weight on scales 1378kg (tested) Fuel economy 36.7-38.2mpg CO2 168g/km BIK tax band 37% Rivals Hyundai i30 N Ford Focus ST Honda Civic Type R Power 242bhp at 5000-6500rpm Torque 273lb ft at 1600-4300rpm 0-62mph 6.3sec (claimed) 0-60mph 6.2sec (tested) Top speed 155mph (governed) Kerb weight (DIN) 1429kg (claimed) Weight on scales 1378kg (tested) Fuel economy 36.7-38.2mpg CO2 168g/km BIK tax band 37% Rivals Hyundai i30 N Ford Focus ST Honda Civic Type R