The 2.0-litre T FSI is a turbocharged engine that delivers 200bhp, propelling the GTI from 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds, but in everyday driving it feels even quicker than the figures suggest with excellent in-gear pace between 50mph and 70mph. The engine itself is smooth and free-revving but never sounds coarse even if pushed hard, while there's a nice rasp from the exhaust between gears.
It's just as impressive at low speeds and thanks to a well-weighted clutch the GTI easy to drive in town. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard while Volkswagen's DSG double-clutch gearbox is an (expensive) option. Special edition GTI 30 and GTI Pirelli editions use the same engine but power is increased to 230bhp making them even more intoxicating to drive while the 0-62mph time drops to 6.8 seconds
Quicker and more accurate steering sets the GTI apart from the standard Golf while a slick gearchange and responsive brakes add to the sporty feel. Back road driving is a blast, with plenty of grip and good traction out of bends. It feels incredibly composed but while it has great ability, it does lack the character of some alternatives such as the Honda Civic Type-R and feels a little clinical rather than truly engaging.
The trade-off is that the Golf GTI is easy to live with day to day - around town the steering is light when you need it to be while ride comfort is good too. The suspensions is lower and stiffer than the standard car but it still soaks up bumps well.
Thanks to plenty of adjustment in the driver's seat and steering column it's easy to find the perfect driving position in the GTI and the quality of the interior is superb. The blue backlit controls and dials give a premium feel to the cabin and all the switchgear works with robust precision. The flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel (complete with GTI badging) adds to the sporty feel as do the aluminium pedals.
It may not have the special feel of some hot hatches but there's an understated air of quality about the Golf's cabin that few cars can match. The Pirelli special edition model feature unique seats complete with a tyre tread pattern plus yellow stitching on the steering wheel and gear lever.
The interior is well trimmed and inviting - especially at night when the instruments are illuminated by soothing blue backlighting. There's a generous amount of room for the front passenger, while the rear comfortably accommodates two (three at a push). The front sports seats give good support and are adjustable while the retro chequered seat fabric (just like the original GTI) is standard, although other colours are available.
Thanks to the impressive ride quality the Golf is comfortable, even on uneven surfaces while road and wind noise are minimal.