Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
As mentioned, the range now begins with the Golf GTI Performance edition, which has a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine producing 242bhp. That's less firepower than many rivals, including the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai i30N, have under their bonnets. However, what's important is that the GTI Performance feels suitably spritely, even from low revs.
The GTI TCR, meanwhile, gets revised engine software and a different exhaust system to boost power to 286bhp. Okay, that's still not quite up with the Type R, but it's not far off and you really notice the extra surge over the Performance model at higher revs. It's just a shame neither version makes a very exciting noise, despite the efforts of their digitally enhanced engine notes.
The Performance comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, which is slick but not as delightfully precise as the Type R's manual 'box. Where the GTI has the advantage over the Type R, and other hot hatches like the i30N, is that you can also order it with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (standard on the TCR).
True, the auto ’box isn’t as interactive and enjoyable as the manual, even when you use the paddle shifters, but if you do lots of miles and want something quick but fuss-free, then it has its advantages. It's also very responsive and shifts gears far quicker than a mere human can.
When the road starts to get twisty, the GTI’s steering is very reassuring, because it provides loads of feedback whether you’re winding lock on or off. Unfortunately, you have to put up with more body roll than you do in the Type R, and the GTI feels less stable under hard braking.
This is reflected in its lap time at our 0.9-mile test track, which is designed to simulate a meandering B-road and gives an objective benchmark in terms of handling limits. Even the more powerful TCR model’s time of 44.4sec was more than a second off the pace of the Civic Type R and Renault Megane RS Trophy.
The Golf GTI is at its best when driven at eight-tenths, then, at which point you can really savour its steering and (if you’ve specified the optional adaptive dampers) its supple ride. Plus, wind and engine noise are well controlled at motorway speeds so, when you aren’t in the mood to hack across country, it’s a relaxing cruiser.
The Up GTI is the best budget hot hatch you can buy
The Abarth 595 is startlingly quick and wonderfully stylish, b...
Without upping your budget considerabl...
The Suzuki Swift Sport is well equipped and fun to drive, but...