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Could the Mk7, offered in its purest form, be the best Golf yet?

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Can the hottest Volkswagen Golf GTI ignite the passion and reclaim its crown now lost to the Ford Focus ST?

  • First Drive

    Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance 2017 review

    The Golf GTI Performance adds the faintest froth to the standard car's character but makes it no less lovely
  • First Drive

    2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI

    Subtle changes to VW’s hot hatch icon are good news for a car that needed little fixing; it's one of the most expertly judged and complete performance mach
Mark Tisshaw
17 January 2017

Why we're running it: We have six months to discover if, after 40 years, the Golf GTI remains the world’s best all-round hot hatch

Month 1 - Month 2 - Month 3 - Specs

Life with a VW Golf GTI: Month 3

7 February 2018

One of the biggest decisions to make when we were speccing our Volkswagen Golf GTI was whether or not to go for the Performance Pack. The common consensus suggests that it is something of a bargain, at £1360, in light of how it transforms the car.

It gets you an extra 15bhp – taking the 2.0-litre turbo to 242bhp – as well as a proper diff and larger, more effective brakes. Much more than a ‘pack’, then, due to how much it is likely to change the driving experience; other car makers have used more modest upgrades as an excuse to host a new model launch.

Yet, as we said at the very start of our time with the Golf, we opted against the Performance Pack, having been wedded to the idea of sampling the GTI in its purest form possible. Nor was I convinced thata car with this kind of power output really needs a diff or bigger brakes in the first place.

The GTI’s power output of 227bhp in standard form might make it seem significantly less well endowed than most of its rivals, but what the car lacks in sheer grunt it more than makes up for in driving character.

Broadly speaking, the engines of most of the modern turbocharged hot hatches are all so heavily boosted that they become dominated by low-end torque, and there’s precious little reward for really getting the revs up.

The Golf GTI actually feels more old school in the way you tackle a B-road in it; it’s a car that comes alive the more the revs rise, and rewards you for keeping the rev indicator needle towards the top of the range.That’s not to say it does without low-end torque, mind. There’s still more than enough for daily driving: when you need to nip into a gap in traffic or change lanes in a hurry.

Despite racking up a lot of miles in just two months of ownership, I have yet to really go on a really long drive just for the sake of it. I’m doing a serious amount of motorway miles atthemoment,whilewhettingmy appetite for the longer evenings to come with short B-road blasts.

Yet Andrew Frankel has driven it for a sustained period on good roads. He borrowed it for our recent ‘greatest hot hatch of all time’ test (31 January). “I think it’s utterly brilliant,” came a text message out the blue from Frankel on the day he’d drove it, and while debating whether it could be considered the greatest hot hatch ever built.

And why not? Objectively, the hot hatches of today are better in every measurable way than their forebears – it’s that subjectivity, that ‘feel’, where it can be argued many fall down once rose-tinted glasses are donned.

Yet what this Golf GTI has over many of its rivals is feel and character, while also remaining so refined, usable and gentlemanly for everyday use, as our big mileage in the car testifies. It has a very strong case indeed to be considered the greatest, and you don’t need to have a tin hat on to voice that opinion.

The current Golf GTI’s inclusion in Frankel’s big hot hatch test was interesting in itself, because as recently as our 12 July issue last year we named the Golf GTI Mk5 over a Mk7 as Wolfsburg’s finest hour in another Frankel-penned comparison. This time, we assessed every generation of Golf GTI (well, apart from the Mk3 and Mk4, because there are only so many wooden spoons they can take).

The Mk7 in that GTI group test last July was equipped with the Performance Pack. If we’d had a standard version to hand, I suspect it might have even beaten the Mk5.

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Life with a VW Golf GTI: Month 2

Finding the perfect setup for the Golf GTI – 17 January 2018

The Golf GTI best demonstrates its versatility when the powertrain and suspension are set in opposing driving modes.

