When I was doing hospital-based jobs during my GP training scheme many moons ago, there was one car that every junior doctor with petrol in their veins aspired to.
It was the Golf GTI and a few years later, I became the proud owner of a Mark 2 GTI. It was special and it got me wondering if the current version still is.
In 1975, a group of Volkswagen development engineers, working in their spare time, put a larger fuel-injected engine in the recently launched Golf Mark 1 and fettled the suspension, to create what was to become the Golf GTI.
|Volkswagen Golf GTI
Body: Five-seat hatchback, three or five doors
Engine: 2.0L turbo petrol
Power: 217bhp (Performance pack 230bhp)
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds
Claimed economy: Combined 47.1mpg
On the road price: £26,500 (Performance pack £980)
The company's management took a risk and offered it on general sale. The first hot hatch was born.
Combining sports car performance and handling in a practical user-friendly package, it spawned a new market sector.
Sales were slow at first, but really took off with the Mark 2, which firmly established the iconic GTI label. At this point, other manufacturers, such as Ford and Peugeot, jumped on the bandwagon and competition became fierce.
In motor vehicles as in general practice, to keep ahead and remain the best requires constant refining and updating so that you remain the local standard setter.
Unfortunately, Volkswagen rather lost the plot with the Mark 3 and Mark 4, and it was only with the arrival of the Mark 5 GTI that it regained its crown.
The Mark 6 was basically an updated Mark 5, and only now, with the new Mark 7, do we have a totally new chassis and body.
So can the latest Golf, appearing nearly 40 years after the original, still appeal in the same way and remain the best of its type?
I tested what will probably be the most popular version of the Mark 7 for GPs, a five-door with the optional Performance pack.
This boosts the already impressive 217bhp power output to 230bhp and, more importantly, adds an electronically controlled differential lock and limited slip differential to improve traction and handling. This is important in a front-wheel drive car with so much power.
First impressions as you approach the car leave you in no doubt this is a Golf. Volkswagen styling has always been evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, and it has been accused of being boring in doing so.
The lack of outlandish body trim and spoilers keeps the whole package visually low key. I like this understated approach and I think it is a major factor in the car's success.
The interior carries this theme forward. The new higher levels of build quality and materials in the Mark 7 extend to the GTI, which also has a high level of standard equipment.
The sports seats are very supportive and are covered by the classic GTI tartan trim, to go with the golf ball gear knob.
The latest satnav system has an impressive eight-inch screen and, at last, accepts full postcodes. Unfortunately, it remains a pricey option.
There is plenty of room in the rear for three passengers and the spacious boot has a very convenient flat floor. The Golf is a versatile car.
On the road, the first thing to note is the ride quality. Despite standard 18-inch wheels, the suspension copes impressively with rough roads.
Although firm, it is never harsh and with the improved sound insulation, makes the GTI feel more like an executive car than a family hatch.
Optional adaptive suspension allows even greater smoothness if you choose comfort mode. Handling is predictably superb and with new, more direct, steering, the GTI can be shuffled through a set of corners with confidence and speed.
Performance is excellent. The latest, cleaner version (47mpg) of the 2.0L turbo has a great linear power delivery and the meaty torque band minimises the constant need to change gear.
My test car had a manual gearbox, but a direct shift gearbox is available, which maintains the sporty character. The GTI has the air of an iron fist in a velvet glove and I like the confidence this inspires when driving it.
It is more expensive than rivals and my advice would be to opt for the adaptive suspension but hold back from the Performance pack unless you are going to do some track days.
This is a sophisticated, understated car that fulfils all the requirements of the busy GP who enjoys driving. It also delivers what only a hot hatch can - when pushed, it is fun to drive.
- Dr Rimmer is a GP in Guildford, Surrey