Some weeks back, we were at the South of France where we drove the mk7 Golf GTI. By now, you probably know that there are two stages of tune – the GTI (220PS/350Nm) and the GTI Performance (230PS/350Nm). Apart from the slight difference in power, the GTI Performance also gains larger brakes on all four corners, with the GTI calipers being the only noticeable hint. VW claims the mk7 Golf GTI is their fastest, most powerful, most efficient and most dynamic GTI ever, and we put these claims to the test.

As we head from the airport into the car park, we’re assaulted by an impressive line-up of the latest GTI. Prior to this, I’ve only seen pictures of the new car online, and I honestly didn’t like the way it looks. In the flesh however, the car looks different than I expected. It is a bigger car than its predecessor but somehow looks more compact and sleeker thanks to a wider and lower slung body shape.

There are a number of new details to process – the trademark GTI red stripe now extends into the headlamp housing, the rear spoiler is slightly more pronounced and the trademark telephone dial wheels (Detroits) have taken on a more aggressive design (Austin). Inside, the new car looks and feels much more plush than before and you’ll immediately notice the suede Clark tartan seats (previously leather Jacky).

Under the bonnet lies the third-generation EA888 four-cylinder mill. This engine sports several modifications which help to reduce fuel consumptions and emissions, whilst improving power and torque. These changes feature a more efficient thermal management system as well as a newly developed cylinder head. Electronic add-ons include an XDS+ system; an electronic differential lock which is integrated with the electronic stabilization programme (ESC) for improved vehicle dynamics. XDS+ reduces the need for steering angle inputs by targeting brake interventions at the wheels on the inside of the bend of both axles – this improves agility, handling and traction, as well as reducing understeer.

Our test route took us from Cote d’Azur International Airport via twisty French mountain passes, to our hotel in St Tropez – perfect for gauging the new car’s prowess. We sample the car in both GTI and GTI Performance guise and performance gains aside, the new car remains as effective and communicative as the Mk6. The electronics works with precision; stamp the accelerator pedal and there’s no longer any wheel-spin drama, despite the extra power and torque. Instead, you get an almost perfect blip off the line – efficient, albeit somewhat boring. Out on open roads, there is no discernible difference between the two GTI variants: both engines pull strong across the rev range, with the GTI Performance edging its sibling in the zerotohundred sprint by a mere tenth of a second.

Where the new car truly shines however, is in the dynamics department. The GTI has always been the calm composed hot-hatch, unlike the more rorty Focus ST or Megane RS, and this flair has been maintained with the Mk7 GTI. The car’s new XDS+ system has been tuned to allow for neutral handling and maximum acceleration out of bends. With the Performance package, the GTI gains an electronically controlled Haldex mechanical limited-slip differential – this reduces understeer as well as lift-off oversteer. We encountered an especially hairy moment when taking one sharp bend with a little too much enthusiasm – we almost certainly thought we’d lost it and our brains were already racking up an excuse, but the car kept to intended line and saved our asses. A similar attempt in the Mk6 GTI would have yielded vastly different results.

Other standard tech includes Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) that gives you the choice of five driving modes. Each mode gives slightly different results with the dampers, engine, transmission and steering. Also standard is what VW calls Progressive Steering (2.1 turns lock-to-lock) which speeds up the steering process as you turn the wheel. This allows for immediate directional changes, and feels somewhat similar to the electronic steering used on modern Porsches. There’s decent feedback directed to your palms as well, so you’re always aware of the limits of adhesion on all four corners.

Unfortunately, stability control cannot be completely turned off, although the Performance spec car does allows for later electronic intervention – good enough for most regular drivers, but bad for the extreme few who want total control over their vehicle.

In this seventh iteration, the GTI seems to have matured a little too much, losing that little bit of hoonery the Mk6 GTI embodied. Then again, the Golf GTI was meant to appeal to the masses, not cater to a specific group of people. It is the sort of brilliant all-rounder that you can exploit both on the road, on track, and to the office car park. Having driven most of the current crop of hot-hatches around, I can safely say that the Mk7 GTI has raised the bar even higher, and to me, will remain as the benchmark car to beat.

Personally, I’m looking forward to drive this car in Malaysia; we only drove the cars to 70% of its limit when we were in France – steering was on the wrong (left) side and we were on unfamiliar roads. It would certainly be interesting to see how the new car will hold up to my regular roads, and up Ulu Yam. It’s a pity too that the brilliant six-speed manual will never see light on local soil – the gearbox is super slick, and was genuinely more fun to drive. There are rumours that the Mk7 GTI will arrive in Malaysia sometime in Q3 2013 and will see a slight increase in price. We hear that the Performance pack won’t be brought in so soon, but I suppose only time will tell so stay tuned to ‘(00) as we will update as soon as we get more information.