Latest hot hatch has a huge reputation to live up to

THey’re separated by 33 years and four intervening models, but the two Golf GTIs in this test share the same guiding principles.

The new MkVI is huge parked next to its predecessor, yet the idea of using subtle visual changes to distinguish the sporty model from lesser versions comes directly from the charming MkI.

Up front, the honeycomb grille gets the same red trim as the 1976 original, while the black finish between the foglights and gaping air intake adds a sporty look. At the back, the GTI badge is complemented by a discreet spoiler, and the reprofiled number plate surround flows into the diffuser, which now houses twin exhausts.

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The interior is just as attractive. The standard car’s excellent ergonomics and class-leading quality are unchanged, but it’s the extra details that set the GTI apart. Tartan-trimmed sports seats and a racy flat-bottomed steering wheel make this a hot hatch that’s sporty yet comfortable, with a perfect driving position.

On the road, the new GTI retains the MkVI Golf’s excellent isolation of road and wind noise, making it one of the most refined hot hatches around. However, VW’s engineers have ensured you hear the sounds that matter! A special baffle in the exhaust means there’s a rasping note on upchanges, which is even more noticeable on models like ours with the twin-clutch DSG box.

This clever aural trickery ensures that the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine has character, but it’s the punchy power delivery and broad spread of torque that make the car so engaging to drive. The 207bhp unit lacks the ultimate power of some rivals, but with peak torque delivered between 1,700rpm and 5,200rpm, it’s flexible and deceptively fast.

The latest GTI is good in corners, too. It has the same composure as the car it replaced, but the optional Adaptive Chassis Control set-up moves the game on. It allows you to select from Normal, Comfort and Sport settings, and tunes the dampers, steering and throttle to suit. The differences are subtle, but Sport stiffens the suspension, while Comfort delivers an improved ride.

Overall, few cars can match the GTI’s blend of abilities – body control is superb, the steering is well weighted and accurate, while traction and grip levels are high. The genius of the GTI is its ability to engage the driver without having the hard edge and lack of comfort that characterises some rival hot hatches.

This everyday usability, plus the fact it’s well equipped, comfortable and practical, makes the GTI a superb ownership proposition. It’s subtly better in every area than the car it replaces, and more than deserving of the famous GTI badge.


WHY: The Golf MkVI sets new standards for quality in the compact hatch class – the GTI needs to build on that success.


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