The Golf GTI was the hot hatch that started it all back in 1976, combining your common-or-garden hatchback with a powerful engine and an uprated chassis. Three and a half decades later, the GTI Edition 35 is based on the same ethos, but represents something a little more upmarket.
The key to the best hot hatchbacks is that they do everything you could ever want them to, whether it's taking home flat-packed furniture, dropping the kids off at school or enjoying a solo blast out into the mountains. Some are more biased towards practicality and others towards fun, but there's always a mix of talents.
The Edition 35 is one of the most middle-of-the-road hot hatches, in that it tries not to sacrifice any one area for the sake of another. You get a good size boot, plenty of room for four adults or a young family of five, a sensible interior and good looks. Oh, and 232bhp.
It's no ordinary Golf GTI. It does away with the 207bhp GTI engine and replaces it with a detuned version of the Golf R's turbo four-cylinder. Fettled to give 300Nm torque from 2,200rpm to 5,500rpm, after which peak power kicks in until 6,300rpm, the engine is smooth, tractable and easy to get the most out of.
It's a very relaxed motor, with a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox sending power to the front wheels. Smooth right from idle, it's perfectly happy to trundle along at 1,200rpm in any gear.
On the highway sixth gear isn't as tall as you might expect, and although the relatively high revs make you wish for another gear, there's very usable torque on tap for overtaking without shifting down. Turbo lag is usually noticeable; acceleration comes first from the instant response of the 2.0-litre engine and then, after a heartbeat, the full might of the forced induction. It could use more feel and communication through the steering and chassis. Nevertheless, it's great to drive on twisty roads, with the metallic zing and bass drone of the engine a fitting aural backdrop.
The interior is a mix of hard, textured plastics and soft-touch finishes, accentuated by beautiful red stitching. It's perfectly fine; sensible and stylishly practical. It's the sort of environment you'd be happy to live with for a long time.
In its unwritten mission statement, the GTI is meant to be the hot hatch with the fewest compromises, and aside from some shortcomings that's true. I can't think of any rivals that have as broad a spectrum of talents as this.
The Edition 35 is a very good car. It improves on the standard GTI in terms of pace and exclusivity. It's a very satisfying all-rounder, and it's arguably perfect for more people than any other hot hatch.