Most Golf GTI MK7 owners we surveyed were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there have been those who have had problems you'll want to look out for. One owner reported squeaky noises coming from the suspension over speed humps. Another noted that his steering wheel made a slightly wheezy noise when going round bends slowly. There were reports of the boot juddering when closing. And fuel caps that were difficult to open, making re-fuelling a struggle. One owner reported vibration from the door cards at the front and the rear. And another reckoned that his infotainment system was choosing not to function in very cold weather - and at times, was choosing to control itself.
As for mechanical stuff, well we came across one owner who'd had a clutch go after just 4,600 miles - but that's very unusual. Another experienced faulty injectors. And another experienced a power failure related to his DSG auto gearbox. Also look out for smearing wipers, problems with the cabin air blowers and a rattle from the gearbox over speed humps. There have been a few reported issues with the DSG auto gearbox, so make sure the gearbox changes properly. Timing chains have been known to snap prematurely and cause major engine damage - yet another reason why a full service history is critical. GTI models can also suffer from quite high oil consumption, so it's important to keep an eye on the oil level, to avoid damage to the engine or timing chain.
[based on a 2017 model GTI 2.0 TSI ex VAT] An air filter will be priced in the £13 to £20 bracket, an oil filter will sit in the £5 to £15 bracket. A radiator will likely cost between £95 and £115. The front brake discs we came across commonly sat in the £50 to £70 bracket, with pricier-branded discs costing between £120 and £250. The rear brake discs we came across commonly sat in the £40 to £86 bracket, with pricier-branded discs costing up to around £115. Front brake pads are in the £27 to £65 bracket for a set but for pricier brands, you could pay up to nearly £75. Rear pads cost in the £20-£37 bracket. A thermostat is around £19. A water pump is around £53-£73,. A radiator is around £152-£158. Wiper blades cost around £9.
So. Just how quick does a Golf GTI really need to be? Performance-wise, this car certainly has to fit into a very tightly-defined slot. This MK7 model had to be faster than any of the conventional models in the range of course - and of course it needed to be able to duke it out with the rest of the hot hatch brigade. But it couldn't be so rapid that Volkswagen had nowhere to go with the even more focused 4WD Golf R that by 2012 had superseded the GTI as the Golf model line-up's flagship. Within these constraints, you think you know exactly what you're going to get with the GTI and yet... well, we'll get to that in a minute.
It's certainly true that the engine stats are reasonably predictable. The original version of this car back in 2012 offered 220PS - or 230PS in 'Performance Pack' form. As part of the facelift changes in 2017, those stats were changed to 230PS and 245PS. Either way, you're looking at more than double the kind of power that was generated by the original MK1 Golf GTI we saw way back in 1976. You might think that still doesn't sound very much given that all this car's direct rivals from this period offer more - a Ford Focus ST from this era has 250PS, a Megane Renaultsport 265PS. But this Volkswagen's efficient MQB platform means that both these cars are heavier - the Ford 100kgs more portly, which is one reason why this Golf, even in 220PS form, can pretty much duplicate their performance, rest to sixty two mph occupying 6.5s en route to 152mph. Still not convinced? Then opt for the 'Performance Pack' version that as well as the power hike comes with bigger brakes and an electronically controlled locking front differential.
Whichever version you go for, you'll appreciate the 2.0-litre TSI direct injection turbocharged engine that was further refined for this 7th generation model. OK, so it doesn't have too much aural personality, either on start-up or under hard acceleration, but you can readily forgive it that for the way it goes. Like all the best turbo installations, this one actually feels like a bigger normally-aspirated powerplant. There's no lag and lunge, just a smooth and flexible surge that swells at around 2,500rpm before gradually tailing off as you edge past 4,000rpm, confirming that wringing the thing out to the redline isn't the most effective way to drive this car. Besides that, mid-range punch is what you want for overtaking and merging into fast-moving traffic flows.
So it's fast enough - but that you expected. What's more of a surprise is the ride and handling balance on offer here. We used to think Ford were the only brand with a real handle on making a sporting family corner tightly yet ride beautifully. By 2012 though, it was clear that Volkswagen had mastered the art too. Or perhaps you just better notice the dynamic step forward this Golf made in this form thanks to its standard Driver Profile Selection system, essentially the same as Audi's 'drive select' set-up. Here, the four available programmes you can select from the centre dash colour touchscreen - 'Eco', 'Sport', 'Normal' and 'Individual' - alter the throttle mapping and engine management to suit your chosen driving style - gearshift times too if you've opted for a DSG automatic model. Add the optional DCC Dynamic Chassis Control system, which enables you to tweak the suspension to suit the road and your mood, and there's a fifth 'Comfort' mode.
