The new GTI has basically the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine as before, but now it produces 245PS (180kW) to just the front wheels, and it’ll also whack out 370Nm (273lb ft) of torque – if you want it all-wheel-drive you’ll need to wait for the R – via either a seven-speed DSG gearbox or, if you are sensible, a six-speed manual. While the new GTI has 25PS more than the outgoing model it comes up short compared to the special edition Clubsport, which nudged over the 260PS mark, and over 280PS for limited periods.
That doesn’t seem like much, and it’s far from the important change to the new Golf GTI. That actually comes under the surface. For many years car reviewers have complained that the GTI just isn’t as fun as some of the other hot hatches, and it seems that Volkswagen was listening. The new GTI’s dampers are five per cent stiffer at the front and a whopping fifteen per cent stiffer at the rear. While they remain passive, this is a significant change. It’s instantly noticeable too, the car a little more liable to jiggle on a town road, but it isn’t to a point that could put you off. And when you get going on a B-road drive that jiggle goes from noticeable to crucial. Thanks to the combination of that stiffer setup and a faster steering rack (again about five per cent) the GTI instantly feels a lot more lively than its predecessors. The main place you’ll notice this is in the mid corner, as where a Golf before needed a bit of gathering together before you chucked it through a bend, the new one can be adjusted in the mid corner more, allowing for a harsher approach. There’s a lot more communication from the chassis, especially at the rear – where the major change has come – that allows you to make the adjustments you want.
The steering is weighted nicely, but a little lacking in feel, but the faster response contributes to a feeling of security when you need to make a change. The brakes are also excellent, with a proper hard stab now inducing a much more lively response from the car as a whole. The DSG gearbox is a disappointing addition, because it takes some of the feel out of driving. It’s a decent enough ‘box, but has that annoying knack of feeling like it knows better than you, hanging onto a gear after you’ve requested a downshift for a second or two to bring the revs down, which can unsettle your progress if you were expecting some engine retardation. The engine itself has a proper sweetspot to it; there’s lag at the bottom and not a lot at the very top, but it pulls strongly and without fuss from 2,500 to 5,000rpm, and there’s not too much in the way of torque steer to deal with.