The Volkswagen Golf GTI and I both hit UK roads in the summer of 1979.
Fans might quibble that the iconic GTI was born in 1976, but that Mk1 Golf was available only as a left-hand drive special-order model in the UK.
Since then I’ve driven and tested every single generation of Golf GTI – and even raced one for a year. My favourite is the Mk2 16v, and after that the Mk5.
Now we have the GTI Mk8, based on the latest model of the Golf that’s barely a year old.
I’ll start with a whinge about the rather daft daytime running lights.
There are 10 of them in total, mounted in clusters of five in the lower grille. They look like add-ons and are rather naff – and not very GTI-like since GTIs have always been understated to look at.
Never mind, you can’t see them when you’re driving.
Other GTI trademarks are in place to reassure the dedicated follower.
A red stripe across the slit under the bonnet’s front lip, tartan cloth seats and – if you’re driving a manual gearbox version – a golf ball gearknob.
We’re driving a DSG automatic GTI because that’s all there is available in the first couple of months of the new GTI’s life in the UK.
Much of the Mk8 is very similar to the now departed Mk7. The engine is still VW’s ubiquitous EA888 2.0-litre turbo engine, albeit with some subtle changes like a higher pressure fuel injection system.
It produces 242bhp which is modest compared to rivals such as the Hyundai i30N and considerably more powerful Honda Civic Type R and Mercedes-AMG 35.
That’s not an issue though because the GTI has never been about outright grunt as it’s always been the car market’s everyday hot hatch.
Besides, there will be a Golf R along sometime soon and that’s the 300bhp member of the family.
Our test car, as mentioned earlier, has the optional DSG gearbox, Oryx White premium paint (£1,040) and a host of options including Dynamic Chassis Control (£785) that bring the price up to £38,744.
Our car is also a five-door because Volkswagen no longer makes a three-door Golf. It’s a stiff price but good leasing deals are likely to be available because the Golf GTI always has cracking residual values.
A DSG gearbox was available on the last GTI but this one is new because it has shift-by-wire technology.
I found it spent too much time rummaging around for the right gear which seems rather unnecessary considering that it’s hooked up to an engine that has stacks of torque over a wide rev band.
The GTI rides 15mm lower than the standard Golf, as did the last model, but this Mk8 has stiffer front and rear springs than before and re-tuned rear suspension bushes.
The goal was to make the car more responsive in tighter corners but to judge properly I’d need a Mk7 to compare it to.
What’s important is that the latest GTI has a comfortable ride and feels – like all its predecessors have done – very secure.
You can play around with a large number of driving modes in the car’s Dynamic Chassis Control system which is now done via a bar chart-like display in the car’s infotainment screen.
The latter is a pain to use, especially the heating and audio controls which aren’t illuminated at night, and there are also too many fiddly buttons on the steering wheel.
But despite this, the new Golf GTI is one of the easiest hot hatches to live with thanks to its comfortable seats, suspension that’s not bone-jarringly stiff, and performance that’s perfectly useable in the real world.
Now here’s the big question – will this be the last Golf GTI to have a petrol engine or at least not be a hybrid?
Volkswagen Golf GTI five-door hatchback
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 242bhp
Fuel consumption: 38.2mpg Co2 emissions: 168g/km
Fantastic first effort at a hot hatch from the Koreans.
Honda Civic Type R
Controversial looks but fast and brilliant to drive.
Ford Focus ST
Another excellent fast Ford but not as good as the smaller Fiesta.