Driven: Volkwagen’s Mk 7.5 Golf GTI – still the yardstick for hot-hatches?

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We’ve been waiting a long, long time for this. Back in June 2013, I drove the Mk 7 Golf GTI for the very first time in St. Tropez. For lack of better words, the new car was a revelation – measured as a quantum leap from the Mk 6 to the Mk 7. It arrived on Malaysian shores in August 2013 and quickly cemented it’s status as the benchmark for performance hot-hatches available locally.

There was very little to complain about the Mk 7 GTI and, even though I hadn’t quite liked the way it looked initially, I grew to appreciate the evolution of its styling cues. This face-lifted GTI, more affectionately known as the Mk 7.5, was finally revealed to the world in January 2017 but only arrived to the Malaysian market in March 2018.

Over the years that have passed, several other brands have been brewing their own special blend of pocket rockets and the important question is whether the humble GTI is able to retain its crown as benchmark for performance hot-hatches in Malaysia.

As you may have expected, the face-lift brings mainly aesthetic updates – most of which are on the exterior. Although dimensions remain the same, the overall profile of the Mk 7.5 GTI is now sharper, more poised. The front bumper has been re-profiled with fog-lamp shrouds that extend further than before. It’s difficult to miss the updated dynamic headlamps as well – the red GTI stripe which extends into the headlamps now sees an arc into each cluster.

There’s also the extra signature honeycomb detail which is not only more prominent on the front, but you can also spot this in headlamps which we thought was a nice touch.

On the rear, the tweaks to the rear bumper can easily be missed. What you will definitely notice, however, are the LED tail lights which are now a standard offering on the GTI. Oh, and did we mention there are also dynamic indicators? Check out our video below; they look fantastic! While most of the updates are positives for us, we have to admit we do not particularly like the 18 inch Milton Keynes wheels; the 18 inch Austins previously seemed to keep truer to the GTI spirit.

Step into the cabin and you’re greeted by standard Volkswagen fare. Build quality is top notch as usual, with soft touch plastics and a functional layout that makes complete sense. And then there’s the new, massive, 12.3 inch Active Info Display that replaces the previous analogue unit. This is almost similar to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit and looks and feels fantastic, gifting the GTI cabin with a touch of class it deserves.

If you’re wondering just how nice this digital display is, we’ve heard several existing Mk 7 GTI owners ask out loud if it would be possible to retrofit this onto their cars. Noticeably missing however, is the inclusion of a sunroof – it was available in the Mk 6 GTI face-lift and we expected it here, so we were left slightly disappointed.

Yes, we know this is the people’s car in Germany, but here in Malaysia where we are paying a premium price for cars like this, these are the small touches that make the difference in the ownership experience.

Under the hood is the familiar EA888 two-litre turbocharged mill which was previously offered in two states of tune (Tech Pack and Performance Pack). This time around, the Malaysian market only gets one standard variant with a wholesome 230 PS and 350 Nm; essentially the outgoing Mk 7 GTI with Performance Pack option ticked. The engine is mated to a six-speed wet clutch DSG and you can expect performance figures to remain unchanged: 6.4 seconds in the century sprint and onto a vmax of 248 km/h.

In several markets outside of Malaysia, the Mk 7.5 GTI is available with an updated Performance Pack which brings more power, a seven-speed wet-clutch DSG (similar to the Mk 7.5 Golf R) adds a limited slip differential, and slashes the century sprint to just 6.2 seconds.

Naturally, we made our pilgrimage to the hills in the GTI, in an exercise to re-validate why we loved this car. And we’re happy to report that there were no disappointments. Everything we loved about the Mk 7 GTI when we first drove it, is still there. The steering is still sharp and responsive, the chassis is predictable and the car is pliant over most surface conditions. The GTI has abilities that surpass the thresholds of most average drivers, but in such a way that allows you to explore your limits, along with the car, safely.

Over the years, we’ve driven plenty of hot-hatches and fast cars, and the GTI is one of the most fun and chuck-able cars we’ve ever driven. That’s saying a lot, trust us.

What we could use more of, is power. We’re not saying 230 PS and 350 Nm isn’t respectable, because it is. In fact, this more than what most would need in day-to-day driving scenarios. But take one weekend up the hills and should you run into a crop of 45 AMGs or new Civic Type R, its difficult to ignore the fact that you have a really hard time keeping up.

If you ask us, the GTI does not need to join the horsepower race; that is perhaps a job left for the Golf R. However, considering how the chassis can clearly handle more abuse, a bump in power would definitely help to keep the Mk 7.5 GTI more relevant. Perhaps the actual Mk 7.5 GTI with Performance Pack and 240 PS would help to satiate that need; we’re just bummed this isn’t available in our market. For the itchy handed few who are always on the look-out for ways to customize or customize their cars, the good news is that there are plenty of options when it comes to aesthetic mods and tuning packages.

Remember our Ringgit per Newton meter measurement? Well, it is one of several ways we use to measure if a vehicle is value for money. With the current zero-rated GST, the Mk 7.5 GTI has a sticker price of RM225,888 which gives it a ratio of roughly RM645 per Nm, a ratio which we find very reasonable. If you’re looking for a one-stop solution that handles your mundane day-to-day activities but also has the ability to raise your heartbeat over weekend drives up the hills, and yet is priced reasonably… then look no further because the Mk 7.5 Golf GTI is right up your alley.

Once you factor in performance, practicality and the all-important price, you quickly realize why the Golf GTI still remains as the benchmark for hot-hatches in Malaysia.This is a tasteful, grown-up GTI, for mature individuals with a bit of a wild streak.

Do we want one? Yes. Heck yes. We’d swap the wheels out and maybe give it a power bump with a stage 1 tune and it would be almost perfect. Almost, because there really is no such thing as a single perfect car; the best sort of garages are the ones with a daily driver and next to it, a fun weekend car.

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mm

From supercar spotting on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Won has moved onto the realms of motoring journalism since 2011. He has a keen eye for automotive photography, a penchant for fast cars, and the occasional hunger for munching corners.

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