Car of the month: the VW Golf GTI

PUBLISHED: 11:03 17 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:04 17 April 2015

VW Golf GTI

VW Golf GTI

Archant

This hot hatchback is a class act and can impress the neighbours without being an irritation

Just over 40 years ago, the first Golf saved VW from a Groundhog Day nightmare after it tried and failed to replace the ageing Beetle. The German giant avoided repeating the mistake by buying Audi and its front-wheel drive, water-cooled engine technologies, which inspired the Golf.

Seven generations on, there’s nothing Groundhog Day about VW’s best-known model. It’s more like a blockbuster movie franchise, with a box office star; the racy GTI. The 1970’s GTI original was an instant hit that others rushed to imitate, initiating a hot hatchback heyday.

Yet the latest GTI (from £26,580) transcends all this. Classier than any rival and styled equally for working weekdays or casual weekends, the GTI woos the opposite sex without shocking prospective in-laws, impresses the neighbours without irritating, wows even the most cynical older driver.

Group 29 insurance within a scale of 50 is not outrageous either for a car that, even in basic 220PS (218bhp) form, hits 62mph in 6.5 seconds. The current GTI is also one of the best ever to drive: it has well-weighted power steering and flatters any driver with its exceptional cornering grip and flat stance.

Power to the front wheels from the turbocharged two-litre petrol engine is applied to the road without fuss, and it growls appropriately at high revs, yet is otherwise quiet and refined. Ride quality is also good for such a sporting car, with sensible, real-world average economy of around 40mpg and modest emissions.

In short, here’s a sporty car that’s easy to live with for all those times when modern driving is a list of chores: stuck at the lights, stewing in a jam, enduring a 50mph motorway limit while no work goes on ... .

But when you finally reach a clear road, you can press on with the joy and security that makes a car like this worthwhile.

That said, I wouldn’t specify the test car’s six-speed DSG auto/manual gearbox. It adds £1,400 and may suit owners who suffer much stop-start city traffic but, despite the high-quality manual selection, it does rob the driver of some involvement.

The GTI gains nice nostalgic touches such as check fabric seat insets and red stitching, plus Golf practicalityw: decent boot, good interior space and stowage.

If it’s a more sporting Golf than you need, check out the 140PS (138bhp) 1.4TSI ACT (from £23,195). It returns 58.9mpg on the official combined cycle; still not up with the 70-plus mpg of equivalent Golf diesels, but impressive for a petrol unit offering 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds.

This apparently contradictory mix of economy and sportiness is allowed by Active Cylinder Technology, which shuts down two of the engine’s four cylinders when it spots the driver’s right foot in ‘cruise mode’ on an untroubled stretch of road. Such Dr Jekyll miserliness makes you feel better about sometimes unleashing Mr Hyde, turning this GT into a cut-price GTI.

Volkswagen Golf

Price from: £17,175

Model featured: Golf GTI 2.0 220PS DSG6 5-dr £28,650

Power: 218bhp and 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds

Engine: 1,984cc four-cylinder petrol

Fuel consumption: 44.1mpg combined cycle

Road tax: £140/year

Best rival: Ford Focus

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