Minor tweaks for benchmark hot hatch
Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has earned more than a few plaudits across its four decades of history, righting crafting a reputation as the hot hatch by which others are measured.
The brand’s seventh-generation GTI arrived in 2013, bringing a significant increase in performance as well as a lighter, stronger platform and more polished interior. It ticked all the boxes owners could ask for, and that’s before more potent versions arrived in the form of the focused GTI Performance and limited-edition GTI 40 Years.
This year’s model, then, was always going to be impressive. The new car builds on a solid foundation with more power, sharper styling and an updated interior that offers technology rarely seen in cars priced under $100,000.
Visual changes include sharper bumpers with revised intakes that take inspiration from the GTI 40 Years, along with larger exhaust tips, new LED tail lamps and redesigned 18-inch wheels or 19-inch items pinched from last year’s anniversary model. The result is a more focused-looking car that adds an extra dollop of aggression to a model that already offers significant aesthetic appeal.
The emotional pull continues on the inside, where classic GTI touches in tartan seat trim and a golf ball-inspired gearknob meet modern touches such as a fully digital 12.3-inch widescreen driver’s display, and a 9.2-inch high-definition infotainment screen with touch less gesture control.
That Audi-sourced dash is a revelation, offering customisable views including beautifully rendered maps, in-depth trip computer info and a lap timer for track day junkies. We can’t say the same about the central infotainment screen, with it’s annoying lack of a volume knob and hit-and-miss gesture control that take off an otherwise beautiful and functional element.
While you could accuse the regular Golf’s cabin of being a little too demure, the GTI’s red-stitched flat-bottomed steering wheel, pin-stripe ambient lighting and well-bolstered seats make the hatch feel genuinely special in a way none of its circa-$40,000 rivals can match. It’s an outstanding cabin, and that’s before you factor in a spot-on driving position and Volkswagen’s logically laid-out control systems.
Key gadgets include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, and (optional) active cruise control with a self-driving mode that works in traffic at speeds under 60km/h.
Performance credentials include a lift in power from 162kW to 169kW – the same as the previous-gen GTI Performance – along with grippy rubber, adaptive multi-mode suspension and a choice of six-speed manual or dual-clutch “DSG” automatic transmissions. The updated “Golf 7.5” GTI has the same 350Nm torque peak across a wide 1500-4600rpm torque band as before, lending the model outstanding in-gear flexibility as well as the ability to reach 100km/h in a respectable 6.4 seconds before going on to a top speed of 250km/h.
It feels appropriately brisk on the road, effortlessly overtaking slower traffic and powering out of bends with most of the gusto you might expect from a modern performance car. While the GTI is not the quickest car in its class, it offers broader appeal than most thanks to a character that ranges from a quiet and efficient commuter to an effervescent athlete complete with intoxicating burps on full-throttle DSG gearchanges.
We tried the revised GTI in DSG and manual form, finding that the ultimate driver engagement of the three-pedal version was nicely offset by the sharper acceleration and everyday ease of use offered by a self-shifting unit that is probably the best sporting auto available for less than $45,000. That versatility lends considerable weight to the GTI’s appeal – the DSG is a much more engaging proposition than the turgid CVT auto in Subaru’s WRX, while key rivals such as Peugeot’s 308 GTI and the Ford Focus ST do not offer an automatic option.