I spent a 10-day stint in the car with the suspension in Comfort and drive in Sport, making it both comfortable and fast, traits very rarely combined in hot hatches.

Even in its most supple suspension mode, the GTI still feels nimble.

Sam Sheehan

Mileage: 3010

Revelling in the Golf GTI’s glowing versatility – 03 January 2018​ 

There are great cars to drive, and then there are great cars to live with.

My sneaking suspicion in the early days of Golf GTI ownership is that it will be one of those rare cars that can fulfil both roles, with little to no qualification.

So far, its legs have been stretched twice, on round trips from Berkshire to Norwich and then the Cotswolds, with a week or two of 50-mile round-trip commutes to Autocar HQ in Twickenham in between.

I’ve been careful about running the car in. The engine has felt quite tight near the top end of the rev range in the early days so I’ve avoided over-revving it.

It’s already showing signs of freeing up, though – a good thing because this is both an engine that is willing to rev (and, in doing so, you really get the best out of it) and one that’s also showing notable improvements in fuel economy as the miles rise. Both of those attributes are important in fulfilling the ‘great to drive and live with’ formula.

One thing I’ve also tried to avoid is the kind of muck on the roads that might spoil the lovely pearly white paint.

So imagine my delight upon discovering that to reach a ‘quirky’ place to stay in the Cotswolds, I had to drive up a two-mile dirt lane, littered with potholes and mud to interest both the local VW workshop and nearest hand car wash.

Yet here’s the thing about the Golf GTI: it rides so well, and with such suppleness in the chassis, that it can even do a 10mph muddy lane crawl in relative comfort, and within 50m of being back on a ribbon of tarmac, turn in to a corner with real poise and involvement, and become a mature, quiet and refined companion by the time you next turn back onto a dual carriageway. Now there’s versatility.

I admit to having reservations about just how involving the drive would be at the limit compared with its rivals. But although they might have the Golf GTI licked on the final 2%, the Golf GTI has them beaten on the first 98%. When you’re stuck trying to get on the M3 one Thursday morning for the fourth time that week, these things matter.

And remember, even in the context of that 2%, it might be pipped to the post but it really does still handle. The Golf GTI remains the best all-rounder in this class, and there’s nothing in the early days of this long-term test to suggest otherwise.

But a moan to consider, in the all-round armoury, VW: where is the volume knob for the radio? There is not a single button now, bar the touchscreen, everything sitting on a giant 9.2in screen in the middle of the dashboard.

On two or three occasions, I’ve made a grab for it in a rush, as passengers have received important phone calls, or England have lost wickets in the Ashes, to try to bring some peace to the cabin. It has taken a good few seconds to do so, compared with the second or less the turn of a knob would take. It’s just not intuitive.

It’s a shame, as the Golf GTI shows quite extraordinary pragmatism and ease of use in almost every area. Such was the case on a six-hour, 300-mile day of driving to Norwich as I otherwise wasted another Saturday afternoon watching some dross on a football pitch.

High points of that first really long trip were just how supportive the seats were – kudos to whoever sculpted the foam inside the high sides to really tuck you into the seat. It gives the duality of sucking you into the drive when on a B-road and immersing you it on a long motorway run.

The Golf GTI is an inanimate object, of course, but I have a feeling it would have felt pleased to be left in the driveway of Tisshaw Family HQ for the afternoon alongside the cars of my equally pragmatic parents, an original Audi TT and an original Subaru Impreza Turbo.

The Golf GTI feels cut from the same cloth as that pair: a usable performance car that’ll stay relevant and appealing regardless of age.

Mileage: 1255

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Life with a VW Golf GTI: Month 1

Welcoming the Golf GTI to our fleet – 29 November 2017 

Just look at this: three doors, front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox. When did you last see a new hot hatch like it?

Chances are it, too, was a Volkswagen Golf GTI, which has now been in the UK for 40 years, and this year there was a new one.

