What’s not to like about a high-performance car that is capable not only of speeds twice the UK legal limit but also with the potential to cover 60mpg?

Those remarkable statistics come from a car with an equally remarkable background.

Every 40 seconds something astonishing happens in the world – another Volkswagen Golf is born. For on average that is the extraordinary production rate for the family favourite from the German carmaker’s factories around the globe over the last 43 years.

Small wonder that with well over 33 million built, and two million sold in the UK alone, the Golf is the most popular European car to date.

And sitting up there at the top of the Golf performance pile, alongside the R, GTI and R-Line, is the GTD, with the manual version alone expected to capture no less than seven per cent of Golf sales.

The attraction of the sharply-styled, five-door, five seater hatchback is obvious enough, with a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine adding a satisfying adrenaline rush to the Golf’s underlying qualities of comfort, practicality, safety and efficiency.

Rivals to the Golf are many and sophisticated, including the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Honda Civic and Peugeot 308, as well as the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

But the Golf remains the biggest-selling model in the Volkswagen range in the UK. Priced from £17,765, the updated Golf range arrived in the UK this year with the option of new engines, more technology, improved connectivity and revised styling.

Sitting on 18-inch alloy wheels with lowered sports suspension, the test car delivers the 184 horsepower through the front wheels via a new seven-speed semi-automatic transmission, complete with steering wheel-mounted paddle changers.

But far from ultimate speed, it is the engine’s immense mid-range pulling power that enables quick and safe acceleration in the crucial 40-60mph range that makes the car such a delight to manage.

Helping the car to stand out from the crowd in daylight are new front and rear bumpers, a rear roof spoiler and honeycomb air intake, twin exhausts and animated ‘flowing’ indicators. At night, LED headlights, which are now standard across the range, and LED fog-lights give the car a distinct look.

An option on the test car, as part of a £1,225 package, was a system that detects other vehicles at night and covers part of the headlight to avoid dazzle. Other elements in the system include radar-operated blind spot warning and rear traffic alert that monitors the car during reversing and warns of approaching traffic. The system also warns if the car drifts out of its lane and recognises traffic and road signs.

Now standard across the range are LED rear lights and all hatchback and estates are also offered with larger and more sophisticated touchscreen infotainment systems.   

The new Golf sparkles with technical innovations. The test car’s Discover Navigation Pro radio-navigation and online system, a £1,325 option, responds to voice commands for navigation and telephone. The system also uses ‘gesture control’ that allows menus such as radio stations or songs to be selected on the 9.2-ich screen with a swipe of the driver or passenger’s hand.

The Golf accounts for about one in three new Volkswagens sold here each year, with 72,762 new Golfs sold in the UK last year. Small wonder it remains the benchmark for its class.

Auto facts

Model: Volkswagen Golf GTD 2.0 TDI

Price: £35,395 as tested

Insurance group: 28E (1-50)

Fuel consumption (combined): 60.1mpg

Top speed: 143mph

Length: 426.8cm/168in

Width: 202.7cm/79.8in

Luggage capacity: 13.4 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 11 gallons/50 litres

CO2 emissions: 124g/km

Warranty: Three years/ 60,000 miles