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The hot hatch legend is back for its eighth incarnation.
LED headlights with dynamic light assist, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, 18in alloy wheels, 10in touchscreen satnav with Android Auto and wireless Apple Carplay connectivity, three-year We Connect Plus subscription, 10in Digital Cockpit Pro screen, three-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking, side assist, rear cross traffic alert, lane assist, driver alert with fatigue detection
245hp 2.0, 300hp 2.0
GTI, GTI Clubsport
Six-speed manual, seven-speed DSG automatic
If the Volkswagen Golf is often seen as the typical company car, then surely the Golf GTI must be the default perk option for the performance-minded user-chooser. It's an iconic model that's been around for 45 years and is now on to its eighth generation.
Compared with the previous car, there's an increase in power - from 230hp to 245hp - and also new tech deployed to help with harnessing it. An electronic differential lock is overseen by a computerised vehicle dynamics manager, a combo designed to optimise grip in corners and eliminate understeer - the latter a common issue with powerful front-wheel drive cars. It might sound complicated, but it proves its worth on the road, as the GTI corners very well. It feels agile and willing to turn in, stays flat and nicely balanced through the bend, and gives the driver plenty of confidence to get on the power again on exit, with the diff and computer eliminating understeer as promised. Those systems must be very busy beneath the surface, but it doesn't feel like they're interfering, meaning you're left with a simple and intuitive driving experience, with a responsive chassis that will go wherever you point it, but without ever feeling skittish or frantic.
The only slight niggle is the optional seven-speed DSG gearbox fitted to our test car, which, although very accomplished (and surely a boon for town or motorway use), doesn't give quite the same level of connection you'd get from a manual. The engine it's mated to is good though - despite the power increase it's still no hyper hatch, but it delivers strong performance throughout the rev band.
The ride is firm, as you'd expect from a performance model, but far from uncivilised, although it can get a bit choppy on older road surfaces at speed - adaptive suspension is available as an option.
The interior plays on GTI tradition with the trademark tartan sports seats, which are comfortable as well as offering plenty of lateral support. They are something of a high point though as the cabin overall doesn't really feel like a premium product, with a few hard plastics around - it's sort of OK, but no more than that. We're also not hugely in favour of the infotainment set-up, with its complicated touch sliders for heating and volume control, though the under-lying tech is very accomplished, and the impressive Digital Cockpit display is standard.
As always, an advantage of the GTI over more specialist sports cars is retaining the practicality of a five-door hatch - there's plenty of space in the back, and the usual Golf boot is up to segment standards.
Of course, no-one will be choosing this car with a focus on their tax bill, but there was a small crumb of comfort in that the GTI's CO2 emissions of 168g/km kept it just below the top BIK band - at least until the scale is revised in April 2021. If that's a problem, then the GTE plug-in hybrid we reviewed last month is an obvious alternative. On the other hand, for those who want even more performance, a faster and more hardcore GTI Clubsport variant is also available, as is the range-topping, four-wheel drive Golf R.