The new Golf GTI is not a bad car. Far from it - VW‘s eighth crack at making its iconic hatchback into an equally iconic performance car is on the whole very successful. It’s fast, capable and comfortable, and doesn’t feel the need to shout about its attributes like a Honda Civic Type R.
If you liked the last one, you’ll like the new one. But it doesn’t really do a whole lot the old GTI Performance didn’t. Apart from irritating you with a sluggish infotainment system which you have to use to change the damn temperature on the climate control. That’s definitely new.
It took time to appreciate how the GTI fared with the ‘going fast’ stuff. But the GTD? That’s a car that reveals its fun side a lot sooner. As soon as you put your foot down, in fact. The 2.0-litre TDI engine gets uplifts of 16bhp and 15lb ft, giving new totals of 197bhp and 295lb ft and making for a nicely punchy engine. The fake noise in Dynamic mode is a little excessive, but that’s a small complaint.
The torque difference between the GTD and the GTI isn’t as big as you’d think, though, with the latter now making 272lb ft (which actually comes in a wee bit earlier than the GTD’s torque output). But the small advantage in twist combined with the diesel’s much lower peak power point makes it feel effortlessly quick. Wringing the GTI’s neck is all well and good, but the EA888 petrol engine isn’t exactly the most spectacular unit to rev out.
There aren’t many mechanical differences in the GTI and GTD chassis. The components are largely the same as far as we know (we’re awaiting confirmation from the factory), and both cars get the same 15mm suspension drop and optional adaptive dampers. Those are fitted here, and although it’s a few months since we tried a GTI, we reckon the GTD is a tad softer in all modes.
It’s still plenty stiff in its Dynamic mode, without crashing around uncomfortably on rubbish surfaces. The GTD surprisingly fun left in Comfort, tracking the road surface better with some welcome yet not excessive body roll. A bit of lean is no bad thing at all, despite manufacturers trying their best to completely irradicate it. Having a heavy diesel engine doesn’t seem to have stopped the front end from being plenty willing to change direction meanwhile, but since the latest EA888 in the GTI still uses a cast-iron block, the weight difference should be negligible.
Where these cars do diverge dynamically, however, is the ‘VAQ’ electronically-controlled locking differential, which can shove up to 100 per cent of torque to either front wheel. In the UK the GTI has one as standard, but the GTD isn’t so lucky.
Instead, it relies on an ‘XDS’ brake-based torque vectoring to mimic the effects of an LSD, and you know what? It works really damn well. So well, that I felt the need to check the spec sheet when I got back after my first drive to see if VW had decided to chuck in the VAQ system this time, which they haven’t. The XDS thing is ideally suited to these kinds of power/torque levels, with an abundant supply of traction in the dry and a decent amount in damp conditions no matter how greedy the throttle applications.
The steering doesn’t seem to be bothered about communicating anything from the road surface, but it’s fast and predictable, at least. Attached to the back of the wheel are those horribly apologetical little plastic tabs VW uses as shift paddles across multiple models, controlling a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that is serviceable enough, if lacking outright immediacy. There’s no manual option - sorry.
Whether it’s the punchier derv delivery or the lower expectations attached to the GTD badge I’m not sure, but overall, it’s the car I came away with feeling more satisfied after a country road blast. And on the way home again, there are the glorious fuel economy benefits to bask in. On a run, it’ll do over 60mpg with little effort. With a twin-dosing of ad blue (that’s the pig wee stuff), it’s also the cleanest TDI ever, VW says.
So it’s arguably a little more fun, it’s more economical, and finally, it’s cheaper than the GTI, coming in about £2k cheaper than one fitted with the DSG ‘box. Unless you have a particular aversion to diesel, the GTD is the one to have.
The GTI’s biggest problem isn’t necessarily the GTD though, it’s the GTI Clubsport. It’s not the biggest jump between the two, and in return for a little more outlay, you get a better chassis, significantly more power and angrier looks. We’ll know for sure once we’ve driven one in a few weeks, but if you’re going GTI, it’s looking like a case of go CS or go home. Or more accurately, go GTD.