When the Volkswagen Golf GTI was first launched in the mid-seventies, it was the first in what has since become a crowded ‘hot hatchback’ market. That's because other manufacturers followed Volkswagen's lead on the back of the GTI's success, so that the current GTI model has cars such as the Ford Focus ST and Vauxhall Astra VXR to contend with. The cars may look different but they all aim to bring sporty handling and serious pace to the standard family hatchbacks on which they’re based.
The Golf GTI may face more competition than ever before but it is still one of the best in its class. The latest version is the most accomplished GTI model ever, blending the everyday usability of the standard Golf with more power and sportier driving dynamics.
The GTI wears 18-inch alloy wheels, beefier bumpers and a red line across the front grille to set it apart from the standard Golf range. Interior changes include tartan GTI seats, a sports steering wheel and the iconic ‘golf ball’ gearknob. High-quality materials are used throughout the cabin.
All Golf GTI models use the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. It's available in three different forms; the standard GTI produces 217bhp, an optional Performance Pack pushes that to 227bhp, while a special GTI Clubsport version has had its engine tweaked so that it's capable of 286bhp. The standard GTI can get from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, while the same car with the Performance Pack takes 6.3 seconds, and the Clubsport does it in 5.9 seconds.
Despite the power and responsive nature of the GTI's engine, it's still relatively efficient. It claims an official economy figure of 47mpg with a six-speed manual gearbox, with the DSG automatic returning a slightly less impressive figure of 43mpg. Not many of the GTI's rivals are capable of these figures.
Practicality hasn’t been dented by the car's extra speed compared to the standard Golf; boot size remains unchanged and the rear of the car is still big enough for three, fairly tall adults. Folding rear seats and some nice design touches dotted around the cabin mean the Golf GTI is a very easy car to live with on a daily basis.
After almost forty years, and although very different to the original, the Golf GTI is still a high-quality, enjoyable and appealing car that combines a practical hatchback form with style and performance.