It has only been six months, but it feels like years we've been waiting for the Golf GTI.
We've had the new Golf VII for a while now - it's a hugely competent car with one of the best front-wheel drive chassis out there - which bodes well for the iconic GTI badged version.
Volkswagen Golf GTi MK7 Overview
Australia seems to have fallen in love with hot hatches all of a sudden. With the Fiesta ST and 208 GTI (along with VW's own Polo GTI) and the more expensive BMW M135i and AMG A45, Australians are spoilt for choice.
The Golf sits in the middle, along with the cheaper Focus ST and slightly pricier Renault Megane 265.
While available overseas in two body styles, the Australian-delivered GTI is five-door only, with one engine and two six-speed transmissions. The manual starts at $41,490 and $43,990 for the DSG. The Performance Pack will be along next year for $47,990.
Volkswagen Golf GTi MK7 Engine
The GTI is propelled by a 2.0 litre turbo four. Compared to its predecessor, Golf VII comes with a modest power increase of 7kW (162kW vs 155kW) and a walloping torque increase of 70Nm (350Nm vs 280Nm).
With manual gearbox, the GTI will streak to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds, four-tenths quicker than its predecessor. Fuel consumption is also down, with a 6.2l/100km combined cycle aided by stop start and a new, lighter bodyshell. The DSG's fuel consumption figure is improved by 1.5l/100km, down to 6.6l/100km.
Even better, the GTI has a lovely bark on the upshift, adding a nice little touch of drama.
Volkswagen Golf GTi MK7 Interior
The tartan-highlighted cloth interior is the same as that of lesser Golfs, which means it's brilliantly designed and executed. The GTI comes standard with sat-nav, red ambient lighting strips and GTI-exclusive leather steering wheel.
The Golf's sat-nav touchscreen also looks after entertainment, connecting either via USB or Bluetooth (but iPhone 5 users still have to rely on Bluetooth streaming). The screen also brings up the chassis settings.
The seats are supportive, even for larger folk, with plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. Rear seat passenger also get a good deal, with a spacious bench and plenty of storage.
Volkswagen Golf GTi MK7 Exterior and Styling
On the outside, the GTI is distinguishable by its red brake calipers, unique 18-inch alloy wheels and subtle GTI badging. Slightly less subtle are the new front bumpers and the red line across the grille.
Twin exhausts poke out from beneath the rear bumper and the car sits lower over its alloys, shod with 225/45 tyres.
Volkswagen Golf GTi MK7 On The Road
With the Adaptable Chassis mode switched to Sport and the two stage traction control reduced, we suspect the Golf is a huge amount of fun in the dry. Sadly, our launch test loop on some of Tasmania's finest driving roads was ruined by the sort of weather that would have ducks staring at the sky and asking some pretty tough questions.
A fine sporting chassis should shine in all conditions and the Golf is certainly in possession of just such a thing. The front end turns into corners with a great deal of enthusiasm, shrugging off surface imperfections or sudden surface changes.
It's very easy settle into a hugely satisfying rhythm, even in the atrocious conditions we experienced. The GTI was virtually unflappable, with awesome grip and complete predictability. If the electronics were stepping in to help, you wouldn't know it - they're subtle and smart.
The electric steering - the trickiest bit of a modern hot hatch to get right - is perfectly weighted in Sport mode, with just enough feedback. In all other modes it is light, but not too light, making the Golf an easy town companion.
The engine's huge slab of torque means the car can be left in third for the fast twisty stuff, with an impressive 350Nm available from as low as 1500rpm. While it's a revvy engine, it's better to ride that big lump of torque up to 4400, when it starts to taper. Overtaking is a doddle.
The DSG is devastatingly effective, with super-fast shifts that respond immediately to the paddle shift's commands. The manual is more involving, however, but there's not a lot in it. You're more likely to hit the limiter in the manual, such is the free-revving nature of the engine.
On the freeway, the Golf VII is a settled and comfortable cruiser. On coarser surfaces, there's quite a bit of tyre roar, but most of the time the cabin is serene. The engine's growl is a bit muted - some will be okay with that, more enthusiastic people will want a little more, because it really does sound good.
Volkswagen Golf GTi MK7 Challenges
It's not as fiery as its main competition, which is a consideration for only a portion of potential buyers, and some might like the (fake) noise of the Focus ST and the pure theatre of the Megane.
Unlike the rest of the Golf range, the price has gone up, not down and the gap between the standard and Performance Pack cars - between $3000 and $6000 - is a bit stiff.
Volkswagen Golf GTi MK7 Verdict and Competition
Renault RS Megane 265 - priced from $42,640, developing 195kW.
Ford Focus ST - priced from $38,290, developing 184kW.
The Golf GTI is a brilliant car and the longstanding benchmark in its class. A car this good threatens to be dull and sterile but somehow Wolfsburg coaxes this impressive performance a characterful drive.
Where it differs from its competition is its ability to settle down and be normal. You can take the kids to school, pick up the shopping, drive to work but also scare yourself silly on a great piece of road or on a racetrack. There are plenty of good hot-hatches around, not all of them can do that.