The old Mk5 GTI might have had its thunder stolen by the Focus RS, Megane R26R and perhaps even the Civic Type R, but it was still the best all-round hot hatch you could buy when it recently went off sale. And that – combined with the fact that the new Mk6 is essentially a very thoroughly facelifted Mk5 – goes a long way to explaining why the Mk6 feels so familiar. Volkswagen simply doesn’t want to mess with such a successful recipe.
Enlighten me. What are the differences on the new Golf GTI Mk6?
The headline stuff is the new Klaus Bischoff makeover (subtle but pretty successful, I’d say), together with the direct-injection EA888 2.0-litre turbo four Scirocco engine that ups power from 197bhp to 207bhp, while torque stays pinned at 207lb ft from a happily low 1700rpm.
Also new is the XDS electronic differential, three-stage ACC adjustable dampers and an interior that’s sprinkled with higher-grade materials and more dynamic lines.
Can you tell the difference on the road?
Yes you can. The Mk6 Golf GTI's engine feels a little keener down low (the stats say max torque is available 100rpm lower, but it feels more noticeable than that), and it’s smoother and more refined too.
And because all Mk6s are better insulated from road and wind noise, the exhaust is more dominant without ever sounding intrusive. You won’t immediately notice that the GTI’s 3mpg more frugal and – thanks to a dip in CO2 – £40 cheaper to tax each year, but your pocket will.
>> There's a glitch with our page-turning software. Click here for the second page of our VW Golf GTI Mk6 drive review
Tell us more about the XDS 'diff' on the Mk6 Golf GTI
The XDS ‘diff’ also works really well too. It’s not actually a differential, rather essentially traction control electronics that work to help traction and performance, rather than sapping power at the merest whiff of wheelspin.
Accelerate hard out of a wet, tight second-gear hairpin and XDS meters out the perfect amount of power for maximum traction and, therefore, speed. It's a pretty slick system.Ride and handling?
Also new are the Golf GTI's pneumatic dampers with a choice of comfort, normal and sport modes. Comfort smoothes off the sometimes harsh edges of the old GTI without feeling wallowy (in fact it’s a great way to charge down a less than perfectly surfaced road). Normal is the only adaptive mode, offering comfort at lower speeds and firming up to sport levels when you’re pushing on. Then there’s sport. It’s firm without being jarring, but there’s clearly there’s no real point to sport if normal firms up when you need it anyway. However, it does bring with it a slightly meatier steering map which some drivers will enjoy.
No word yet on whether these ACC dampers are standard on UK models, but they’re a key part of the new Golf GTI’s appeal and a good reason to trade in your Mk5, so they really should be.Verdict
The new Golf GTI Mk6 looks, feels and drives a lot like the Mk5, but in every way it is subtly better. It’s a little faster, more economical, nicer inside and boasts a better ride too. Importantly, it’s also a little more fun to drive than the already excellent Mk5.
Perhaps VW could have at least matched the Golf GTI Mk5 Edition 30
’s 226bhp, but, all in, the latest GTI is a very good car indeed. We reckon it's turning into a mini 911 – evolving ever so slightly to refine a winning formula...>> Has VW nailed it with the new Golf GTI? Click 'Add your comment' and sound off>> For CAR's full eight-page feature and photoshoot, preview our May 2009 issue of CAR Magazine here