VW GOLF GTI MkV
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