The VW Golf Mk8 GTI - The Return of The King
VW’s legendary GTI returns and it’s ready to reclaim the Hot Hatch throne
The recent launch of the VW Golf Mk8 GTI on local shores is a reason to celebrate. This time around, everyone’s favourite performance model is packing more punch in the form of 180kW and the practicality we’ve come to expect from South Africa’s, if not the world’s quintessential Hot Hatch.
The Mk8 GTI, like every incoming GTI, always has big shoes to fill as consumers and journalists alike compare them to the previous model. Honestly, VW has been hitting the evolutionary nail on the head with every generation since the Mk5, a lesson they must’ve taken to heart after the disappointing Mk3 and Mk4 generation cars (sans the Mk4 GTI-R model).
To ensure that the Mk8 is a genuine step up from the equally impressive Mk7, VW took the re-style of the new model seriously, giving the Mk8 GTI a completely new look. The car’s redesigned bumpers are more than just an update of the older model’s design but a complete reworking with a heavily enlarged single front bumper opening which incorporates the familiar hexagonal mesh design. The five hexagonal spotlights integrated into the bumper are a nice design touch that adds a little more function to the grill’s form. Down the sides, VW seems to have dropped the ball somewhat as the newly designed side skirts seem too thin, fooling the eye into thinking that the car rides higher than it does. At the back, the newly designed rear diffuser accentuates the chrome split tailpipes on either side while moving upwards, the enlarged GTI badging ensures that you never forget that this is the hot model.
The updated lighting on the GTI is also stunning, incorporating LED matrix clusters upfront with DRLs and red eyebrows that blend into the GTI strip that forms part of the grill. At the rear, the lights are narrower than the outgoing models, with a red C-shaped LED strip running along the outer edge and LED clusters inside the main body. The LEDs give the lights a far more futuristic look, essential on a car with such a long legacy.
Rolling stock on the new GTI comes in the form of 18-inch alloys, but the 19-inch upgraded Adelaide wheels are the options to go for, filling the arches perfectly. Together with the larger wheels, the GTI is lower than the other models in the range, and the suspension has been stiffened to give a far sportier ride. This combination of larger low profile tyres and stiffer suspension may leave you wondering if the ride quality has been compromised, but in true VW fashion, they have found the perfect balance. The suspension also incorporates Adaptive Chassis Control which allows you to choose five dampening rates ranging from comfort for daily driving or dialling it up to Sport when you want to hit a mountain pass like Chapman’s Peak.
All that new styling however would mean nothing in the Mk8 never had the power to live up to its reputation and once again VW doesn’t disappoint, endowing the GTI with 180kW and 370 Nm of torque. That power figure comes courtesy of the updated version of the now infamous EA888 engine that still displaces 2.0 litres and gives you that much loved turbocharged oomph and sound. The engine channels power to the front wheels via VW’s 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox that shifts much faster than any manual or “normal” automatic gearbox could ever dream. The ‘box also incorporates VW’s XDS+ Electronic differential lock that reduces torque steer, something which I am sure many fast Opel fans would love. Thanks to the dual-clutch setup coupled to the XDS+ system, the GTi completes the 0-100km/h spring in 6,40 seconds while the top speed is 250km/h.
Inside, the interior is every bit as upmarket as one would expect from a car at this price point, and despite VW always opting for more sedate designs, the interior still oozes quality. The new dashboard now features a curved design along the bottom edge, incorporating the air vents while just above that, you will find the new enlarged infotainment display equipped with Spotify, WhatsApp and Google Maps to name a few. The steering wheel has also been redesigned, offering a much more open design along the bottom half with red and brushed silver accents and multi-function controls that are in easy reach of your thumbs. The new gauge cluster behind the steering wheel is no longer a gauge cluster and has been updated with an LCD screen that VW has christened the Innovision Cockpit and gives you a myriad of display options to choose from. As part of the electronic options inside the cab, VW offers Travel Assist, which, once activated, maintains speed and following distance during highway driving and can even cope with stop-start traffic.
Looking down at the centre console, VW has relinquished anything that resembles a traditional shifter, opting instead for a gear selector taken from the Porsche parts-bin. The seats on offer in the GTI are also as stunning as the rest of the interior, incorporating a two-tone finish made from perforated materials with high-backs, excellent side support, large shoulder wings for added sporting appeal, and signature red stitching, a hallmark of the GTI. I also like the fact that VW chose a design that doesn’t include the faux-harness holes that make the seats look somewhat like a cheap aftermarket option.
Pricing for the new GTI starts at R669,000, putting it in the firing line with cars like the BMW 128ti, Honda Civic Type-R, Hyundai i30N, MINI John Cooper Works hatch, Renault Megane RS300 Trophy and the pocket rocket (albeit expensive) Toyota Yaris GR. These are pretty impressive options, and in cases like the Type-R, i30N, RS300 and Yaris, you do get far more extreme styling, but let’s face it; this is South Africa, and when it comes to South Africans, the GTI reigns supreme.