Performance and 0-60mph time
In pure performance terms the Golf heirarchy is R, GTI, GTD, and GTE, with respective 0-62mph times of 4.6sec, 6.4sec, 7.5sec and 7.6sec, and top speeds of 155mph (166mph if you add the £2300 Performance Pack), 154mph, 146mph and 138mph - though as we're dealing primarily with the humbler models in the Golf range here, we'll direct you to our full reviews of each of the sportier options for more information on those. Suffice to say, most offer plenty of pace, though the GTD and GTE models are more of an acquired taste in terms of how that performance is delivered.
At the other end of the scale, those with a penchant for speed would be advised to stay away from the basic 1.0 TSI and 1.6 TDI, both of which take longer than (an admittedly arbitrary) 10 seconds to reach 62mph, though the 1-litre is pleasant enough to stir along if you don't mind the overall speed being low.
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Somewhere in the middle you'll find the 1.5 TSI EVO, a recently-introduced four-cylinder that powers most of the sub-GTI sporty models in the range. 148bhp versions of this model (a 128bhp option is available) can accelerate to 62mph in 8.3sec and have a 134mph top speed, so they aren't far off the GTE in terms of performance, though in our recent experience with this particular engine it's not quite as sweet as the old cylinder deactivation 1.4.
VW's most potent diesel (shy of the GTD) is almost as brisk, hitting 62mph in 8.6 seconds from rest, and has a strong surge of mid-range torque to make up for its disinterest in really charging towards the red line. It's not an engine you'd choose for fun or performance reasons alone, but it's certainly one that offers good real-world pace and economy as compensation.
If economy is the be-all and end-all then the e-Golf deserves your attention. It sits somewhere in the middle in Golf performance terms with a surprisingly nippy 9.6-second 0-62mph sprint (which is a little quicker than prior to its 2018 update), though top speed is limited to 96mph. The joy of such performance is that it's easy to achieve - pressing your right foot to the floor is about as complicated as it gets - and that you can exercise it with minimal disruption to those around you, thanks to its near-silence. High-speed acceleration isn't overly impressive, but it's not hard to imagine an electric Golf gaining a "GT" badge in the future.