With a 2.8-litre V6 under the bonnet and subtle styling tweaks over 'lesser' Golfs, this was a hatchback with the heart of a grand tourer. Although four-wheel-drive was an option in the form of Volkswagen's rally-bred Syncro system, it never took off in Britain and with 174bhp going through the front wheels, grip (probably because the tyres never lasted long enough) was not the VR6's fort_.
Thanks to an all-new four-wheel-drive system and a four-valve-per-cylinder 2.8-litre V6 developing 204bhp, the flagship Golf also gets a new name, V6 4Motion. Not only is this a permanent system, but at fast cornering speeds the drivetrain's electronic brain detects which wheel has least grip and redistributes power to restore maximum traction.
As a range-topper, the uninitiated might expect a special design treatment but the V6 4Motion echoes the subtle-school-of-styling-approach adopted by the old VR6. Only a discreet V6 grille badge, seven-spoke alloys and twin chrome exhaust pipes identify this car to be any different from a GTI. With just one engine and trim level available, comparing this model with its rivals is easy. Compiling that list is somewhat harder. At ú22,610 on-the-road for the five-door, it's quite expensive but price alone is not the issue - marrying the price and power to a sensible set of competitors is.
Our list includes its stablemate - and most obvious rival - the Audi A3 1.8T quattro Sport, recently launched in five-door guise and given a sporting make-over with more power (the 1.8-litre turbo now pumps out 180bhp) and revised interior trim.
At ú22,495 it's almost level-pegging with the Golf. With Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Ford, Nissan, Peugeot and Vauxhall all struggling for pace, rival number three has to be the SEAT Leon 20V T Cupra Sport. Using the same engine as the A3 but with SEAT's typical aggressive pricing, the Leon is the bargain of the group at just ú17,995. We've also pitched the Subaru Impreza Turbo in here because for what it might conceivably lack from a practical point of view, it more than compensates for with its awesome engine. All three, though, have four cylinder engines.