Want a seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI? Then you probably want one with the uprated Performance Pack. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen Golf GTI wears one of the most iconic badges around and this Mk7 model is a class act. Available in 220PS standard power or in 230PS Performance Pack guise, the GTI is bigger, quicker, better built and more efficient than ever before, Three doors or five, manual gearbox or semi-auto, this one's still the best all-rounder in the hot hatch division.
Just as the hot hatch class as a whole has been through lean years and good times, that's also been the case with the Golf GTI. And although it's grown into an automotive icon, there were long periods when the Golf GTI wasn't the best car in its class. That changed with the introduction of the Mk5 back in 2004; a car that saw the Golf charge back to the head of the class. The evolutionary Golf Mk6 continued that trend in 2008 and while the runout GTI 35 models are crackers, towards the end of its life, the GTI Mk6 was beginning to come under challenge from a whole host of hugely talented rivals.
Volkswagen's answer? This car: the seventh generation Golf GTI. Here's a model that's been redesigned from the ground up and which offers more choice, better value, more efficiency and, if you choose the optional Performance Pack, more than double the power of the original Golf GTI. That 1976 car was designed to be an affordable and practical performance hatch that you could use every day. Is that the case with this latest version? Let's find out.
Before we get too involved with how this thing gets around corners, it's probably worth getting a few of the numbers out of the way. The standard issue Golf GTI makes 220PS which will send this 1330kg car to 62mph in a crisp 6.5 seconds on the way to a top end that's a squeak over 150mph. From that base point you have basically three major decisions to make; whether to opt for three doors or five, whether to stick with the manual gearbox or plump for the DSG twin-clutch transmission and whether to be content with 220PS under your right boot or fork out the extra for the 230PS Performance Pack version. That'll set you back around a grand and also includes bigger brake discs and an electronically controlled clutch pack in the differential, which directs the nose into corners more keenly, but doesn't tug on the steering wheel as a traditional mechanical system will.
I'd really struggle with the transmission issue. Both have their proponents and there's no doubt that the slick six-speed manual gearbox offers a much closer bond with the car and rewards driver skill, but on the schlep home from work when I'm stuck in traffic and I'm just looking forward to a cup of tea and putting my feet up, the DSG seems worth every penny. You might well ask what is the point of buying a GTI if not for driver involvement, but remember, this isn't a car in the vein of a Renaultsport Megane 265. Yes, you could conceivably take it on a track day and you'd probably have a lot of fun, but it's a more mature and versatile proposition. You feel it in that classy suspension, in the slick electrically assisted steering system and in a hundred and one other feel-good measures that Volkswagen seems to excel at.
Design and Build
If you had to pick one word to describe the GTI's exterior design it would probably be 'subtle' but then this is a model that's never been about lairy spoilers and drainpipe exhausts. Instead you get a car that sits 15mm lower to the road than its humbler siblings, the 18-inch alloy wheels filling the arches purposefully. As is usually the case, the three-door car looks a bit better than the five-door body, the longer doors having the visual effect of lengthening and lowering the profile.
Drop inside and you'll be greeted by some fairly loud 'Jacara' tartan cloth upholstery. Should that prove a bit too much for you, Volkswagen can happily deliver your Golf with black leather seats instead, for a fee of course. Regular Golf drivers will feel instantly at home here and then go about playing a game of spot the GTI bits. They include a sports steering wheel with red stitching and a GTI face plate, a black roof lining and some rather 'Hamburg night club' red ambience lighting. There's also a bespoke gear lever and instrument cluster, GTI trim strips and stainless steel pedal caps. It's just enough to make the GTI feel special inside without going too over the top.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over £26,000 for a three-door manual Golf GTI which is a premium of around £500 over its diesel-powered sibling, the 184PS Golf GTD. The Performance Pack option we're looking at here adds £995 to the standard price.
Tempted by the DSG twin-clutch transmission? I can see why you might be although you'll need to budget £1,400 for that particular upgrade, which means that before you've started thinking about bigger alloy wheels, the Performance Pack or the Dynamic Chassis Control, you're already north of £28,000 for a five-door GTI. As you can see, it's fairly easy to specify one to over £30,000 where the Golf runs into the immovable object that is the BMW M135i; 306PS worth of rear-wheel drive magic from Munich that has landed a haymaker that the hot hatch division is taking some time to recover from.
Whichever GTI version you choose, you'll get a 5.8-inch colour touch screen front and centre on the dash, a DAB digital radio, a CD player, an MDI interface for connecting iPod or MP3 player, Bluetooth telephone preparation and audio streaming and eight speakers.
Cost of Ownership
The Performance Pack option has virtually no impact on efficiency and when it comes to a performance versus efficiency equation, the Golf GTI is genuinely tough to beat. Choose the manual gearbox and you'll manage a very respectable 47.1mpg while emitting just 139g/km. That's very good going for a 2.0-litre petrol engine that makes 220PS. By contrast if you wanted a little more power in the shape of a Ford Focus ST, you'd have to put up with 39.2mpg economy and 169g/km emissions. To put in perspective quite how impressive the Golf's efficiency is, consider that the Renaultsport Clio 200, a less powerful car that campaigns in the class below can only manage 44.8 miles from a gallon of petrol and will emit 144 grammes of CO2 for every kilometre travelled.
So despite this Mk7 GTI being bigger and better equipped than its predecessor, it's also lighter and more efficient. Thanks to that MQB chassis, it manages to shave around 100kgs from the weight of its predecessor. You also get fuel saving features such as stop/start and smarter aerodynamics. Do bear in mind that if you opt for the DSG gearbox, you will record marginally worse figures but 44.1mpg and 148g/km aren't too bad. That is up one VED taxation band though.
Whenever we test sporting cars we usually look for superlatives. Pitching compromise is a whole lot harder. The Golf GTI might be an automotive icon but in all the dynamic measures that matter to hot hatch drivers such as 0-60 times, top speed, circuit lap times, lateral grip, braking performance and so on, it never really worries the class best. Despite that, this is a car that earns an unqualified recommendation, especially in Performance Pack form.
Why? Because it's a car that instead of concentrating on making big numbers, it just works as a road car. It's hugely accomplished, feels even more expensive than its asking price, and makes most of its rivals look a bit juvenile. There is, of course, a flipside to all of this. Despite being quick enough for most, it's not the most exciting car in the world to drive. Some have driven the car and felt that it might even be a little too accomplished. I disagree. The Golf GTI never imposes its personality on you and long after the novelty of some more puppyish rivals have worn off, the GTI will always feel a class act.