Probably the biggest change for the facelifted Golf is the new ‘Active Info Display’. It’s best thought of as VW’s version of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, only it’s not as good.
I get that VW Group’s hierarchy means the posher Audi system can’t be dumped straight into a Golf, but Active Info Display feels very much like a poor relation, with much more basic functionality.
There’s so much that bugs me about it that I’ll be writing a whole post dedicated to my grievances, but to sum up, while Virtual Cockpit makes a good case for itself, it’s hard to see the benefit of Active Info Display over physical dials with a smaller trip computer LCD. Particularly when ours doesn’t let you have the map on both the centre screen and the instrument binnacle (although some versions will let you do that), nor zoom out the dials to any significant amount.
Every time the front end of the GTI pushes wide (something which isn’t that hard to provoke) I feel a faint hint of disappointment. But it needn’t be that way: buy a GTI Performance, and you get VW Group’s mightily effective, understeer-killing VAQ front differential.
Not only that, but you get a cheeky 15bhp power boost to bring the total to a healthy 242bhp (not strictly necessary, but we’ll take it), bigger brakes, a bit of extra kit and - if you opt for an automatic Golf - the new seven-speed DSG as opposed to the older six-speed.
How much extra you pay depends on what gearbox/body style you go for, but for a five-door DSG like ours, you’re looking at an extra £1150. That’s a no brainer, surely?
When we were running a DSG GTI Clubsport earlier this year, I struggled to get anything over 35mpg on a run. But despite the very small drop in power, the ‘boggo’ GTI has no trouble nudging 40mpg. Long-term economy currently sits at a healthy 33.9mpg.
While we’re on the subject of ‘our’ Clubsport, you might remember I wrote at the time that I wasn’t missing having a manual. Well, now I’m six and a bit months into our DSG-only Golf GTI journey, I am starting to miss stirring through a set of manually-engaged cogs.
The six-speed DSG is competent enough, but it has moments during multi-gear downshifts where it seems to sit and have a think for a good second (which can feel like an eternity) before finally slotting in a cog. From what we’ve seen the seven-speed is better - as you’d expect since it’s the newer box o’cogs - but it’s only fitted to the GTI Performance currently.
A manual just fits the car better, too. This is an uncomplicated hot hatch, and it needs an uncomplicated manual transmission to go with it, adding involvement and fun.
In-car audio isn’t something I write about all that much, but it’s been on my mind more lately - partly inspired by disappointing showings from JLR’s weirdly flat Meridian systems, and a particularly naff Bose option in the new Nissan Qashqai.
Thankfully, there are no such issues with the Dynaudio ‘Excite’ system fitted to our GTI - it’s really rather good, with deep bass, a clear top end and a generally full sound. The eight-speaker, 400 watt system is a £550 option, but it’s worth it.
The whole point of buying a VW Golf GTI over something like a Honda Civic Type R or Ford Focus RS is it’s a more understated, relaxed beast. Your average GTI buyer will therefore probably want decent ride comfort, something which is slightly compromised on this Golf by the presence of 19-inch ‘Santiago’ wheels.
The two-tone, diamond-cut rims look awesome, but they bring with them an slightly crashy edge to the low-speed ride. They’re also not exactly cheap at £990 for the set, so you might better off spending that on another option, like that kick-ass Dynaudio stereo, or the Performance Pack.
There’s a school of thought that suggests cars with very little power are usually the most fun. I’m on board with that - an underpowered car can be given an absolute spanking with no fear of reaching antisocial speeds, after all. However, I’m starting to think that actually the 228bhp/261lb ft output of the GTI’s 2.0-litre inline-four is bang on the money for real-world fun.
It doesn’t feel slow even after stepping out of high-powered supercars, nor is it too fast: you can keep the throttle pinned for a reasonable amount of time without the fear of the local plod taking away your license and tearing it into tiny little pieces.
It helps that you have a fine chassis to exploit with that pokey four-pot this is a fun, capable car, and I’ve no doubt I’ll enjoy the rest of the test as much as I’ve enjoyed the first couple of month.