All Golf GTIs come with a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, which in standard guise makes 227bhp. That’s more than enough to match the pace of a Ford Focus ST, but what’s important is that the GTI’s engine feels strong even from low revs, making it jolly flexible in everyday use.
Fancy a bit more poke? Then you can add the GTI Performance pack, which boosts power with a further 15bhp and adds performance-orientated features, such as a limited-slip differential, to help you put that extra power down out of corners. It’s an expensive option, though, so unless you really think you’ll make use of the extra speed and traction, we’d stick to the standard car, given that it’s so capable. You can go even further of course by ordering the 306bhp, four-wheel drive Golf R, but only with a considerable jump up in price.
A six-speed, twin-clutch automatic gearbox is also available, but unless you commute in heavily snarled-up traffic everyday, go for the standard six-speed manual instead. The clutch is light and the gearlever has a precise gate, so it’s not a workout to change those gears yourself. We also prefer the extra interaction the manual brings on a blast out into the countryside.
Speaking of which, when the road starts getting twisty you can rely on the GTI’s brilliant front-end grip and tight body control to get you round without drama. The GTI’s steering is beautifully accurate and weights up so nicely that you always know what the front tyres are up to, giving you plenty of confidence.
One option we would suggest adding is adaptive damping, even though it is a bit pricey. Why? Because it helps make the most of the Golf’s chassis. In Sport mode it stiffens up to keep body control even tighter, but it’s not so harsh as to make the Golf feel jittery over undulations.
But then you can slacken it off on the Comfort mode, and even though the GTI still feels firm compared to standard Golf models, it’s by no means harsh. This is one key difference over the Focus ST, which is well controlled but decidedly firm all of the time. And even if the Golf’s adaptive set-up is a bit beyond your budget, don’t worry; while the standard suspension might not offer quite the same blend of ride and handling, it’s by no means uncomfortable.
The great thing about the Golf GTI is that when you aren’t in the mood to hack across country roads, it’s still a Golf. That means it plays the refined cruiser card well, with very little suspension noise and just a light flutter of wind noise from the door mirrors at speed. You do have to put up with a little more road noise from the larger tyres, but even this isn’t irksome.