The firmest, feistiest Golf GTI in a long time has plenty to excite. It knows some refinement and restraint, but possibly not enough to maintain its reputation as the most mature hot hatch on the block
A new-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI tested on UK roads for the first time, though admittedly in left-hand-drive form. That Wolfsburg has wasted so little time in introducing this car into the wider Mk8 Golf model family shows you how important it has become, and how significantly it now underpins the profitability of the Golf’s business case.Relatively restrained and judicious tuning has, as its four decades on sale have rolled on, given the GTI a broader-based appeal than so many of its hot hatchback rivals; and that has meant money in the bank for VW. The plain truth is, every volume car maker in the world wishes it had a big-selling performance derivative as commercially successful as this, and plenty have tried – and often failed – to emulate its recipe.And yet, while you might expect VW to tinker very cautiously with such a recipe, we already know that this eighth iteration isn’t just more of the same. Over recent generational metamorphoses, the GTI has certainly been treated with kid gloves; when the goatee-bearded Mk5 segued into the slightly plusher but deeply familiar Mk6, and then into the more chiselled Mk7, you’d have been forgiven, in some ways, for blinking and not noticing.But while Wolfsburg assures us that everyday, real-world driver appeal, and that just-so blend of desirability and bang-for-the-buck value, remain the heart and soul of the GTI’s mission statement, it’s certainly taken a risk with its golden goose this time around. The Mk8 is quite clearly a car with greater ambition to excite and entertain than so many of its forebears have had.The question for this tester, having just spent a long day driving one, is whether it’s still the slick, versatile, usable and dynamically polished proposition you might expect it to be.