What is it?

The quintessential hot hatch, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is the yard stick against which all other hot hatchbacks are measured. It’s been the daddy since the first generation was launched back in the 1970s, and even today, in its seventh generation, the Golf GTI is a class leader. It’s quick, comfortable, spacious – and actually quite good value, despite it sitting at the more premium end of the class.

What we have here is the new one, which has been through a mid-life refresh. Not much has changed, but you get a slightly redesigned front end, with new LED headlights and front bumpers. There’s also a new infotainment system (including a digital instrument cluster display that’s pretty much the same as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit), and the 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine has had its power hiked by 10 bhp, meaning you now get 230 bhp in total.

Unfortunately, the Golf GTI is now slightly overshadowed by its big brother, the Golf R, which develops 300 bhp, goes like a rocket ship, and has four-wheel drive. But driving this one, we were struck by just how convincing the classic GTI recipe is.

How does it drive?

Really rather well. Power is fed through the front wheels via a six-speed DSG gearbox (you can spec a manual if you want, but no-one in this region will). And though, on paper, the 0-100 km/h time of 6.4 seconds sounds a little tame, in practice, the GTI is an absolute riot when you put the hammer down.

The traction control system is reasonably forgiving, meaning that, from standstill, the front wheels will spin a little when you give it the beans. Through second and third, you find yourself wrestling for control of the steering wheel as the stability control light flashes orange in front of you. You’re never in any danger of having an accident, but certainly the GTI keeps you on your toes. Oh, and the exhaust noise is pure filth – there are pops and crackles between gear changes, and there’s a naughty boy-racer charm to the engine note as it revs up to the 6,500 redline.

Through the corners, the GTI is nothing but composed. There’s not a bit of understeer – just endless grip. Turn the traction control off, and you can get the GTI to cock its rear wheel, but you’ll be going so fast that you really won’t be able to do this on public roads. Best to leave everything in normal mode and enjoy the ease with which this thing devours bends. The steering is light and delicate, but still provides enough feel for what’s happening with the front wheels. And the ride is properly, properly good.

The one (small) criticism you could make of the GTI is that you can sense the chassis can handle much more power and speed. Which is obviously why VW gave us the Golf R. And while it’s nice that VW has endowed the new GTI with an extra 10 bhp, there are brief moments when you wish you had a little more speed.

Apart from that, though, there’s no fault whatsoever with the GTI’s drive. It’s a fabulous car, this.

Interior quality and tech

On the inside, it’s standard Volkswagen fare, which is no bad thing at all. What’s really impressive about the Golf’s interior, though, is that it feels like all those components from the VW parts bin were actually designed to fit the Golf first. In terms of tech, you get a new, eight-inch touch display on the centre console, and it’s the best iteration of the system yet, with smooth animations and intuitive controls. There’s also a new digital instrument cluster that’s all but identical to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system, which means you get to customise the information you see in front of you.

Naturally, you plenty more tech such as all-round parking sensors, a rear-reversing camera, and easy Bluetooth pairing. There are also loads of vehicle gauges. If you want, you can have the display show G-force readings, oil temperate, power generated, and turbo boost. There’s even a lap timer function. Basically, you won’t be wanting for toys.

Apart from that, the seats are excellent – body-hugging and firm, but comfortable enough for long drives, and there are plenty of cubby-holes in which to store your things. There’s enough room in the back for two adults, and the boot space is just about generous enough. The sun roof is a nice touch as well. And everything you touch feels solid and chunky, like it would last a lifetime. It’s well put together, this car.

Running costs

We did about 400 kilometres with the Golf GTI, and it devoured about a quarter of a tank. We reckon you’ll get 1,000 kilometres between fills no problem. On top of that, insurance is reasonably priced – you should be able to get a fully comprehensive policy for as little as AED 2,500. And, because these things are so popular on the second-hand market, you won’t see much depreciation, either.

Our verdict

As far as we’re concerned, the Golf GTI is almost without fault. It remains the gold standard among hot hatchbacks, and offers a whole lot of value for money. If you’re in the market for a fast hatchback that’ll move you and your family about comfortably, you’ve got to give the GTI a test drive.

SPECS:

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder
Gearbox: 6-speed DSG automatic
Power: 230 bhp
0-100 km/h: 6.4 s
Top speed: 250 km/h
Price (starting): AED 129,900
Price (as tested): AED 146,200

Volkswagen Golf GTI GCC Specs