Volkswagen Golf GTI

Sporty Golf is a hugely accomplished all-rounder that lives up to legendary badge

Why it won...

Three small letters are guaranteed to get enthusiasts hot under the collar: GTI. Volkswagen virtually invented the concept of go-faster family cars with the original Golf GTI in the Seventies, and the latest model lives up to the legend of its illustrious predecessor.

Subtly enhanced styling does just enough to get you noticed, without attracting the wrong kind of attention – and the rest of the car is equally well judged. Its smooth 207bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is perfectly suited to the job. It’s willing and powerful enough to keep keen drivers happy, yet suitably docile and economical when you’re not blasting along country roads.

Next comes the chassis. It’s all too easy to ruin a hot hatch with unyielding suspension, but Volkswagen’s engineers have delivered a brilliant compromise between handling agility and comfort. And then there are the details. High-class touches such as the evocative telephone-dial alloys, flat-bottomed steering wheel and distinctive tartan upholstery all strike exactly the right tone.

Video: watch our video review of the VW Golf GTI

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Of course, it’s no coincidence that the regular Golf is our favourite compact family car – the hatchback provides solid foundations on which to base the GTI. Those talented underpinnings can easily handle the hot model’s extra power, and its spacious cabin and high-quality trimmings help to make our winner both hugely desirable and very easy to live with.

Our pick: The five-door manual represents the ultimate combination of practicality and value. The higher-powered Edition 35 special is arguably more desirable, but the standard package is so well judged it’s hard to justify the extra outlay…

Highly commended

MINI Cooper SD Adding a powerful diesel to the MINI mix has been a masterstroke. We think the latest go-faster supermini is even better than the John Cooper Works flagship. The new powerplant has done nothing to diminish the MINI’s livewire handling, and its impressive low-down shove provides strong performance.

Renaultsport Clio 200 This Clio is fast enough to embarrass cars costing twice the price, with the chassis upgrades and frenetic 2.0-litre engine ensuring an absorbing driving experience. Even though there are faster machines out there, few provide as much fun from behind the wheel for so little money.

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