After a date with an old flame, Charles Rangely-Wilson finds that the refreshed Volkswagen Golf GTI is still the classiest act in town by far.

A gentle refresh, power lift and price drop were all the excuses I needed to book a date with an old flame: the Golf GTI. Well, a mate of mine’s old flame, to be truthful, because, back in the early 1990s, although I did fancy my fellow art teacher’s foxy VW GTI Mk2 16-valver, I actually went out with her (much) dirtier French sister, the Peugeot 1.9 GTi. We were the GTi art department.

The VW was more stolid, aristocratic. I drove it once on a long tour back from Tours and enjoyed the novel respite of its solidity and precision. The Pug GTi I was more smitten with was, by comparison, a Betty Blue without the tranquilisers. A tempestuous, plate-smasher of a car. French loons had shoe-horned an oversized van engine into an undersized go-kart, shrink-wrapped it in a black leotard and let it loose on the road. Boy, did it like to drive!

Thirty years later, the Pug GTi has totally lost the plot and the Golf keeps getting better. Faster and more dignified all at the same time – there’s a moral in there somewhere.

It’s tough to improve something that’s already very good indeed, but the Golf GTI is turning into the more affordable incarnation of that other Teutonic icon, the Porsche 911. After the midlife wobble of the Mk3 and 4 versions, and the 50-is-the-new-30 renaissance of the Mk5, tweaks and subtle revisions have been all that’s needed to keep the Golf GTI the most classy act in town. By far.

While competitors wring ever higher bhp outputs out of their engines, then scrabble to tie all that shove down with skateboard suspension and try for another Nürburgring record, VW has been happy with a mild power uplift and a chassis that continues to place a premium on soaking up real-world bumps and potholes.

The Golf’s linear power delivery and neutral, predictable hand-ling add up to a fantastically satisfying drive should you feel in the mood to get a hustle on. Clip the apex and unwind the lock as you press the loud pedal all the way to the carpet: the chassis squirrels delightfully, yet never alarmingly, and the Golf simply arrows up the road.

However, tone that all down for the 90% of the time you just want to get the children to school safely and the Golf will be calm, composed, effortless. The optional Dynamic Chassis Control only enhances this jack-of-all-trades adaptability.

All the usual attributes of a Golf barely need mentioning: the surprising legroom in the back and the really quite capacious boot. New to the new (refreshed) model apart from the aforementioned power boost (now a meaty 230bhp) is a subtle exterior facelift, minor design tweaks here and there and, most notably, a smorgasbord of active-safety and semi-autonomous driving aids and a more snazzy ‘infotainment’ system. Options on the test car included lane assist (I can take or leave that), a side-scan radar, LED lights and dynamic light assist (brilliant, no pun intended) and park assist with a rear-view camera.

It’s like driving a computer sometimes and, in many respects, a far cry from the snarly but composed back-to-basics original. However, the new Golf GTI still brilliantly turns the trick of being every car for every occasion. It’s smart, sporty, practical and ever so slightly yobby. An almost perfect car, really.

The details – VW Golf 2.0 TSI GTI

  • Priced from: £28,975
  • Annual Road Fund Licence: £220
  • Combined fuel consumption: 44.8mpg
  • Power: 230bhp
  • 0–60mph: 6.4 seconds
  • Top speed: 155mph

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