Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, 34.0mpg
Worth considering: Ford Focus ST, Renault Mégane Renaultsport 225, Skoda Octavia vRS
I don't watch much television on Friday evenings, as I am often busy driving to various corners of the country to meet our readers for the Verdict. As it happens, the timing of our test of this special 30th anniversary edition of Volkswagen's popular Golf GTI allowed me to spend a Friday evening at home and enjoy what I expected to be a televisual treat.
Recently, ITV3 has been repeating Anglia Television's Tales of the Unexpected, short one-off stories, each with a surprising twist in the tail. Many fine actors appeared in Tales over the years, and the best of the tense, blood-curdling plots could easily give you a sleepless night.
What I had forgotten until the recent reruns was that, while Tales of the Unexpected started well in 1979 with gripping episodes written by the author Roald Dahl, it went off the boil a bit in later series as they ran out of Dahl stories and used other writers instead.
They even, as I was reminded when I turned on my TV the other Friday, let Jeffrey Archer have a go, so what I experienced was a slightly limp tale about a struggling young author tricked into buying a wealthy American lady lunch. Still entertaining, but my spine went untingled and I slept like a log.
Anyway, it struck me that the rise and fall of television's Tales of the Unexpected coincided almost exactly with the changing fortunes of the Golf GTI. In both cases, the sharp originals enjoyed critical acclaim in the late Seventies, before declining into flabbiness. Tales of the Unexpected petered out in 1988; the GTI reached its nadir a little later with the Golf III.
Just as TV viewers would turn on their sets, tempted by the distinctive opening titles of Tales of the Unexpected, only to be disappointed by an inferior plot, so car buyers would be induced by the magic of the GTI badge to open their chequebooks, but be rewarded with a rather ordinary driving experience.
After that, though, there was a twist in the Golf GTI tale, as unexpected as any in a Roald Dahl script. Just as enthusiasts were giving up hope, Volkswagen surprised us with the GTI version of the Golf V, the first in years to recapture something of the spirit of the original model.
That's what gives VW something to celebrate with the Edition 30, which has firmer, lowered suspension, a bit more power and a slightly flashier body kit than the standard model.
Only in one respect is it more Jeffrey than Roald; try as I might, I was completely unable to produce a convincing, frightening twist in the tail of this well planted machine.
Neil Constantine-Smith, 37 Optometrist, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire
USUAL CARS: VW PASSAT ESTATE 1.8T, VW GOLF 1.6
I liked the edition 30 Golf GTi very much. It is a no-nonsense way to get from A to B extremely quickly. Despite being bright red I don't feel this is a flashy car. The styling cues were fairly understated. There was no macho, throaty engine note, which might not please some, but I found the whistle of the turbo, combined with being pinned urgently against the seat when accelerating, enough to get the adrenalin racing. The steering was crisp, the brakes amazing and the power smooth, giving awesome acceleration. The six-speed gearbox took some getting used to and I'm not sure about the idea of a bottle-opener in the central console, but I'd like to have kept this car.
Jackie Fitzpatrick, 31 Business development executive, Southampton, Hampshire
USUAL CAR: FORD FIESTA ST
When I set eyes on this Golf, it was obvious this was no ordinary GTI. It boasts 18in Pescara alloys and full colour-coded sills and bumper skirts, with an edition 30 badge on the tailgate, giving away its pedigree. On the motorways the GTI is quiet and responsive in all six gears. Through the New Forest the firm suspension absorbs the potholes - this GTI sticks to the road like glue. Inside there are excellent seats that keep you firmly in place, a stylish, flat-bottom steering wheel and the golfball gear knob from the original GTI. With the extra 30bhp, this car achieves its aim of being a great sporty limited edition.
Alan Boot, 29 Draughtsman, Lymington, Hampshire
USUAL CAR: PEUGEOT 306 DIESEL
The first thing you notice is just how purposeful yet discreet (even in bright red!) it looks. The engine delivers the power smoothly and the gearbox feels solid and concise. It's the A and B roads that really highlight this car's ability - the handling and steering are excellent; the car feels glued to the road. The only minor gripes are that it's a bit noisy at speed and I sometimes selected third instead of fifth when changing down. So would I buy one? The heart would say, absolutely. The head would probably lean towards the standard GTi, as I'm not sure it needs the extra 30bhp or whether I could justify the extra cost for what you get.Reuse content