We’re seriously wondering if the Mk 7 GTI is the best Golf ever made
The Golf GTI has had over 40 years to establish itself as the world’s best overall hot hatch.
Whether it’s fair or right to award it, or indeed any car, such an exalted title is open to question. The fact remains, however, that when we drove our Mk 7.5 (the shorthand name it got lumbered with after the last mild revision) back-to-back against a Golf GTI Mk1, we were amazed at the ability of both cars to blend brilliant ride quality with easy cross-country speed.
That’s consistency of a pretty impressive level, and one to which many manufacturers would like to aspire today.
When we took on the GTI for a six-month stint on our fleet, we had a tough decision to make at the speccing stage: Performance Pack, or no Performance Pack. Many thought we would be mad to turn it down, given the transformative nature of what you get for your £1360 – namely, another 15bhp, lifting taking the 2.0-litre turbo’s output to 242bhp, plus a proper diff and bigger, more powerful brakes. As ‘packs’ go, it’s got more in it than some car makers would put into a car to qualify it as a new vehicle.
In the end, though, we decided against the Performance Pack as we wanted to try the GTI in its simplest form. Truth be told, we also weren’t sure about the need for a proper diff and big brakes in a 242bhp car.
In standard spec, the GTI’s 227bhp might seem a bit weedy in the 2018 hot hatch stakes, but its driving character more than makes up for any perceived shortfall in power. Many turbocharged hatches are all about bottom-end torque: there’s actually very little point in winding up the revs. The Golf GTI, by contrast, does reward you for extending its engine on B-roads. The way it wakes up under such conditions is pleasingly old school. And it still has more than sufficient low-end torque for everyday driving, fast lane-changing or traffic-gap stealing.
One of our more experienced testers borrowed the car for a ‘greatest hot hatch of all time’ matchup. After just one day in the driving seat he pronounced it “utterly brilliant” and a genuine contender for that ‘GOAT’ award.
It’s a fair shout. Today’s hot hatches can be shown via graphs and readings to be superior to the cars that preceded them, but when more subjective measures are applied – boiling down to the mysterious but often-quoted element known as ‘feel’ – the newer stuff doesn’t always satisfy.
It’s here in this nebulous, unmeasurable zone that this Golf GTI really scores over much of the opposition. The character it displays is uncompromised by trade-offs in refinement and daily usability.
Here’s an interesting end note. Last summer, the chap who put together the ‘greatest hot hatch of all time’ story referred to earlier did a ‘Wolfsburg’s finest hour?’ comparison between a Mk 5 and a Performance Pack-equipped Mk 7 Golf GTI. We suspect that a standard Mk 7 might have even beaten the excellent Mk 5, which is quite a compliment.