Volkswagen Golf GTI review – is the hot hatch stalwart still the one to beat?

We can think of few more rounded, gratifying and superbly executed everyday performance cars. Classless, understated and utterly wonderful

The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI is now in its twilight years, serving its sixth year on sale. Rivals have also caught up and overtaken in terms of power, with mainstream alternatives below such as the new Hyundai i30 N  impressing, and those from above such as the A35 AMG offering massive leaps in tech and interior design. But these factors mean little for the GTI, as it continues to be one of the most desirable and complete ‘normal’ cars on sale.

> Click here for our group test between the i30 N, the Golf GTI and Peugeot 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport

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Volkswagen recently dropped the ‘entry’ 227bhp version, only offering the higher-output GTI Performance model with a more potent 242bhp, with the range now topped by a limited edition Golf TCR with 286bhp.

Overall though, the Mk7.5 Golf is a rounded, honed and exceptionally talented hatchback boasting exemplary levels of comfort, refinement, efficiency and technology. It also boasts excellent real world pace. More performance can be had elsewhere for less, but to the detriment of build quality. Where the Golf GTI does fall behind rivals is when it comes to outright excitement, but very few, if any, can match it for all-round excellence. As modern hot hatches go, the Golf GTI is the ultimate safe pair of hands.

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Volkswagen Golf GTI: in detail

Performance and 0-60 time > With a 0-62mph time of 6.4sec and a 155mph top speed, the GTI delivers performance worthy of the badge.  Read about the Golf GTI's performance here

Engine and gearbox > The Golf GTI has the 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine found in many other VWs.  Read about the Golf GTI's engine and transmission here

Ride and handling > British B-roads can be the making and undoing of a car. The GTI however is perfectly suited to them, with top-of-the-line chassis control and balance. Read about the Golf GTI's ride and handling here

MPG and running costs > The Golf GTI now consumes less fuel and has lower road tax. It has dropped five insurance groups due to better safety systems, which include emergency city braking. Read about the Golf GTI's mpg and running costs

Interior and tech > Being the same size as the standard Golf means the GTI is a very practical car. Standard tech includes DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and, perhaps most impressively, adaptive cruise control. Read about the Golf GTI's interior and tech here

Design > The typically polished and understated design keeps the GTI desirable, even as it enters its twilight years. Read about the Golf GTI's design here

Prices, Specs and Rivals

The GTI’s list price starts from £30,965 for the three-door model with a six-speed manual ’box. This basic configuration is arguably our preferred spec, although neither the five-door body and optional seven-speed DSG ruin the experience. As mentioned above, this is the cost of the higher-output 242bhp variant now that the 227bhp model has been dropped.

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If practically is king you’ll be parting with about £700 more for the five-door body, and while the dual-clutch transmission fits well with the GTI character it adds almost £1500 to the final price. You can fish through the options list for four alternate alloy designs and eight different paint jobs, all at a price. In place of the classic tartan upholstered seats you can have faux leather or the real thing – the latter quite pricey at almost £2k.

> Read our Ford Focus ST review

The hot hatch segment is fraught with competitors that all depart from the GTI’s trailblazed path in some way or another. Trading looks for practicality Skoda’s top-spec Octavia vRS 245 shares the GTI’s platform and engines whilst undercutting it by a considerable £3k. It’s also available as an estate unlike the GTI. Such practicality from a performance Golf would require you to go for the Golf R. Another enemy from within (the VW Group) is the SEAT Leon Cupra 300 which squeezes 296bhp from the EA888 and starts at just over £30k.  

Outside the VW conglomerate you have the Honda Civic Type R which is similarly priced to the SEAT. The jury is still out on the Honda’s exterior, but there’s no question over what’s under the outlandish skin; it’s a return to form for the Type R division. Ford is currently between hot Focuses, the latest model only recently having been revealed. We are expecting an ST to arrive sooner rather than later, mind, likely pushing closer towards 300bhp.

Hyundai's first ever N division creation arguably poses the greatest threat to the GTI. The Hyundai i30 N possesses all the everyday friendliness the GTI is famed for while offering dynamics that not only trump the GTI’s, but possibly the whole class. It looks like it’ll be good value, too. Renault’s Mégane RS has also now joined the fold with a myriad of new chassis tech. It’s an entertaining ride, especially so in Trophy form, but can feel a little synthetically enhanced, without the natural fluidity of a Civic Type R. Both transmission options are also problematic.  

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