Road Test: Volkswagen Golf GTI
Sector: Lower-medium Price: £26,780 Fuel: 47.1mpg CO2: 139g/km
Lighter, faster, more powerful and more economical than ever, the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI has plenty in its favour. But for all the advances its new modular chassis brings, perhaps it’s time for this iconic badge to have more of a revolution than the evolution between this and its predecessor.
Most of the ingredients are there. The Mk7 Golf GTI sports that subtle aggression its predecessors have always done so well, it’s desirable, practical, comfortable and, with CO2 emissions at 139g/km, there’s a remarkable drop in BiK against its predecessor for those who are lucky enough to be able to have one as a company car.
But, beyond that lightweight chassis, the GTI hasn’t really moved on that much in the last two generations. There’s still a turbocharged 2.0-litre direct-injection petrol engine under the bonnet and, at 220bhp in standard form, power outputs are starting to sound conservative against the competition.
There’s nothing new about this. Volkswagen, by its own admission, tends not to chase the highest performance figures in the class, which has given Golf GTIs of old a feeling of refinement and understated maturity others tend not to be able to match. But these days, the benchmark is closer to 250bhp and even newcomer Kia isn’t far behind. It’s only when you add the £980 Performance Pack, with extra power and upgraded suspension, a more advanced differential and larger brakes, that the Golf really comes to life.
In its favour, 139g/km is the lowest CO2 output in its segment – far in advance of the 169g/km Focus ST and 189g/km Astra VXR. It makes this accessible enough from a tax point of view that you can overlook the nagging messages scalding you for idling or giving the throttle a blip while stationary.
But the thorn in its side is that Volkswagen already has a hot Golf with impressive fuel economy. When the GTD debuted in the Mk1, it was a GTI lookalike with a low-powered diesel engine. In the Mk7, it looks almost identical to the GTI, performs almost as well and, thanks to the latest generation of TDI engines, it’s just as refined. If a gruff exhaust note is on your desirability list, the GTD’s options packs can meet that demand.
Meanwhile, the GTI’s power delivery has become more diesel-like over the years. There’s no need to rev the engine hard to extract the performance on offer, and economy has crept up with each generation. Enthusiasts will tell you that a diesel can’t match a petrol for driver pleasure, but with only a menial performance drop the GTD makes a great case for itself.
All of which makes the standard GTI a bit of an extravagance in the UK. It’s beautifully made, looks fantastic from almost every angle and the noise and power delivery on offer with a squeeze of the throttle is highly addictive. But is it worth the extra outlay over a GTD? Sadly, in most cases, it's become rather hard to justify.
If GTI styling, brisk performance and respectable fuel economy are your main concerns, then the GTD really has become an ideal choice. If you're treating yourself to the real deal, regardless of cost, then consider the 227bhp Performance Pack a must-have option.