For the vast majority of 2017, I’ve had a new Golf GTI on my driveway. Just before Christmas a Tornado Red Mk7 GTI Clubsport arrived, before being ‘swapped’ around Easter for a facelifted ‘Mk7.5’ GTI finished in Silver White Metallic.
Thus, I’ve decided to label 2017 as my ‘year of Golf’. I went from one end of the GTI spectrum (ignoring the ultra-focused, ultra-limited Clubsport S of course) right to the other, and learned a hell of a lot in the process.
Let me take you through it…
The whole point of the GTI is it exercises restraint while cars at the sharper end of the hot hatch descend into power-mad lunacy. We’re looking at the next Mercedes-AMG A45 packing over 400bhp, after all.
The standard GTI then is a refreshing alternative, and really, its 228bhp is all you should need on the road. I said as much in my first Mk7.5 update, but it is worth pointing out a GTI with more power is awesome.
The Clubsport proved this, but crucially, it did so without becoming some uncompromising, single-minded monster of a thing. My view that a GTI with a wee bit more power is a very good thing was further cemented by a drive in a modified example packing nearly 300bhp, which - if you took off the needless lowering springs - would be just as useable and pleasant as a boggo GTI.
If I were buying a brand new Golf GTI, it would have to be the Performance Pack. Not for the token 15bhp boost over the standard car - nope, the VAQ differential that’s fitted as standard is the big draw. Best thought of as one half of a Haldex four-wheel drive system, it uses clutches to send anything up to 100 per cent of torque to either driven wheel. And it’s bloody effective.
It allowed for particularly committed cornering in the Clubsport, and even in the facelifted, 245bhp GTI Performance, its effects are noticeable. Back in ‘our’ base GTI, I were always wanting for more front-end grip - every time the front end gave up and washed wide into understeer territory, I felt a pang of disappointment.
Neither the Clubsport nor the Mk7.5 GTI had a manual gearbox, and I never really found myself pining after one. The six-speed DSG automatic transmission may not always be on the ball in auto mode (VW is slowly replacing it with a superior seven-speed version), but it’s still a fast, effective ‘box, not to mention a great match for the car.
Even with a lower power output, the Golf holds its own against sharper competition. It never felt that far off the tremendous Hyundai I30 N on the occasion tested against the hot hatch newcomer, and when going into battle with the Civic Type R, the Golf made me question whether the Honda’s bonkers looks were worth living with for the extra grip and composure it brings to the table. Is that extra 10-20 per cent of ability worth the compromises? It’s a tough call.
The Golf R was - for a little while at least - the darling of the motoring press, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I actually got around to driving one. I tried an R first in a back-to-back with the Clubsport, and a few months on drove the facelifted version not long before taking delivery of the Silver White GTI. My conclusion after those two encounters? I’m not sure I get the fuss.
Around 300bhp isn’t an output that requires a four-wheel drive system these days, and adding one to an EA888 ‘TSI’ inline-four with around that poke seems to neuter it. I like the feeling of a front-wheel drive car’s front end scrabbling around to find grip, and the absence of that - replaced by unflappable grip - is something I find a little dull.
For the sort of person that likes marvelling at a car’s ability and leaning on it whatever the weather, there’s a case for the R. But for anyone really interested in driving, the GTI is the way to go.
The Golf range as a whole sets the gold standard of how a hatchback should go together. Where the controls are laid out. How the infotainment works. Even the seating position. Jumping into a Golf of any kind is like digging out your favourite hoodie from the back of the cupboard and remembering why you used to wear it so much.
The only problem with that is if you’re running a Golf as your daily, it merely highlights what doesn’t quite work on other cars. When we had a Hyundai I30 N in for a week, for instance, I was immediately irked by the naff sat nav and the placement of some of the controls.
No one has nailed this like a glove feeling quite like VW, and once you factor in the added power and ability of the GTI version, you have what is surely the most easy-to-live-with performance car out there.