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This review could be four words long: it's a Golf GTI. Thanks for reading, folks.
The GTI has become a hot-hatch mainstay, blending day-to-day comfort with plenty of punch from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, an upscale interior, and handling sharp enough to excite enthusiasts.
Although it looks similar to the Mk7.5 GTI we've come to know and love, the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI you see here has subtly evolved from last year's car. For one, the manual option is dead. It's a crying shame that'll hopefully be rectified when the Mk8 rolls around. Also gone is the base, non-Performance engine tune. Pricing kicks off at $46,190 before on-road costs.
That means all the GTIs offered in Australia come with 180kW of power and 370Nm of torque, up from 169kW and 350Nm respectively. It's put to the road through an electric differential on the front axle, and the brakes are beefier units than before borrowed from the Golf R. Also borrowed from the R is the standard seven-speed wet-clutch DCT.
It's a tried and tested powertrain, the EA888 four-cylinder, and for good reason. Peak torque comes on tap at 1600rpm and hangs around until 4300rpm, which makes it an effortless performer in the city.
Although the DSG transmission is determined to find the tallest ratio possible on light throttle openings, that wave of torque means you aren't caught short diving into gaps or trying to make an opportunistic overtake in traffic. There's a subtle exhaust burble in Comfort Mode, but the engine doesn't really clear its throat and start singing until the revs rise.
Throttle response can be a bit doughy in Comfort, though. It just feels a bit lazy, given the GTI's sporty billing. Then again, stamp the throttle and the dual-clutch transmission effortlessly drops two gears and deposits you in the thick of the action. But more on that later.
Flicking into Sport Mode also kills the problem by sharpening up the throttle, but it also makes the suspension firmer and forces the gearbox into a lower gear. Individual is a real winner, allowing the driver to choose their preferred combination of settings.
Some dual-clutch transmissions are a bit jerky around town, but we didn't suffer any awkwardness off the line in the GTI. The engine's torquey nature likely has something to do with that. It's incredibly accomplished, the DSG, and allows you to tap the engine's immense capability at essentially any speed.
And yet... I still wish there were a manual. Part of it is the nostalgia factor (my dad had a manual MkV GTI), but there's just something about a proper hot hatch with three pedals.
The DSG plays perfectly into the GTI's appeal as a daily driver. So do the seats. They'll hold you in place when you're having a crack, but you'd also be perfectly comfortable spending nine hours behind the wheel.
Plus, the standard tartan trim is really, really cool. Our tester had the optional leather seats (heated, naturally) and they're also excellent, but there's just something about the tartan.
The infotainment system is perfectly in keeping with the car's daily drivable feel. Along with an 8.0-inch touchscreen in the dashboard, the 12.3-inch Active Info Display is standard. Both are crystal clear, and the learning curve is nearly non-existent. I really like Apple CarPlay, but the base Volkswagen system is similarly simple to use, and includes navigation.
Standard equipment extends beyond the screens. Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic reverse parking and lane-departure warning are all standard, along with autonomous emergency braking, parking sensors at all four corners, and a reversing camera hidden beneath the Volkswagen badge.
There's some really clever tech buried within the cabin, even if Volkswagen hasn't made a huge deal of it. Gesture control, for example, which enlarges on-screen icons as your hand closes in. It's not perfect, though.
Switching between CarPlay and the Volkswagen infotainment system is a slower process than it should be, because smartphone mirroring is sequestered within a separate part of the system. You also can't run Google or Waze mapping in the digital instrument binnacle; something you can do in the latest system from Ssangyong.
It's set for replacement later this year, but the Mk7.5 Golf's interior doesn't feel old. The climate controls are still logically placed, the transmission tunnel still spacious, and the materials still suitably soft and squidgy to the touch.
There are some scratchy plastics scattered around the cabin's lower section, it bears mentioning, but the Golf's interior design has still aged gracefully. Our tester was fitted with a sunroof, but it's an option I'd be avoiding. Your tan is fine without it.
Boot space is 380L with the rear seats upright and 1270L with them folded, and space for the rear passengers is par for the class. I used the GTI to cart three full-sized adults (plus driver) around, and no-one complained about a lack of space.
Really stick the boot in, and the GTI is happy to hitch up its skirts and dance. It lacks the Golf R's all-wheel-drive system but torque steer is a non-issue, even with the throttle slammed through the firewall. The traction-control light just flickers for a moment, and you rocket toward the horizon in a blaze of four-cylinder noise.
More noise would be nice, speaking of the noise. You still get a pleasing little fart on upshifts and there's a nice bassy growl, but it's always subdued in the extreme for a proper hot hatch. A bit more theatre wouldn't go astray, although that's something the team at Akrapovic is capable of fixing for a fee.
The EA888 engine might be a torquey beast down low, but it's surprisingly happy to rev, pulling all the way to redline without moaning. Would some extra punch be nice? Definitely, but scenarios in which you'd actually need it are few and far between.
Boring is a word occasionally associated with the Golf GTI, but to this reviewer, the car still has plenty to offer in the corners.
It doesn't have the same purity of purpose as the Hyundai i30 N or Honda Civic Type R, but the combination of accurate steering and that clever electronic front differential mean you can still pick apart a road with military precision in the GTI.
It isn't a sweaty-palmed racer for the road, but it's fast enough and sharp enough to put a grin on your face.
What's more, the fact you're able to soften up the suspension but maintain a sporty engine tune means you can traverse bumpy roads at speed without shaking your fillings loose. The i30 N offers similar customisation ability, but as our head-to-head discovered, not the same degree of 'softness'.
With that said, the (very pretty) 19-inch alloys on our tester gave the car a noticeably firmer edge around town than our own 2017 GTI on 18-inch rims.
It's not unbearable, don't get me wrong, but sharp-edged bumps or potholes can be jarring in a way they aren't on GTIs with smaller wheels. Given the standard hoops look sharp already, you really don't need to spec the bigger, less comfortable ones. What price fashion?
On the ownership front, Volkswagen asks you to hit the dealership every 12 months or 15,000km. Prices range between $377 and $791 over five years, while the warranty is now on par with the wider mainstream car market at five years. The engine drinks 95RON petrol, too, with a claimed fuel-use figure of 6.5L/100km. Expect that to swell if you're the sort of driver that enjoys, um, making the most of what the engine has to offer.
There's a word that occasionally crops up when we talk about the Golf GTI – boring.
Maybe it's because the car doesn't sparkle, crackle and pop like an i30 N, or have a buttery-smooth gearshift like the Civic Type R. Maybe it's because we're just so sick of the car faring strongly in comparison tests – although it didn't win this one – against flashier, newer rivals.
Whatever the reasoning, the fact Volkswagen hasn't fiddled too much with the formula since the MkV is a pretty good indicator as to the car's appeal. Even late in its life, the Mk7.5 GTI is a refined daily driver with more than enough pep to get your heart racing.
Just stick with the smaller wheels.