VW Golf GTI review: ‘An almost freakish attention to detail’
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 6.4 seconds
Each time you select reverse in the latest VW Golf you hear a slight creak from the back of the car. I spent a day trying to figure out what it could be. Finally I asked my youngest daughter to lie on the road and tell me what she saw as I reversed towards her. I was going to stop well before making contact, obvs, but my wife didn’t see it like that. No, not at all. And my explanation of “journalistic thoroughness” didn’t calm her down. Anyway, just before the car reached our daughter’s prone body, she piped up and I hit the brakes. It turns out the creak comes from the badge. It tilts upwards to allow a self-cleaning reversing camera to poke out. Keeping the lens free of road grime means the view transmitted to the driver’s flatscreen is as sharp, clear and crisp as the telly in your front room.
It’s this freakish attention to detail (there’s probably a whole department in Wolfsburg dedicated to “badge-tilt tech”) that has made the Golf the most popular European car of all time. It’s just over 40 years old and so far almost 40m have been sold. The reach and grip of Golf on its segment of the market is so suffocatingly complete that the word Golf has itself become synonymous with hatchbacks. It spawned its own class and somehow it always manages to be both enduring and up-to-date. It’s the ultimate customer pleaser – endlessly popular, yet always fresh.
This is the seventh generation of the car. You’d think that by now VW would find it impossible to upgrade its masterpiece, but it always finds something to improve. There are styling changes both inside and out (two new colours have been introduced, Turmeric Yellow and Peacock Green), and the infotainment system has been totally revamped. Engine-wise, this car debuts a more potent yet more frugal 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder (called the “EVO” by VW). It has a clever fuel-saving feature which means that whenever you ease off the accelerator to coast the engine shuts off. The drive is astonishingly smooth and so eerily quiet you could easily think you were driving an electric car. In fact, two models with improved electric powerplants are available – the e-Golf and GTE.
Further up the performance tree the return of the GTI has been met with joy by fans. It offers pure driving pleasure, tinted glass, red-checked seats, stainless-steel pedal caps and, if you go for the manual, an old-school dimpled golf-ball gearknob. Lifelong enthusiasts are holding their sides with glee. The GTI proves you can be two things at once. The drive can be either sensational or sedate; edge-of-the-seat or back-of-the-sofa; white-knuckle or soft-palmed…
Step inside. Few cars are as intuitive as a Golf. It ticks all the right boxes for comfort, space and practicality. One gripe, however, is the fussy all-digital Active Info Display, a 12.3in screen that stretches across the dash where the dials used to be. What was wrong with the dials? I found myself wondering how fast I was going as the speedo was buried in one of several vanishing displays. It’s an optional extra, so don’t buy it and save your cash. Other than that, the Golf holds all the aces. It’s hard to imagine what VW has up its sleeve for Number 8…
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