Volkswagen Golf GTI

We drive the all-new Mk7 VW Golf GTI, which is powered by a 217bhp 2.0 TSI petrol engine

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

The new Golf GTI is quieter at a cruise, faster in a straight line and more stable under cornering. It's also 42kg lighter, better looking and costs just £195 more than its predecessor, despite its improved quality, safety and equipment levels. For the ultimate experience, though, we'd spend an extra £980 and go for the Performance Pack, which lets you use more of the power more of the time. There are more exciting hot hatches on sale, but none offer a more complete package than the Golf GTI.

It's incredible how hi-tech the Volkswagen Golf GTI has become. We've already tried the top-spec Golf GTI Performance Pack model, which comes loaded with 10bhp more power from its new 2.0 TSI engine, bigger vented brakes and a new electronically controlled front differential lock. Now though it's the turn of the standard model, which VW predicts will make up two-thirds of total Golf GTI Mk7 sales.

Ever since VW dropped a 108bhp engine into the Mk1 Golf in 1975, the GTI has followed a simple formula; a powerful engine in an agile front-wheel-drive chassis. So arguably the entry-level model tested here is of more interest to die-hard GTI fans. It does without the trick differential and larger brakes and makes do with 217bhp instead of 227bhp. This was also our first chance to test the new GTI equipped with a six-speed DSG gearbox.

A 10bhp difference might sound significant, but in reality the standard car feels every bit as fast in a straight line - that's because it produces the same 350Nm of torque (70Nm more than the Mk6 GTI). Bury the throttle and with maximum torque from just 1,500rpm the engine wakes up instantly, squeezing you into the snug tartan-trimmed sports seats and firing you down the road. The smooth power delivery is reminiscent of the new 296bhp Audi S3, although it lacks the S3's initial knockout punch.

In place of the electronic differential lock, the standard car uses a development of the previous car's XDS system, which brakes the wheels with least grip. Find a tight corner and you can immediately feel the callipers nibbling away at the front and rear inside wheels, helping tighten your line and stop the car washing wide. It always feels like its killing the power though and slowing you down, whereas the differential lock does the opposite - helping you to use more of the power by sending it to the wheel that can use it, and driving you out the other side.

It's not as quick through the corners then, but the standard GTI's brakes are more than up to the task, unless you plan on spending a lot of time on track. The DSG gearbox also rifles through the ratios quickly and efficiently, with a characteristic hiccup from the exhausts to accompany manual upshifts.

Several driver profiles let you tailor a wide range of parameters - Comfort, Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual - alter how the steering, gearbox, throttle and (if you pay £795 for adaptive chassis control) dampers behave. We'd take the time to setup your 'Individual' preferences though because while the suspension never feels too firm in Sport mode, the DSG holds onto gears for fraction too long.

Switch all systems to comfort and it's easy to forget your driving a GTI altogether - the suspension is so supple and road noise so well suppressed that you'll need watch the speedo to ensure you're not touching triple figure speeds, without realising.

The steering isn't full of feel (modern systems rarely are), but the way the front end reacts to your inputs is perfecty judged. A variable ratio system, which increases the amount the wheels turn depending on the angle of the wheel, has a natural feel and allows you to tackle hairpins without crossing your hands. And you'll want to keep both hands on the wheel, because the GTI's rock-solid cornering stability constantly encourages you to carry ever-spiralling speeds through the bends.

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