See, the latest Golf GTI ‘only’ produces 210bhp – down on the Ford Focus ST’s 225bhp, never mind the 300bhp-plus of the Focus RS rocketship. An Astra VXR? 240bhp. Mazda 3 MPS? 260bhp. Even the elderly Megane RenaultSport had 230bhp – and the new one’s going to have 250bhp.
So, although this is a new Golf GTI, the sixth incarnation of the famous line, it risks immediately becoming a ‘so what’ car. Don’t worry, though. There’s no chance of that. See, the Golf is about so much more than raw power. Always has been. And this is why the latest one will have enthusiasts queuing out of car dealers’ showrooms.
Besides, after driving it for the very first time, we can report that, actually, 210bhp is enough. This is an all-new engine, replacing the old 200bhp unit – but retaining its four cylinders, turbocharger and direct fuel injection. Top speed is up to just under 150mph, and the 62mph dash is reduced to 6.9 seconds.
But, more crucially, it’s a damn sight more flexible. It has 279Nm of torque – that’s almost as much as a diesel. What’s more, it is there from just 1,750rpm… right the way round to 5,200rpm!
So much torque, across such a wide rev range, means this engine is astonishingly flexible and responsive. Whenever you need go, it’s there. The Golf GTI has just enough for very rapid progress.
It even sounds terrific – all right-hand drive cars will have a special noise generator, for enhanced interior sound effects.
You can get it with a slick, fast six-speed manual, or the twin-clutch DSG semi-auto. If buyers really want to exploit the GTI’s full pace, they should go for the computer game-like DSG, with its instantaneous gearchanges. But, if they want to enjoy the experience fully at the same time, they should save money and go for the manual (just don’t tell the boss you told them that).
Car dealers concerned that customers may not be tempted into the options brochure margin add-ons, though, should rest assured. Alongside the standard lowered sports suspension, Volkswagen has also introduced Adaptive Chassis Control to the GTI for the first time.
This electronic suspension controls steering weight, throttle response and suspension stiffness – and offers so much composure, we’d highly recommend it, as testimony to the engineers’ skill.
In the dry, there’s certainly plenty of grip – with the Golf keen to tuck its nose in unless you’ve really overcooked it. Helping cornering traction are new, standard fit ‘XDS’ electronics, which act sort of like a limited slip differential, albeit an extraordinarily subtle one. We’re assured this comes into its own in the wet.
Despite this ability, it’s also suitably comfortable, in the proper Golf GTI tradition. Set ‘Comfort’ on the suspension, and the tension drops, just enough. Steering is beautifully weighted as well, and the brakes are excellent.
Inside, the familiar flat-bottomed steering wheel features, as does the trad tartan covering for the fantastic sports seats. Climate control is also standard – but, again, there’s plenty in the options catalogue for customers to suitably boost profit margins on each.
Volkswagen’s doing its best to help them stretch to this. Already an extremely economical hot hatch, the latest Golf GTI is even more so. Average fuel returns improve to 38.7mpg, while CO2 falls to just 170g/km. This has big benefits for road and company car tax.
Mind you, it needs to be. The Golf GTI still isn’t cheap – £22,400 for the three-door manual, while a basic five-door with DSG isn’t far shy of the Focus RS.
But is it worth it? Certainly. Absolutely. Nothing – not even the RS – offers such a compete package of performance, usability, image and quality. The legend is back – and it’s better than ever.