The original, 810-kilo Golf GTI from the Seventies was superb, light and nimble. With a lively 110hp and 1.6 engine (and later a 1.8), the mark 2 was much-loved, too. Sadly, the mark 3 and 4 were not so hot, but VW was back with the excellent, 200bhp mark 5 GTI, and later the mark 6 (a slightly tweaked version of the 5).
Outside, GTI is quite subtle about its performance credentials. The thin, red stripe that runs through the light clusters, the modified bumpers and, of course, GTI badging and alloys give the sporty game away. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard.
Inside the hatchback's cabin GTI buyers get what they expect: an understated, sporty ambience. Remember: GTI is still a practical five-seat hatchback, albeit a very quick one. The boot holds 380 litres.
Power is delivered to the front wheels from a 2-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine (TSI) that pushes out 220hp and 350nm. 0-100km/h takes just 6.5 seconds and GTI's top speed is 246km/h. Fuel consumption has been improved by 14-18% (DSG/Manual). The six-speed manual gearbox version is most frugal, averaging 6L/100km or 47mpg (6.4/44mpg DSG).
A performance pack - among other things it adds 10hp and bigger brakes - is an optional extra for circa €1,500. Also available with this pack and new to the seventh-generation GTI is a limited slip differential. Essentially, it reduces the amount of excess wheel spin on the unloaded driven wheel when accelerating and makes cornering a faster and more precise experience. This pack will be available in Ireland from November in time for 2014 deliveries.
On the road we drove standard six-speed manual and DSG versions in both standard and performance specification. The manual has a nice short throw and the ratios are perfect for getting the most out of the lively engine. Our preference would be for the DSG-automated manual. The steering wheel-mounted paddle shifts, coupled with the option of leaving the car in 'D' (drive) or 'S' (sport), just make the driving experience more complete.
The standard 220hp car is brilliant and has a level of sophistication to its handling that is class-leading. Only when driving enthusiastically on tight, twisty bends will you miss the diff and stronger brakes. The standard brakes and power delivery are very good, but for enthusiastic drivers the Performance pack GTI will suit even more.
Pricing (ex €750 delivery) starts at €33,595 for the three-door. The DSG three-door starts at €36,045. Practical five-door versions will be more popular and they start at €34,595, or €36,995 with DSG.
There are some expensive options that could see buyers spending over €40,000 in no time. €1,592 gets you an eight-inch multimedia/NAV/DVD display and 60GB hard drive. If you find the standard 17-inch alloys too small, and the €698 18-inch ones not quite big enough, the tasty 19-inch alloys weigh in at €1,378. Leather seating is €1,767 and 'Climatronic' air conditioning is a cool €902. If you want the GTI experience but with more frugal fuel consumption, the GTD is launching, too.
Surprisingly, the 184bhp/380nm entry GTD (diesel) is dearer than the GTI by €2,000. At €35,525, the three-door manual (ex delivery) is in a lower VRT band and attracts annual road tax of just €190. That said, the almost identical 184bhp SEAT Leon FR diesel is priced well below €30,000 and worth a much closer look.
VW Ireland expects to sell 70 GTIs this year in Ireland. The latest GTI is on sale for July delivery.
Overall, GTI is an outstanding machine that provides a near-complete driving experience.