Facelifted GTI shows how constant improvements lead to near-perfection
You wonder sometimes. Because of self-inflicted Dieselgate, VW had to cut its R&D budget by over a billion euros. The revised, seventh-generation Golf GTI hasn’t been changed all that much.
With that budget, would we be seeing a very different hot hatchback?
One can but wonder. However, in the real world, here it is. And not being radically altered is actually a blessing. Things that were terrific have been slightly tweaked, making just that bit more terrific. Like the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Power is up a smidge, just 10bhp, which adds 2mph to the top speed and knocks a single tenth off the rush to 62mph.
Volkswagen Golf GTI 3dr DSG
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Gearbox: Six-speed DSG
Top speed: 155mph
CO2/tax band: 145g/km, 28%
The effect is an engine of such sweet linearity that you marvel at how they do it with 227bhp. It can dig in from low down or soar up towards the red line – whatever you want, it delivers with verve and enthusiasm but never with any great sign of stress. It’s a very sweet engine indeed.
Would we choose the manual over the dual-clutch DSG transmission fitted to our test car? Probably, although both work extremely well. We’d probably go for the manual to keep that connection tight between car and driver. Because that is one of the GTI’s great strengths.
Where others are fitting complex steering systems or ever-harder suspension, the Golf GTI continues with it progressive power steering rack and its passive sports suspension. Our test vehicle had adaptive dampers worked magically when in Sport mode, but even then you can feel the give, the compliance in the suspension that makes it a perfect symmetry.
The chassis keeps everything outside that should stay outside, like bumps and potholes, and sharp edges, leaving the driver feeling relaxed and full of enjoyment. The steering gives lashings of feedback, and you feel so connected in this Golf, far more so than in many hot-hatch rivals.
The cabin you sit in isn’t radically altered, and nor did it need to be. There’s real attention to detail here, with everything so neatly built together. In our test car we had the optional 9.2-inch Discover Pro infotainment system and leather sports seats with new red piping. There was also the new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. It all works quite well, although it’s not quite Audi Virtual Cockpit and we weren’t that taken with the gesture control for the central infotainment system.
Other than that, it’s where you want to be. After about 40 years, the Golf GTI is now – or is still – a significant tour de force. There are some hot hatches that are more ‘out there’ on the ragged edges, but that’s not where you spend much time. In the real world, the new Golf GTI is a perfect blend of performance, handling, driver involvement, real-world practicality and premium delivery.
It didn’t need that billion euros after all.