History has always weighed heavily on the shoulders of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the car that launched a thousand imitators. Of course, arguments will continue to rage over whether it really was the first hot hatch (Renault 5 Gordini, anyone? Or how about the Simca 1100Ti?), there’s no denying it was the definitive example of the breed. Melding family-friendly practicality, affordable running costs and a classless swagger with a sports car-slaying turn of speed and high-jinks handling, it’s been a high-performance staple ever since the boxy first-generation machine burst onto the scene in 1976.
In the four and a half decades since making its debut, the go-faster Golf has experienced some dynamic ups and downs, but ever since the fifth-generation car arrived in 2005, it has largely remained on an upward trajectory. Now in its eighth incarnation, the latest GTI promises to be the best yet, distilling nearly half a century of know-how into an even faster and more composed package.
This update hasn’t come a moment too soon either, with the competition beginning to heavily encroach on the Golf’s corner of the hot hatch market. Both old hands such as the Ford Focus ST and fresh-faced first-timers like the Hyundai i30 N have made a big impact on the class, undercutting the Volkswagen on price, yet delivering greater power, more outright driver enjoyment and just as much everyday versatility.