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Review

First Drive: Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 35 car review

05/03/12

THE GOLF GTI was the hot hatch that started it all back in 1976, combining your common-or-garden hatchback with a powerful engine and an uprated chassis. Three and a half decades later, the GTI Edition 35 is based on the same eothos, but represents something a little more upmarket.

It was actually released in 2011, to mark the 35th anniversary of the GTI’s first steps into a world it was about to change forever. It, and others like it that came along years later, gave keen drivers all the fun of a sports car but with much more practicality and everyday usability.

The key to the best hot hatchbacks is that they do everything you could ever want them to do, whether it’s taking home a flat-packed chest of drawers, dropping the kids off at school or enjoying a solo blast out into the countryside. Some are more biased towards practicality and others towards fun, but there’s always a mix of talents.

The Edition 35 is one of the most middle-of-the-road hot hatches, in that it tries not to sacrifice any one area for the sake of another. You get a good size boot, plenty of room for four adults or a young family of five, a sensible interior and good looks. Oh, and 232bhp.

It’s no ordinary Golf GTI. It does away with the ordinary 207bhp GTI engine and replaces it with a detuned version of the really rather rapid Golf R’s turbocharged four-cylinder. Fettled to give a perfectly flat 221lb.ft torque from 2,200rpm to 5,500rpm, after which peak power kicks in until 6,300rpm, the engine is smooth, tractable and very easy to get the most out of.

It’s a very relaxed engine in the main, with a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox sending power to the front wheels. Smooth right from idle, it’s perfectly happy to trundle along at 1,200rpm in any gear. In fact, the change-up indicator encourages it on a light throttle.

On the motorway sixth gear isn’t as tall as you might expect, and although the relatively high revs make you wish for another gear, there’s very usable torque on tap for overtaking without shifting down. Turbo lag is usually noticeable; acceleration comes first from the instant response of the 2.0-litre engine and then, after a heartbeat, the full might of the forced induction.

The Golf isn’t a small car any more and on some B-roads it feels a little unwieldy, as though it could use more feel and communication through the steering and chassis. It’s very good to drive on sweeping A-roads, with the metallic zing and bass drone of the engine a fitting aural backdrop, but it’s not as overtly chuckable as some people might want.

One other thing to watch is that occasionally, in wet weather where the brakes haven’t been used for a while, they can lack initial bite the first time they’re reapplied – something that can catch out the unwary.

The interior is a mix of hard, textured plastics and soft-touch finishes, accentuated by beautiful red stitching. It’s perfectly fine; sensible and stylishly practical. It’s the sort of environment you’d be happy to live with for a long time.

It’s a relatively odd spec list though. Full leather upholstery is standard, along with dual zone climate control, brilliant bi-xenon headlights, privacy glass behind the B-pillar and several advanced electronic safety systems. But you don’t get sat-nav, cruise control or parking sensors as standard; all things you’ll find on much cheaper cars.

This car had the optional £1,770 sat-nav and media system combination, which works very well. It’s clear and easy to use, as long as you take note of the traditional menu buttons around the outer edge of the touch screen.

It also had winter tyres fitted, which being narrower, taller and softer than normal summer tyres, didn’t do the handling any favours. There’s noticeable flex, which introduces an imprecision that’s otherwise absent in the standard summer tyres.

In its unwritten mission statement, the Golf GTI is meant to be the hot hatch with the least compromises, and aside from the shortcomings in the kit list that’s true. I can’t think of any rivals that have as broad a spectrum of talents as this, even if some are better in one or two areas.

The Edition 35 is a very good car. It improves on the standard GTI in terms of pace and exclusivity, two key selling points for VW’s customers. It’s expensive, yes, but it’s also a very satisfying all-rounder, and it’s arguably perfect for more people than any other hot hatch.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 35, from £27,560 on the road.

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol producing 232bhp and 221lb.ft.

Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.

Performance: Top speed 153mph, 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds.

Fuel economy: 34.9mpg.

CO2 rating: 189g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups2 (higher than average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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