Faster, comfier and, most importantly of all, more fun – that’s what VW is promising with the new Golf GTI. Auto Express headed to the south of France to put those claims to the test by trying the new Mk7 on a variety of roads and a track.
However, before being handed the keys to our five-door model – which is likely to account for 70 per cent of all GTI sales in the UK – we were first given the inevitable briefing on the nuances of the newcomer’s technical details.
Through the medium of graphs, charts, diagrams and numbers, three German technicians set about explaining that they had indeed made the new Golf GTI faster, comfier and more fun.
It all sounded very impressive – but not until an hour later, when we were finally let loose in the car, did we realise the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The performance is truly sensational. The new Golf GTI uses a modified version of the old car’s 2.0-litre petrol turbo – now started by pressing a button instead of turning a key. Power is up from 207bhp to 217bhp, which seems a little off the pace when you consider that the cheaper Ford Focus ST has 247bhp. But on the road, the GTI feels far quicker than the numbers suggest.
The reason for this is the 70Nm increase in torque. Plus, the 350Nm peak – the same, incidentally, as the Scirocco R has – comes in 300rpm sooner, at just 1,500rpm. As a result, the GTI pulls cleanly and strongly from anywhere in the rev range and in almost any gear, making overtaking a breeze and the claimed 0-62mph sprint time of 6.5 seconds totally believable.
That time is four-tenths up on the old car’s, but if you’d prefer to round it up to a neater half-a-second faster, you can always upgrade to the Performance Pack. This gives the engine an extra 10bhp and cuts the sprint time by a further tenth, while increasing top speed by 3mph to 155mph.
Whether you would notice the added performance is questionable – but you won’t be able to miss the other mechanical upgrades the Performance Pack brings, such as the bigger front brakes with GTI-badged red calipers, ventilated discs and a limited-slip differential.
This final addition is a first for the Golf GTI, and it’s no normal mechanical limited-slip diff – it’s far cleverer than that (see panel, above). It makes the new Golf GTI seem keyed in to the road like none of its predecessors, yet it manages to achieve this without feeling unruly like some other cars with limited-slip diffs do.
The system is so good, it seems strange that VW predicts only a third of all GTI buyers will opt for the Performance Pack. But really, it’s a no-brainer when you bear in mind that the £980 premium it carries is pretty much what you’d pay for an upgrade to a set of 19-inch alloy wheels.
Another upgrade worth considering is the adaptive chassis control fitted to our test car. It’s an extra £795, but gives the hot hatch limousine-like comfort. VW has overhauled the system for the Mk7 with new, beefier, faster-acting dampers, which can now operate independently across an axle, unlike those on the previous-generation GTI.
With the system set in Comfort mode, the Golf smoothed out the bumpy access road to our racing circuit. Yet even in Sport mode, the car felt far comfier than rivals.
Don’t go thinking this means the GTI is soft, though. The Golf’s MQB platform is a great starting point for a fine-handling car, but the GTI is lowered by 15mm and has 30 per cent stiffer springs and larger anti-roll bars.
It also features faster-acting variable-rate steering, which means the angle of the front wheels increases progressively the more lock you apply. So there are now just two turns of the wheel from lock to lock, instead of three turns on the Mk6.
The new steering does take a few minutes to get used to. After that, it feels totally natural and enables you to stitch together a series of bends with minimal fuss – and it makes the new GTI feel more agile than the old car.
Thankfully, VW has managed to achieve this without affecting stability. Some people may prefer the looser feeling of a Focus ST – especially as you can turn this car’s electronic stability program all the way off, unlike in the GTI. But the unflappable Golf feels like the faster point-to-point car.
And it will get you where you want to go in greater style. A subtle bodykit means it looks suitably sporty, but it manages to have an air of class which no other hot hatch can match.
Inside are all the creature comforts you’d expect from a Golf, plus sporty extras like aluminium pedals, a golf ball gearknob, GTI sports steering wheel and those classic tartan-patterned cloth seats. Why anyone would upgrade to leather we’ll never know – especially as the new Golf GTI is expensive enough to begin with. The five-door starts at £26,825, which is about £285 more than before.
Yet it’s better value, as this time round it gets stuff like 18-inch alloys, DAB radio and bi-xenon headlamps as standard. VW’s City Emergency Braking is also included, and means the car is cheaper to insure than the Mk6. Fuel bills will be lower, too. VW claims 47mpg economy, plus the same 139g/km emissions as Peugeot’s lighter, less powerful 208 GTi.
All this makes the car an even better ownership proposition. In fact, we’d go as far as to say the Mk7 is the best GTI ever. We knew VW could make it faster and more comfortable, but there was always a question mark over the fun factor. Not any more.