Well, new-ish. The changes don’t turn the GTI into an all-new car, but they run deeper than a light nip and tuck. Better than a Mk7 but not yet a Mk8, the Mk7.5 name that’s been bandied about seems the best fit.

That ‘point five’ gets you a little bit more everywhere. One of those little bit mores is extra power for its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine – 10bhp, up from 217bhp to 227bhp.

That power output says a lot about the Golf GTI. It has made its name by being the everyday, usable hot hatch that’s far more about accessibility than being at the leading edge of Nürburgring lap times and a member of the 300bhp-plus, four-wheel-drive club.

Of course, VW gave the pre-facelift Golf GTI a send-off by stripping it out and increasing the power in creating the Clubsport S.

That was a car VW used to tell the world: “Yeah, we can make a hot hatch like that if and when we choose to, but we think the world still needs a good, honest, wholesome hot hatch like we’ve been selling for 40 years, thank you very much.” So arrived the Mk7.5.

We want to celebrate and discover the continued relevance of that message by sampling the Golf GTI in the purest 1977-spec form as the 2017 spec sheet will allow.

For us, that means three doors instead of five, a six-speed manual gearbox (they don’t do a four-speeder like the original but will sell you a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch auto that goes without the golf-ball gearknob, so where’s the fun in that?) and the famous tartan fabric seats.

That gearbox sends the drive to the front wheels only – four driven wheels remaining the preserve of the Golf R.

This is a Golf GTI as high-tech and customisable as it has ever been, thus very easy to push well beyond a Golf R in terms of price if you spend too long browsing the options list.

Yet with my purity brief, speccing one beyond those aforementioned must-haves took no time at all, such was the ease of the configurator to create a car that just feels right.

The big decision was around turning down the £1360 Performance Pack, which takes power to the heady heights of 242bhp as well as adding more torque, a diff, beefier brakes – and more weight.

But in our original tests of the car earlier this year, as good value as the pack is, purity would raise an eyebrow to it, so we thought our money was best spent on a few options instead, such as the £830 Dynamic Chassis Control that adds adaptive dampers.

Within a week of its arrival, the £295 Climate Windscreen that clears the winter’s first morning frost as quickly as it takes the standard heated front seats to create a more agreeable temperature for one’s backside seemed a sound investment, while the £265 rear-view camera appeared a good value way of keeping that new-look rear bumper and subtle twin split exhausts nice and shiny.

The Oryx White Premium Signature paint was a bit of an extravagance at £990 (given a less pretentious name for it could be ‘shiny white’), the 18in alloys less so at £495.

The colour I love; the alloys are the one bit of our car’s exterior specifications I’m having doubts about, because the car looks a touch underwheeled on 18in wheels and rides so well that I doubt this would be a case where a larger wheel ruins the ride. Maybe larger wheels are something we’ll come back to. (Yes, I admit that’s not exactly ‘pure’.)

Inside the car, your eyes will be drawn to the new infotainment features offered on the Golf as part of some quite wide-ranging changes to the interior. All the 9.2in infotainment display’s buttons are removed when you go for the £1325 Discover Navigation Pro system, leaving it to be operated via the touchscreen, gesture, voice and steering wheel controls.

In truth, it takes some getting used to, and a precise hand to operate the screen, no matter how lovely the graphics or how fast it is to respond. I’ve found myself so far mostly using the digital instrument binnacle for key information now navigation is only displayed on it. It’s closer to my eyeline and doesn’t need a hand off the wheel to operate.

But I wouldn’t mind if there was a cassette player in the middle of the dash so long as the car turned in and had a turn of pace like a Golf GTI should. Thankfully, first impressions reveal that the Mk7.5 does.

For the Golf GTI, it seems life’s not beginning at 40, more it’s continuing to age most gracefully. A fun months-long birthday party surely lies ahead.

Second opinion

For our Readers’ Champion prize in this year’s Autocar Awards, we asked you to vote for the car that most changed motoring – and your winner was the Mk1 VW Golf GTI.

