Manual gearbox. Tartan seats. Bright red paint. It could be the summer of ’76, with me at the wheel of Volkswagen’s brand new Golf GTI. Instead, it’s 2017 and I’m driving a revised version of the seventh-generation Golf GTI.
While the GTI was once the hot hatch of choice for yuppies, fashionable mums and even model Paula Hamilton, today it lives in the shadow of numerous ultra-hot hatches. Ford offers the bonkers Focus RS, the Honda Civic Type-R laughs at the Golf’s meagre power output, and even Volkswagen now offers the more capable Golf R.
So why should you buy a Golf GTI today? Well, as I found out on my drive on the Balearic island of Majorca, you should buy a Golf GTI because it’s brilliant.
Improvements for the 2017 model are minimal – with only new LED lights, a revised grille and tweaked bumpers to really mark you out as having the latest car. It’s not hugely different, but there’s a lot to be said for not changing such a winning formula.
If your circle of friends is the type to brag about outright performance over after-work drinks, there are better hot hatches out there.
The Golf GTI is not – and has never been – as in-your-face as certain rivals, but it does make a statement in a classy way. And you can opt for the brilliant Tornado Red, which helps it stand out a bit more than the understated R.
Power has been given a minor boost, but it’s still not outrageously quick – hitting 62mph in 6.4 seconds. The original, more than 40 years ago, took more than 9.0 seconds to do the same run, but today some hot hatches can cover 0-62mph in less than 5.0 seconds. That’s almost supercar fast.
There’s more to the Golf GTI’s performance than simple facts and figures, however. With a wonderfully linear power delivery from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, the GTI is happy to be revved like a hot hatch of old.
It sounds great while doing so and its friendly, neutral handling makes it a joy on back roads – if, perhaps, not quite as exciting towards the limit as certain rivals.
The view from the driver’s seat could be a little more special for its near-£30,000 price tag, but I like the fact that, a bit of red stitching and those tartan seats aside, it largely looks like a regular Golf. After all, the Golf offers one of the best interiors in its class, with an upmarket feel and, for 2017, a fancy new infotainment system.
The new 9.2-inch central infotainment screen relies on ‘gesture control’ instead of old-fashioned twiddly knobs for things like zooming in on the sat-nav and turning up the volume. This strikes me as a little gimmicky – and is not that easy to use.
There’s also a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, replacing the conventional dials in a similar way to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. It’s not as good though, with too much information making it all too easy to miss crucial details. Things like, you know, how fast you’re going past that speed camera.
I’m picking holes, though. If your circle of friends is the type to brag about outright performance over after-work drinks, there are better hot hatches out there. Similarly, if you want to spend weekends chasing Caterhams around at track days, opt for something more focused.
If you’re after a well-sorted hot hatch with the ethos of the original 1976 Golf GTI, the Mk7.5 is the one to have. Equally happy at bimbling along in London traffic as it is being thrashed across the winding roads of Majorca, the Golf GTI remains the daddy of hot hatches.