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Volkswagon Golf Mk 7

Thirty eight years in production, Volkswagen’s iconic Golf GTi hatchback – the car that defines the genre – is better than ever, reckons Anthony ffrench-Constant

JESUS CHRIST… WHAT THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU DOING?’ yelled the missus as we gleefully fled the gloriously under-briefed baby sitter the other evening…

Mea culpa; the last time I drove the Golf GTi 35 was on a performance hatch group test in northern Welsh Wales and, momentarily undeterred by the olfactory tsunami of Issey Miyake A Scent wafting in from the passenger seat, I instinctively carried on where I had left off…

Schoolboy error.

But I just couldn’t help myself; produced to celebrate 35 years of Golf GTi production, the car is more fun than a clown on fire. And that, given that they say you should never go back (although I suspect whoever coined the phrase had women and fireworks more specifically in mind), is something of a surprise, because, at least as far as the engine bay is concerned, this is precisely what VW has done with their anniversary edition…

Indeed, I greeted the news that the company has stepped back a generation and pilfered the powerplant from the previous GTi to power this anniversary edition with all the suspicion of a pet rescued from Battersea Dog’s Home by a Korean chef.

I needn’t have worried. The marvellous powerplant is not so much an uprated oldster, but more a downrated iteration of the 266bhp unit from the Golf R; the 232bhp on offer providing more than enough excitement allied to a sufficiently relaxed state of tune that you just know the thing’ll never burst.

The upshot is a car which will potter through the daily grind with all the ironclad insouciance we’ve come to expect from any Golf, yet, on demand, lash to 62mph in 6.6 seconds and on to 153mph displaying a poise, balance and hunger for the next hairpin that makes it a constant pleasure to scare the missus witless with. Best of all, and unlike the fistful of fractionally hotter hatches out there, it is possible to live with the GTi 35 on a daily basis and enjoy it for its simple practicality without feeling the need to go everywhere at what Scandinavian rally drivers are wont to call ‘maximum attack’ (when anyone’s watching). Park one of these in front of your house and you’ll quickly come to realise you’ll never need another car.

All of which explains why, after 38 years in production and some 29 million sales of the six incarnations to date, it’s entirely understandable that, like successive generations of Porsche 911, the evergreen Golf isn’t going to be undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis anytime soon. Then again, the past does have a tendency to come over all rose-tinted, and it’s easy to forget just how far the car that pretty much defines the hatchback genre has come…

When the company introduced the MK.6 GTi to the fraternity of automotive scribblers, they provided us with a small but perfectly formed shoal of MK.1 cars to sample. Initial glee at first glimpse of a taut, pugnacious form that hasn’t been bettered in any subsequent iteration rapidly turned to horror after just 30 seconds behind the wheel.

The tartan seat upholstery-sponsored experience was, frankly, ghastly. An absence of power steering meant that the simple act of leaving the car park required arms like condoms stuffed full of walnuts; the GTi proved nothing like as fast as memory served; and the stopping power of the brakes was right up there with rubbing a small block of well oiled mahogany against the carriage sides of a passing express train.

Ostensibly the victim of only the vaguest waft of the styling wand, the MK VII Golf is actually longer, wider and lower than its predecessor and, significantly, weighs some 100kg less. Still unmistakably at-aglance Golf, it’s a fraction more sharp suited than before, and the higher bonnet imposed by pedestrian impact legislation has been well integrated, though it looks far better in the flesh than in any photo.

But it was the interior for which, I confess, I had my poison pen poised, in protest at a current predominance of drab grey, and a feeling that a hike in VW switchgear style and presentation is being shackled by necessary subservience to VAG group pecking-order supremo Audi.

However, with the centre console now angled more towards the driver, the graphics on the console touch screen improved dramatically and a better match with the instrument binnacle, and a limpid, piano black finish cladding all on higher specification models, it now seems over-picky to dwell on matters of residual greyness.

All too predictably, a first class driving position and roomier rear seats are backed up by a first class drive. At launch, I sampled 2.0 and 1.6 litre diesel units and, for me the pick of the bunch, an eager new, 138bhp 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol unit; the closest we’ll now get to the glorious super- and turbo-charged 1.4 litre unit that has now missed the cut on the grounds of cost.

I’ve driven V8 engines that shut down four cylinders in the cruise to save fuel, but this ingenious new powerplant is the first I’ve come across that shuts down two out of just four cylinders whenever possible (and you can never tell), often sending the instant fuel consumption readout clean off the scale.

Thus armed, this £22,960 Golf iteration is eager, free-revving and surprisingly rapid. It’s stable and quiet at speed, and reassuringly eager to please through the twisty bits; that welcome weight loss making the bows feel a tad pointier than previously and – not that it has ever been much of a Golf issue – even less prone to understeer.

With a GTi still waiting in the wings, the current range is priced from £16,285 to £24,880. Whisper who dares, now laden with even more standard equipment to stop you biffing into other road users (am I a little old fashioned in suggesting that a 6” nail sticking out of the steering wheel would be a far cheaper way of ensuring drivers take more care?), the Golf has become a somewhat pricey proposition.

If you can afford one, though, in any guise from this clever GT 1.4 TSI to the very best of the last generation, the marvellous GTi 35, VW’s remarkable hatchback really does remain the only car you’ll ever need.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GT 1.4 TSI ACT
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

Price: £22,960
Engine: 1395cc 4-cylinder turbocharged, 138bhp at 4500-6000rpm,
184lb ft at 1500-3500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Acceleration: 0–62 mph: 8.4 seconds
Top speed: 131 mph
Average fuel consumption (combined cycle): 58.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 112 g/km

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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