► Mk7.5 Golf GTI Performance
► More power and limited-slip diff
► 242bhp, 0-62mph in 6.2sec
Visually, the shift to the Mk7.5 Golf has been subtle one to say the least. In fact, you’d be forgiven for not noticing the difference, at least from the outside. Sharper front and rear bumper designs and LED lamps at both ends as standard on the GTI, GTE, e-Golf and Golf R add up to a subtle exterior facelift, but inside the Mk.7.5 Golf experience is lifted by a slick new infotainment system and VW’s new Active Info Display.
The latter is VW’s take on Audi’s Virtual Cockpit – a digital driver’s display that can shrink the speedo and rev counter to better show information like the map in navigation mode. And for GTI fans there’s the GTI Performance, with 242bhp, upgraded brakes and a limited-slip differential.
For when the standard GTI just isn’t enough?
Precisely. We’ve driven the standard GTI already and it’s the familiar Golf GTI story: fast without being frightening, responsive without being edgy and keen while remaining uncompromised as a daily driver. It’s the age-old Golf GTI template, and one that’s served the car well over the decades. Other hatches may offer a sharper, wilder drive, but the Golf offers almost all of the cross-country speed with oodles of refinement and comfort.
That rounded character comes at a cost, though, and that the price you pay is accuracy and a sense of composure and togetherness under duress. Without the diff, the Mk7.5 Golf GTI is a seven-tenths car. Sublimely composed, nicely damped and sweetly responsive, it responds best to neat driving and a measured rhythm, deftly sweeping through turns rather than hammering into them and clawing its way out.
The Performance makes a more engaging hot hatch of the GTI thanks to a much more positive front end, and it does so without really compromising the car as an everyday machine. Yes, the diff means you can lean hard on the power from deep within corners, but it doesn’t bring with it lashings of wild, uncontrollable tugging, that just wouldn’t be very VW, or very Golf.
The Performance trades little of the standard car’s manners and offers tangible gains, and while the new Golf GTI Performance pricing’s yet to be set, last time around the price difference was an almost insignificant £995.
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What about the Golf GTI’s new tech?
Mostly it works well, and adds to the GTI’s already considerable lustre. Active Info Display is a nice feature with real-world benefits, such as being able to display the nav map on both the driver’s display and the main touchscreen, with one zoomed in for detail and the other showing the big picture.
The Discover Pro infotainment works nicely too, being crisp of display and sharp of response, though with the usual touchscreen caveat of sometimes feeling like your eyes are off the road too long.
Go for a manual GTI and there’s a nice contrast between these 21st century toys and the very 20th century set-up of three pedals and a gearstick. The GTI gets these basics right too, with lovely control weights, a gorgeously tactile gearlever, a slick if not particularly short-throw shift and a pleasing immediacy to the throttle pedal.
Firecracker of an engine?
The turbocharged four is a means to an end rather than a destination in itself, and even 242bhp feels a little miserly after the Mk7 Clubsport S’s 306bhp. The GTI Performance feels fit rather than stonking but always responds swiftly and with meaning, singing to its redline when you’re pushing but staying mostly quiet and backstage when you’re not – a couple of patches of vibration aside.
Previously, Performance versions accounted for 45% of UK GTI sales. Again, the derivative makes a compelling case for itself, with the diff and brake upgrade coming at an almost inconsequential premium and firming up resale values. The Performance is the better car too, the Golf GTI as it should be – still polished, still grown-up, but a more convincing ally when you really get stuck in.