We're not actually sure that the standard set-up really needs the extra cost assistance of the Dynamic Chassis Control electronics, so incredibly supple and well balanced is it but if you do choose a car whose original owner specified the DCC option and select the 'Comfort' mode, then you'll get yourself a Golf GTI that tackles urban roads with more composure than some luxury saloons we've come across. Which is nice because no matter how much of a driving enthusiast you are, it's tiresome to saddle yourself with a hot hatch that constantly, wearingly has to remind you of its red mist pretensions when you've had a long day, you just want to get home and the whole of the road network seems to be infested with infernal speed humps.
If that's a common scenario for you, then you'll probably be one of those considering a version of this car fitted with the 6-speed DSG automatic gearbox. We'd think twice before doing that. OK, so this Golf is a more sensible and mature proposition than more track-orientated rivals from this era like Renaultsport's Megane or Vauxhall's Astra VXR but it's still a package that has the potential to thrill and excite, so damping it down with auto transmission - even one as good as Volkswagen's DSG system - doesn't do it any favours. True, you can set DSG into a Sport mode to hold gears longer and there are steering wheel-mounted paddles but it's still an auto 'box - and one with a slightly irritating tendency to climb straight into sixth gear in order to save fuel.
In any case, the six-speed manual transmission is a joy to use, with a short clickety-click action that makes you want to flip up and down the 'box just for the fun of it. Another pleasant surprise is the 'Progressive' steering system, slick, fairly light, unerringly accurate and designed to reduce the amount of lock you have to put on through the corners without you noticing. True, the set-up could offer a touch more response and feedback. Along with the reduced size door mirrors, it's one of the few things we don't like about this car and the feel on offer at the helm certainly doesn't encourage you to switch off all the control systems, fling the car into a corner and see what happens. You have to learn where the limits of the front end are by gradual experimentation rather than through an intuitive connection through the wheel.
But once you have, this can be an astonishingly rapid back road brawler. Focus yourself, select 'Sport' on the Driver Profile selection system and on a typical British B road and at typical British B road speeds, the Golf GTI feels ruthlessly good, the suspension artfully tuned so as not to continually upset the car or its traction control systems. Throw a Megane Renaultsport down a fast, twisting, bumpy country lane and you'd likely emerge at the other end a bit sweaty-palmed with your adrenal glands waving the white flag. The Golf might arrive a tenth or a second or two behind but it's driver would be serene, relaxed and with enough mental capacity in hand to enjoy a play on Radio 4. And therein lies the joy of this car.
When the Golf GTI was first launched in 1976, Volkswagen wondered whether it would struggle to sell an early production run of 5,000 vehicles. By 2012, two million sales later, the issue the issue the brand faced was not whether this car would sell, but who might buy it. After all, previous to 2012, this model had mainly sold to folk who, if they were honest, would probably admit to having out-grown the shopping rocket genre it originally created. In 7th generation form, this car needed to return a little to its roots - add an old fashioned dose of fun into the mature mix. It did.
You might not know that from the figures. In all the dynamic measures that tend to matter to hot hatch drivers - 0-62mph acceleration, top speed, lap times, lateral grip, braking performance and so on - this Golf never really seriously bothers the class best. You might not be immediately arrested by the looks either, or the initial experience on the drive round the block. But persevere. Forty years of experience in creating a car of this kind has to count for something. It does.
Importantly, Wolfsburg didn't here make the mistake of developing this GTI for the track rather than the road, so bumpy British tarmac doesn't bother it. You're always confident in pushing the performance envelope in a way that few rivals can match, yet that's possible without the sweaty palms that usually characterise red mist motoring. MK5 and MK6 Golf GTI models were also accomplished in this way, but with its extra power, lighter lithe responses and brilliantly sorted suspension, this MK7 version can not only be a confident performance car but a credibly exciting one too. So yes, it should sell to folk who want a proper hot hatch experience as well as a very mature one.
The very first generation version set out to define a fundamental standard for performance that was more precise than any other compact car. So it is here. Long after the novelty of some rivals has worn off, this GTI will always feel a class act. Crucially though, in this form, it's also a very entertaining one.