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The new Golf GTI continues to delight with its sharp handling and dynamic performance, while new design and equipment bring an added touch of modernity and flair.

20 May 2021


Over seven generations and 45 years, the Volkswagen Golf GTI has established itself as the standard bearer for hot hatchbacks. By combining family-friend hatchback sensibility with potent performance and dynamic handling, the Golf GTI has come to be synonymous with the 'hot hatch' term.

Now, as Volkswagen introduces its new eighth generation Golf, a new Golf GTI is also upon us. Is it still the flag bearer in its segment?

A new face

The new Golf GTI retains its iconic design language, but has been updated with a sleeker exterior details
The GTI's visual character is iconic - take a standard Golf, give it red stripes, bigger air intakes, wider rims, and you've got a GTI.

This new one is a more modern interpretation of that formula. At the front, the new open honeycomb grille is distinctive and bold, flanked by LED fog lights that VW calls 'x-shape', but I'd like to think of them as more of a chequered flag motif. The distinctive red line that runs between and through the head lights is still there.

The rear features a slimmer, centralised 'GTI' badge, which takes some getting used to (especially if you're used to the chunky bold GTI font from before). I must admit that I'm not yet convinced of how the rear of the car looks - the lines are quite stark, especially with the complex shape of the taillights, and there's a distinctive lip just above the rear bumper that makes the rear look busy and a bit too complicated.

Designed space

The new Digital Cockpit Pro offers a new GTI-specific display style
The interior is where the key upgrades to the GTI are most obvious. Digitalisation is the name of the game here - gone are your air-con control buttons and the typical rotating knob for the lights, and in their places are a whole slew of new touch controls.

Drive modes and climate functions are also accessed via a new cluster of touch control buttons on the centre console.

There are also slider controls just underneath the screen for adjusting air-con temperature and audio volume. The controls on the steering wheel are also capacitive touch controls, though thankfully they have retained VW's idiot-proof ease-of-use.

The capacitive touch controls on the steering wheel are intuitive to use
The infotainment is also new. This new 10-inch Discover Pro system sports a totally new interface that certainly kicks up the pizazz. You also get Digital Cockpit Pro with a cool GTI-specific display style, as well as a head-up display.

So yes, the new cockpit is techy and modern, and in that sense, rather cool. However, that comes at the cost of increased complexity.

The new infotainment system is a bit more graphic focused. So, for example, when you go into the assistance functions menu, you have to click on the graphic of the car to adjust a setting (and the only indication of that is that the car is highlighted in blue).

The new infotainment system offers additional functionality, but is also slightly more complicated to navigate and operate
And, because the slider controls are located just underneath the screen, with my fat clumsy hands I found myself accidentally making the air-con 28 degrees when trying to adjust the radio station.

The increased complexity of the cabin will take some getting used to. VWs always impressed with their straightforward, idiot-proof operation, and this one isn't quite as idiot-proof as before.

Sharp pace

Where VW hasn't really messed around with the GTI is in the performance department, thankfully.

Power output from the EA888 engine has been bumped up to 241bhp and 370Nm of torque
Power comes from a familiar EA888 engine, with output nominally raised from 241bhp and 370Nm of torque (a 14bhp and 20Nm increase from the Mk 7.5 model). I say nominally because this EA888 engine is famously (and regularly) capable of producing much more power with some simple upgrades.

As it is, power is delivered urgently and sharply to the front wheels, especially in Sport mode. Traction is ample, and the GTI handles with expected agility and accuracy. The updated Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) has more incremental damper settings to play around with, though anything past Sport is definitely way too stiff for everyday use.

The updated DCC allows even finer levels of damper adjustment
On the road, the GTI feels very familiar, which is to say that it feels damn good. Steering is sharp, the chassis responsive and capable, and the car just feels like how a GTI should.

One thing has changed, though - the car actually feels noisier than before, which is something of a shock in this WLTP-age. The exhaust note feels a little more free to breathe, which is great.

Familiar taste

So, how should this Mk 8 Golf GTI be judged? As a hot hatch, it ticks all the right boxes. It's quick, fun to drive, delivers daily usability and sensibility, and is a fundamentally good, strong package.

The new GTI actually sounds louder than before
Does it significantly improve upon the car that came before? That's a slightly trickier question to answer. Design is subjective, and while the new design is more distinctive, I will admit that I prefer the way the previous car looked. The cabin is more high-tech and flashier, but that has come at the cost of added complexity of use. And mechanically, the Mk 8 is largely unchanged from before.

In this regard, you could criticise the car for being a not-significant-enough improvement upon the previous one, considering this is an all new generation model. While it certainly still clears the hot-hatch bar, I'm not as convinced that it has raised the bar.

The Mk 8 Golf GTI continues to be a stellar hot hatch, though we wonder whether this might be the end of the road for this model...
However, I'm inclined to look at it slightly differently. I think this says more about just how thoroughly developed and complete the GTI already is. Over eight generations, VW has refined and advanced the car so much that I actually wonder just how much more can be done to further advance a 200+bhp front-wheel drive hot hatch, beyond just giving it more equipment and design tweaks.

What's next? Electrification? Hybridisation? VW has already announced the upcoming ID.4 GTX. It isn't a direct replacement for the GTI (it's a crossover), but you can certainly see where the brand is going with it.

So, who knows how long more the GTI badge is here to stay? This GTI is a perfect distillation of VW's iconic hot hatch. We would do well to savour it while it's still here.

Car Information

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Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 TSI DSG (A)
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Price

: $218,900

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1984cc

Horsepower

:

180kW (241 bhp)

Torque

:

370 Nm

Transmission

:

7-speed (A) DSG

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

6.4sec

Top Speed

:

250km/h

Fuel consumption

:

15.4 km/L

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