We road test and review the Mk7 VW Golf GTI and its Performance Pack big brother to see whether this latest version still has what it takes.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a real poster child for hot hatches. Save for the lacklustre Mk3 and Mk4 versions, every iteration has proved a commercial and critical success. With the firm’s excellent Golf Mk7 donating its core components to the latest GTI, you’d be an idiot to bet against this latest model repeating the trick.
All the familiar elements remain; three or five-door hatchback configurations, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine and plenty of retro GTI details. And for the first time the standard GTI is joined by a Performance Pack model with 10bhp extra, bigger brakes and an electronically controlled differential to quell understeer.
We took to the road and track to put the flagship £26,825 GTI Performance Pack model through its paces to see if it’s worth the £980 extra over the ‘ordinary’ GTI.
The Golf GTI isn’t broke, so VW hasn’t fixed it. The Mk5 and MK6 Golf GTI perfectly straddled a line between subtle excitement and playing it safe and it’s no different for the new MK7. There is more of a change between Mk6 and Mk7 than there was between Mk5 and Mk6 though, and the GTI looks sharp and appealing – even if some hot-hatch aficionados will wish VW played it a little less safe.
Grown up it may be, but it’s not lacking in delightful details; the red pinstripe around the grille, which runs into the bottom of the headlights, harks right back to the original MK1 GTI from 1975 and the 18-inch alloy wheels, twin exhaust pipes and suitably aggressive bodykit lend it a menacing (but approachable) image. Our Performance Pack car also sported red brake calipers and upgraded 19-inch alloy wheels. Steer clear of the optional leather interior and you’re treated to classic Jacara tartan cloth for the seats and subtle GTI badging on the three-spoke steering wheel while manual cars get the dimpled golfball-effect gear lever too.
You can specify your Golf GTI to have three or five doors, and while the former doesn’t boast any less room for rear occupants there’s no doubt the five-door makes life easier if you regularly carry rear passengers. In our minds there’s something extra appealing about the five-door’s sleeper style hot-hatch image too; most bystanders failing to notice its potency. But regardless of how you get back there the rear bench is comfortable and provides ample space for adults on longer journeys. The boot offers flexibility too, with split-fold rear seats which increase maximum luggage capacity from 380-litres to a surprising 1,270-litres.
Up front, those Jacara cloth seats not only look great but are comfortable too; supportive enough for pacing round a circuit yet soft enough for loping across long distances. And as you’d expect the detailing, build quality and functionality of this VW interior is first-rate.
Performance & handling
The 217bhp Golf GTI isn’t the most powerful hot hatch on the market, not even in 227bhp Performance Pack form. The Vauxhall Astra VXR boasts 276bhp, the Ford Focus ST 246bhp and RenaultSport Megane 261bhp. But the Volkswagen Golf has never been about chasing big numbers, and previously it’s been all the better for it.
So while it may not match the VXR’s 5.9-second 0-62mph time, it at least completes its run in 6.4 seconds, and without as much disconcerting torque steer or drama. Some may bemoan how easy this car is to pilot, but in reality the fact is the Golf GTI can use all of its power almost all of the time, which can’t be said of all its rivals.
Certainly on our challenging French test route we had no problem around tight hairpin bends, and the Golf felt perfectly tractable no matter the questions asked of it. Our Performance Pack car, with its electronically locking differential hung on even longer too, the outside front wheel being used to push the car around the bend allowing for even more accurate clipping of the apex. It’s just a shame it’s impossible to fully disengage the Golf’s electronic stability control for going all out on track.
Whether the surface is smooth or it sucks, the VW takes all that is thrown at it and soaks up the imperfections before they have a chance to work their way into the cabin. It’s a smooth and comfortable ride, and while you can feel some of this car’s heft around the bends it’s barely noticeable – the same goes for the slightly artificial feel of its steering.
Economy & environment
Considering this GTI Performance Pack’s speed, the car’s official 47.1mpg and 139g/km figures are impressive. And the good news is that, unlike some of its rivals, you’re actually likely to get close to that – over 40mpg is eminently possible. It’s all down to lessons learnt through the firm’s BlueMotion models and the GTI comes complete with the decade’s de rigour add on – stop/start. Even if you opt for the six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox the GTI’s CO2 emissions only rise by 10g/km.
Equipment & value
There’s a common misconception that the price of cars is constantly rising beyond the realms of most people’s financial capabilities. However, a quick look at the Golf GTI’s spec sheet reveals its £25,845 asking price could actually be considered good value – the extra £980 for the more powerful Performance Pack model even more so.
Ignoring the excellent chassis for a moment, the Golf is chock-full of specific GTI details that includes bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels, bodykit, a Jacara tartan cloth interior, subtle GTI badging and on manual cars a golf-ball inspired dimpled gear lever. You’ll also find dual-zone climate control, DAB radio, Bluetooth and iPod connection. The option prices are reasonable too, though it wouldn’t take too much effort to raise the GTI’s price above £30,000.
Of course EuroNCAP doesn’t test models as specific as the GTI, but it has hurtled a Mk7 Volkswagen Golf into a concrete block to check it’ll perform acceptably. And as you’d expect from a firm like VW the Golf does well, attaining the full five stars. As standard it comes with seven airbags, a full ESP system, lane assist, front assist, city emergency braking and a pre-crash system that prepares the car for an imminent collision.
Something of a slow-burner, the more time you spend behind the wheel of the VW Golf GTI the deeper under your skin it gets. There are more exciting hot-hatches available – Renault’s Megane 265 for one – but none can quite match the German car’s ability to tick so many boxes so much of the time.
A smooth but powerful engine is matched to a chassis that can cosset and comfort as much as it can clip an apex, and the end result is a hot hatch that can deploy all of its 227bhp and 350Nm all of the time. The subtle but suitably stylish exterior design and expertly detailed and constructed interior are just the icing on the cake. All things considered we don’t think there’s a more complete hot hatch available today.
Model tested: Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Pack
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Acceleration: 0-62 in 6.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Emissions: 139g/km CO2