How does the new VW Golf GTI fight back against its posh Audi S3 sibling? With the new Performance Pack, an optional upgrade that gives you bigger brakes, another 10bhp under the bonnet, and a traction-boosting limited-slip differential. That proper diff is a first for a Golf GTI, but it’s also electronically controlled (just like in a Ferrari 458) so up to 100% of the torque can be sent to an individual front wheel.
So, what’s it like to drive?
Drive it quickly with the Driving Mode selector set to Comfort or Normal and despite the diff it doesn’t feel too different to a regular Golf GTI, which has a new version of the XDS system that debuted on the Mk6 GTI in 2009 and uses the stability-control electronics to mimic the action of a mechanical locking differential.
And when you really put the hammer down?
Switch the GTI Performance Pack to Sport and you can really start to feel the differential working as the computer brain that controls it becomes noticeably more aggressive. Its effect is especially obvious out of tight corners or on wet roads, where you can feel it juggling power between the wheels as you change the throttle position and steering angle. Just when you think the nose might start to nudge wide you sense the outside front wheel driving harder than the inside wheel, keeping your line tight and tugging you through the bend.
It’s more subtle than a Megane RS, the GTI’s diff not quite as aggressively pulling you through corners, but spec the Cup chassis in a Renaultsport Megane to get its limited-slip differential and you also get stiffer springs and firmer dampers to the detriment of ride quality. And although the rival Vauxhall Astra VXR has adaptive dampers, its motorsport-derived diff suffers from too much unruly torque steer. There’s no such failing with the Golf GTI: the diff (and enlarged brakes) might add 32kg to the overall kerbweight but it’s worth it for the massively improved driving experience, the GTI feeling sharper and more incisive than ever before – there are no drawbacks.
Is the GTI Performance Pack good value for money?
When the 19-inch wheel upgrade (18s are standard) is £965 and the panoramic roof is a £930 extra, the Performance Pack seems good value at £980. Volkswagen UK expects only a third of GTI customers to opt for it, but the uptake will surely be much higher.
How does it compare to the Audi S3 enemy witihn?
Against the S3? The Audi’s extra power and traction mean it’s much quicker to 62mph, but although the advantage of four-wheel drive might show on a sodden road, for the most part the GTI’s diff will be more than enough. Like-for-like, a front-wheel-drive Performance Pack GTI is 88kg lighter too, so its movements are a little more agile and instantaneous. The downsides are the GTI’s got the same Progressive steering as the S3, which again feels too light in Normal and ultimately lacks real feedback in Sport, and it does without the Audi’s two active exhaust flaps so it’s not quite as aurally exciting.
Still, with a £3740 difference between the Volkswagen and Audi, I’d take the cheaper GTI every time.