Road tests: Mk7 Golf GTI and GTD

The sky is overcast and cloud cover is low.  There is little movement in the trees and the air is scented with wood smoke.  We’re in North Yorkshire and I am sampling the latest GTI and GTD versions of Volkswagen’s everlasting Golf.

The Mk 7 uses the all new MQB (Modularer Querbaukasten), or modular platform, shared across the group.  While it is designed to aid manufacturing flexibility and streamline component interchangeability, it is also 100kg lighter than the previous generation’s shell and would seem ideal for performance Golfs.

On test, we have two versions of the GTI, a 220 PS standard car and a 230 PS factory upgrade performance package. Both are available with a six-speed DSG gearbox or manual; the performance version also has some additional toys along with the extra 10 PS.  The GTD is here, too: the sporty diesel version, boasting only marginally slower performance but higher torque.

Back in the mid 1990s, I drove many miles in both the 8-valve and 16-valve Mk 4 Golf GTI.  The 16v model was quicker, of course, but it was the 8-valve I preferred; what power it had was available lower in the rev range, so for rapid cross-country driving, it felt more agile and less stressful trying to find the power.

With the DSG ‘boxes, it feels the same with the GTD and GTI – the torque and power available lower down makes the diesel far more flexible on 50 and 60 mph speed limit roads, reminding me of the fun of the ‘90s 8-valve GTI.  Part of the reason is that normal ‘drive’ mode in the petrol GTI model is heavily tailored to economy with early up-changes so ‘sport’ has to be selected (a quick flick back of the gear lever); the diesel has more of its oomph available more of the time.  Leaving the GTI in Sport mode isn’t an option either – it will leave you steaming along in fourth gear at 70 mph on the motorway.

The game changes with the manual gearbox, though.  The power in the petrol GTI is on tap at any time – just by pressing the pedal harder – and this makes it all the more accessible.  The manual GTI literally springs to life.

So, what about spending that £980 on the 10PS performance upgrade? Complementing the extra power are larger brakes and a limited slip differential.  With the dry roads, I barely felt the benefit of the LSD but it will be more evident in the wet.  The brakes on the standard model felt keen and capable and certainly up to the job on the Queen’s highway.  In the traffic light Grand Prix, the additional performance shaves just 0.1 seconds off the 0-62 mph sprint.

All models felt very well balanced and changed direction beautifully.  Without being scientific about it, the petrol felt slightly lighter of nose but there wasn’t much in it.  It is certainly easy with both power plants to hold corners on the throttle.  15mm off the standard cars’ ride heights and firmer dampers don’t give the GTI or GTD a prohibitively hard ride but it is worth extra braking ahead of the harsher speed bumps.  All wear 225/40 R18 tyres as standard.

Trim-wise, there’s nothing in it either – both fuel types come with the tartan seats and have all the toys one might desire.  And apart from the badging, only the exhausts differentiate the fuel type – twin on the left for the diesel and one on each side for the petrol.

So what would we choose?  If you want the petrol, pick the old school manual.  For me the diesel had the edge, with the excellent DSG option and low emissions.  Both are great fun, though.  Is the GTI performance pack worth it?  Probably for the limited slip diff alone.

Finally the monochrome sky broke and I grabbed the only bright car on test, a red GTD, for a couple of final pictures in the weak sunlight.  It took me right back to that red 8-valve Mk 4 – which can only be a good thing.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TSI 220 PS 3 door, starting at £25,845 (3 door DSG from £27,260).

Power: 220 PS (@ 4,500 – 6,300 rpm), torque: 350 Nm (@ 1,500 – 4,400 rpm), emissions: 139 (148 for DSG) g/km CO2 (band E/F for DSG), 0-62 mph: 6.5 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○

Volkswagen Golf GTD 184 PS 3 door, starting at £25,285 (3 door DSG from £26,700).

Power: 184 PS (@ 3,500 – 4,000 rpm), torque: 380 Nm (@ 1,750 – 3,250 rpm), emissions: 109 (119 for 3 door DSG) g/km CO2 (band B/C for DSG), 0-62 mph: 7.5 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○

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