The MkI Golf GTI is cred­ited with start­ing the hot hatch­back genre, while the lat­est, MkVII ver­sion has taken the name into un­charted, 300bhp, sports car-slay­ing ter­ri­tory. But ar­guably the finest GTI of them all is the one you see here, the MkV.

Launched in 2005, it re­turned the fast Golf to great­ness af­ter a duff pe­riod through the Nineties and early Noughties. If its com­bi­na­tion of 197bhp (plenty back then) and £20k price tag made it ap­peal­ing, then a bril­liantly sub­tle makeover out­side and some fine tar­tan seats in­side made it prac­ti­cally ir­re­sistible. Now, just £5,000 can buy you a re­ally good one.

Hot hatches have moved on a lot in terms of fire­power and ab­so­lute trac­tion, but I’m not sure they’ve moved on with such great strides where pure en­joy­ment is con­cerned. And the GTI’s set-up is so well judged out of the box: un­like the fast Golfs which fol­lowed it, there are no ad­justable modes or but­tons to tog­gle when you get in. Your only choice is whether the sta­bil­ity con­trol is switched on or off. The GTI’s friendly ei­ther way.

That’s be­cause ev­ery com­po­nent plays per­fectly off the next. Each con­trol – throt­tle, brake, gear­box, steer­ing – asks of no greater ef­fort than the rest, so all of your in­puts are smooth from the off. That’s an un­der­rated but deeply sat­is­fy­ing facet in a car.

Want one? Look out for leaky ra­di­a­tors, while if the turbo doesn’t kick in (ba­si­cally if noth­ing much hap­pens above 2,000rpm), it’s prob­a­bly a prob­lem with the PCV valve, which is a rea­son­ably sim­ple fix. Un­even rear tyre wear is a sign the rear dampers aren’t at their best, so kneel down and in­spect the treads closely. As you should be do­ing any­way.

The en­try point is be­low £4,000, but it’ll likely buy a car that’s long since passed 100,000 miles. Five grand opens up plen­ti­ful cars with strong his­to­ries and a wide choice of colours and specs. Nat­u­rally, the fur­ther your bud­get swells, the lower the mileage will get, though with pro­duc­tion only tak­ing place be­tween 2005 and 2008, there’s not a huge age range to choose from. So eight grand buys the best MkVs, and it’s also the point at which early MkVIs come into reach. But they’re nowhere near as heroic…

Nowa­days you can spec a VW Golf with the same power and pace as a proper sports car. But will it be as much fun as a 197bhp MkV? No

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