If you want to get a handle on the new Golf GTI, nip down to your local VW showroom and sit in one. You don’t need to drive it, you don’t even need to pore over the spec sheet, because the front seats pretty much tell you exactly what the Golf GTI is all about.
And there lies the nub of the sixth incarnation of the Golf GTI. The red piping around the grille and four-square stance leave you in no doubt about its identity, but the expensive-looking cabin trim and those super-comfy seats hint at the fact that, rather like the BMW M3, the Golf GTI has become a more luxurious, high-end product than its terrier-like ancestors. Question is, has the change in character made the Golf a more desirable proposition, or has it lost a little of its thrilling edge?
Perhaps I’m being a bit cruel, though, because apart from the new 208bhp 1984cc engine (it shares a swept capacity with the engine from the Mk5, but brings modified pistons and piston rings, a new induction system, a high-pressure fuel pump and an uprated oil pump) is a fine motor. It’s smooth, linear, and has a relentless thrust all the way through to the red line. If it had a little more aural character, it would be a real winner.
Wind up the GTI coming off a tight roundabout, for instance, and the car grips, but the nose feels as if it wants to skip wide all the time.
Our advice is to leave the adjustable dampers in standard mode. In comfort the body control deteriorates a little, with noticeable heave and float over crests and undulations in the road, while sport mode feels a little nuggety, without bringing noticeable improvements to body control, at least on the road.
Unfortunately, despite a pleasing, chunky weighting, the steering itself isn’t inspiring. It’s accurate enough, but it doesn’t feel particularly sharp on turn-in, nor does it tell the driver a great deal about what’s going on beneath the front wheels.
As an everyday mode of transport the GTI is also nigh on perfect. This is a car you could commute in everyday, or do a cross-continent motorway slog without feeling so much as a back twinge.
But does the Golf GTI cut it as a thrilling hot hatch? To succeed on that front it should be an exciting, terrier-like driving machine that you want to fling at your favourite B-road again and again. Sadly, however fast, grippy and composed it is, that hot hatch X factor - the urge to drive it, and drive it hard for no particular reason other than recreation - doesn’t quite come through.
UPDATE: I've finally got my hands on some UK shots...