2017 VW Golf GTI Review: Proof That Big Horsepower Isn’t Necessary

The tweaked Golf GTI provides an entertaining reminder that bombastic power outputs aren't always needed to have fun

Before we go any further, there’s something you should know: the Golf GTI’s chassis hasn’t been altered for this facelift. At least according to VW - if there has been some mild jiggery pokery underneath, the company hasn’t mentioned it.

We’ll go through the notable, more practical changes later, but in terms of driving, the only alteration is a 10bhp boost to the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Does that make a difference? It’s hard to tell - the now 227bhp four-banger feels a little more eager than I remember, but then it is a while since I last drove a standard GTI.

2017 VW Golf GTI Review: Proof That Big Horsepower Isn’t Necessary - Features

So really, what our GTI drive at the Mk7.5 launch in Majorca constituted was a refresher drive to remind us of the hot-ish Golf’s place in the world. And hot damn, does it hit a sweet spot.

Yes, there are hot hatches around with outputs over 300bhp, clever front differentials (VW’s own VAQ diff is available in the GTI as part of the Performance Pack) and even all-wheel drive, but the beauty of the GTI is that it feels awesome without all of that.

Don't panic, there is still a three-door available...
Don't panic, there is still a three-door available...

You can actually row through a gears without doing mad speeds, and the engine’s perky and revvy for a turbo four. The damping is perfectly judged, being neither too soft to make the GTI flop over on its door handles, nor hard enough to wreck the ride and make the car skate about on crappy road surfaces. You can even get a little movement from the rear axle, if you’re going in hard enough on the brakes.

It’s not like it’s completely devoid of handling tech, either. The ‘XDS’ torque vectoring system does a commendable job of mimicking a proper limited-slip diff, keeping the front end in check by applying brake pressure to fiddle with the speeds of each driven wheel. It doesn’t take much effort to flummox it and push on into understeer territory, but most of the time you’ll have all the grip you need at the front.

2017 VW Golf GTI Review: Proof That Big Horsepower Isn’t Necessary - Features

I’m fond of the steering, too. It doesn’t have the same level of feedback we’ve been enjoying in ‘our’ GTI Clubsport, but it’s more than quick enough, and the whole variable ratio thing - which tightens the ratio the more you turn the wheel - makes for easy progress.

So what about the actual new stuff? Well, there’s a very slight nip and tuck involving new headlights and lightly revised bumpers, and part of those changes include hiding the ‘Front Assist’ sensor within the VW badge, rather than slapping some massive carbuncle of a thing in the middle of the lower grille like they used to. We like.

2017 VW Golf GTI Review: Proof That Big Horsepower Isn’t Necessary - Features

The bigger changes are on the inside. For starters, the physical dials have been replaced with the new ‘Active Info Display’ (standard on all UK cars). It’s best thought of as VW’s version of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, and while it’s not as slick as the Audi system, it’s a change we’ll cautiously welcome.

What we’re less sure about is the ‘Discover Pro’ infotainment screen. It looks gorgeous in all its 12.2-inch glory (the Golf gets a smaller screen as standard), but with the old physical shortcut buttons removed, it’s more of a faff to use.

The whole gesture control thing seems like a bit of a gimmick too: it’s only present on a handful of the menus, and we struggled to get it to work half the time. Other than making you feel like you have The Force when it does work, we’re not sure it really adds anything to the party. For the most part, it just makes you look like you’re swatting invisible flies.

2017 VW Golf GTI Review: Proof That Big Horsepower Isn’t Necessary - Features

Elsewhere, there are a few semi-automous features now available, but the biggest biggest news isn’t anything to do with the GTI. That’ll be the new ‘upsized’ 1.5-litre TSI ‘Evo’ (which replaces the old 1.4-litre), which is shockingly quiet and amazingly refined. It’s clearly the Golf of choice for ‘normals’.

But for us? We’ll have the GTI, please. It’s not the fastest nor the most advanced hot hatch out there, but it’s still one of the most satisfying to drive.