Can a modern GTI live up to the high regard the original is held in, and remain an enjoyable hot hatch once that warm glow of nostalgia has subsided along with new car smell?

Tough ask, although we’re very much looking forward to finding out.

James Attwood

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 TSI 230PS specification

Specs: Price New £28,320; Price as tested £32,520; Options Onyx White Premium Signature paint (£990), Seville Dark Graphite alloys (£495), Dynamic Chassis Control (£830), climate windscreen (£295), Discover Navigation Pro (£1325), rear view camera (£265)

Test Data: Engine 4cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 226bhp at 4700-6200rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1500-4600­rpm; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 6.4sec; Claimed fuel economy 44.1mpg; Test fuel economy 34.2mpg; CO2 148g/km; Faults None; Expenses None

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Join the debate

Comments
17

22 December 2017

love these things

Had the MK2 when it came out and kept it for nearly 10 years

reliable and tough as well as fun

Wish I was young again

22 December 2017

Should have been ordered with standard suspension.. never seen a road test without DCC

why waste £990 on paint when standard white would be more pure, no need for Nav Pro

It would be good to see how a standard car stood up, for all the money spent on 'soft' extras you may 

as well gone ahead and bought the Performance Pack and had a more enjoyable car..

Switchie

22 December 2017

I'm getting suspicious - you rarely see reviews of cars on standard dampers any more.   Yet that's what many customers end up with because the option is always cripplingly expensive, and creates an expensive maintenance issue once out of warranty.

Why cant companies make cars that ride AND handle any more on one setting?  Roads are not smooth and stiff springs/damper settings rarely help on the road anyway.  I kind of get the point of switchable damping on a car that's going to be tracked, but otherwise no.   Give me one setting that works and quality dampers.  The Bilsteins I fitted to my GT86 make it better handing AND better riding so it can be done.

 

22 December 2017

Still the aspire Car for many, it still looks fresh and fulfills all the important criteria too!

Peter Cavellini.

22 December 2017

How much better is this than a mk5 which was the golf that got its mojo back? I don't mean faster just better or more fun?

22 December 2017
si73 wrote:

How much better is this than a mk5 which was the golf that got its mojo back? I don't mean faster just better or more fun?

I haven't driven a current GTI, but have driven the 5 and 6 both in DSG form. The Mk6 felt quicker than the 5 with more instant acceleration. However, the 5 was probably the more fun of the two. A 40 mile drive to the coast along twisting and crucially, empty, B-roads is in my top three drives of all time. So much fun - I had a smile on my face throughout and so did my passenger (who was also the owner)! 

22 December 2017

Thanks, I was wondering mainly because the 5 was so highly rated and later versions only seem quicker, wasnt the 5 also over engineered and too expensive to manufacture? Must make it an excellent used buy and a guaranteed future classic.

13 February 2018
si73 wrote:

Thanks, I was wondering mainly because the 5 was so highly rated and later versions only seem quicker, wasnt the 5 also over engineered and too expensive to manufacture? Must make it an excellent used buy and a guaranteed future classic.

Have only just seen your reply - apologies! Generally speaking, the mk5 was over engineered and cost a lot to manufacture which is why the interiors weren't perceived to be as good as the 4's. However, most definitely an excellent used buy and future classic! Last time I looked well specified and looked after 5's with the DSG box in particular (and with sensible mileage) were pushing up to £8k which is a hell of a return on the original list price! I think they're a bit lower now but I would definitely say this is a future classic! Bit like the Civic Type R circa 2001-06....if you have a good one with low mileage, particularly the facelifted version, then you're looking at a very good return on the original list price vs the age of the car!

jer

22 December 2017

after the adaptive suspension is not typical. also these extras reduce discount or are charged at 100% depreciation on lease.

23 December 2017

Does most things you would want, and few you would not want. 

Spanner

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