Volkswagen’s chiseled GTI has been on sale for quite some time now, but we’ll wager you haven’t seen that many on the road.

There are some apparent reasons for this. The first is that, with ‘only’ 217bhp, the seventh generation Golf GTI is comfortably outgunned by rivals from Ford and Renault. The Focus ST and the Megane RS 265 boast 246bhp and 261bhp, respectively.

The second reason is that Volkswagen’s hot-ish diesel Golf, the GTD, is now better than ever. It shares the same incisive design as the GTI (if you don’t mind silver inserts instead of red ones), and with 184bhp and plentiful torque performance is strong. That motorway fuel economy approaching 50mpg is also a reality means no one should be no surprised that there are plenty of GTD’s on UK roads.

Ultimately, however, not many people considering a GTI are going to be swayed by the more hardcore, less refined Ford or Renault models. Likewise, the diesel GTD may be good, but it’s no substitute for a two-litre turbocharged petrol engine and GTI badge cachet, so there must be another reason.

That reason is price. The Golf GTI costs £26,330 in its most basic form. Factor in the company’s smooth-as-silk double-clutch gearbox, a pair of rear doors, and those beautiful 19-inch “Santiago” wheels – all reasonable options – and the price jumps to £29,385. Go with touchscreen navigation, side airbags, and a rear-view camera and you’re approaching £31,000, the price of a new BMW 5 Series.

The best aspects of the Golf GTI remain its versatile chassis, the heaving character of its engine, and its reasonable ownership costs, however, so do buyers really need all those options? Or, more pertinently, is the ownership experience significantly lessened by their absence?

We tested a near base-specification GTI (its one optional extra was the Discover Pro navigation system, at £1,765) to find out.

What do you get?

Our car cost £28,095. With the standard navigation system it would have been £27,080, forfeiting a larger eight-inch touchscreen display with a DVD player and SC card readers. The larger screen looks great and in terms of functionality it’s one of the best we’ve come across, but if you’re keeping the spec-sheet lean then it’s certainly unnecessary.

The two more noticeable absentees on our car were the popular DSG transmission and Volkswagen’s ‘GTI Performance Pack’, which sees power output grow to 227bhp while adding a limited slip differential and larger brake discs. Time taken for the sprint to 60mph also drops by a meaningless 0.1 seconds to 6.4 seconds.

What you get in base form is three doors, a six-speed manual transmission, trademark GTI cloth upholstery, 18-inch wheels, crystal-clear bi-xenon headlights with razor-sharp daytime running LEDs, and tinted rear glass.

The standard kit list is also extensive, meaning that even low-spec cars are well equipped compared to many rivals. Dual-zone climate control, electrically folding wing mirrors, adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth, lumbar adjustment, and engine stop-start are included, as is an elegant multi-function steering wheel and DAB radio.

Simply put, skimping on options doesn’t make the GTI feels any less special or able, and in fact there’s purity to the cabin that we appreciated. The superiority and expertise of Volkswagen’s production line staff is patently obvious whether you go mad with extras or not, and the low, secure driving position remains whether you’re planted in leather or cloth. Glancing down and seeing three aluminium pedals is also routinely satisfying, and a manual transmission helps retain a go-kart feel in what’s really a very grown-up car now.

In efficiency terms the GTI is never going to match the GTD. Volkswagen has, however, tuned the turbocharged engine to deliver respectable fuel economy as well as muscular performance. Official fuel economy is 47.1mpg, so our reading of 39.9mpg after a 200-mile test route with an average speed of 49mph is respectable.

Worth a test drive?

Certainly. The GTI’s trump card is its usability, an attribute only slightly diminished by the absence of an automatic transmission. The leather gear stick is agreeably tactile, too, and with so much torque from the new engine there’s no need to change down before every corner.

Unless shifts are smoothly executed the manual GTI will spin its wheels in second and even third gear, so despite the ostensible power deficit there’s plenty for a front-wheel drive hot-hatch. Nobody would ever argue that the DSG gearbox makes the car more enjoyable to drive in absolute terms, either.

That said, the GTI doesn’t provide the same excitement as its rivals. Once up and running the chassis is composed to point of inertia, and there’s such an abundance of grip that unless you come steaming into a bend far too fast the car just takes every inch of tarmac in its stride. It’s easy to drive very fast point-to-point, but there’s some satisfaction absent, and hot-hatches have always been about pleasure regardless of outright pace and power.

Performance aside, one option we’d make provision for would be a pair of rear doors. Not only is life easier for passengers (and, as an everyday car, the backs seats of the GTI get used a lot), they’re also helpful for times when they get folded down and the car is on carthorse duties.

We’d be tempted to go for the upgraded multimedia system and the GTI performance pack, but there’s little else that would entice us to splash out. The ordinary GTI is a versatile machine that’s just as at home cruising down a motorway as it is on B-roads; not having keyless entry isn’t going to change that.

Best of all is that AutoeBid currently has a near-identical car for sale for just £23,448.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Review

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