Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI review: staple gun
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Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI
- Electronic diff drastically reduces wheel slip
- Very comfortable sports seats
- Incredibly smooth powertrain
- Aside from the looks, not much has changed
- Engine note okay but not inspiring
- Multifunction steering wheel frustrating
Like a ham and cheese sandwich, Volkswagen’s Golf GTI is a staple. It has been around for as long as I can remember, and it’s a common sight all around the world.
Since its inception back in 1976, the Volkswagen’s formula for the little hot hatch hasn’t changed too much, but the cars themselves have evolved a lot.
The GTI story starts in 1976 with the Mk1, with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that made a grand 81kW; later GTI models got a 1.8-litre engine. For the second iteration, this 1.8-litre engine continued, and power was bumped up to 102kW with the introduction of the GTI 16v. In 1993, a 2.0-litre engine was introduced to the Golf line-up in the Mk3 GTI, and it made 110kW.
Controversially, when the Mk4 GTI was launched, it got a similar engine to the earlier iteration, causing critics to write it off as the “naff” one. Volkswagen listened and 2002 saw the engine displacement drop to 1.8 litres, but it received its most significant change yet — it was turbocharged. This boosted powerplant produced 130kW, and put the GTI back on the right path.
In 2004, the Golf GTI saw its biggest change-up yet, with both the styling and powertrain being a drastic departure from the last. It featured a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that made 147kW, and could hit 100km/h in under eight seconds thanks to a trick new transmission.
While a manual was still available, the dual-clutch transmission could snap between gears faster than you could say “Wolfsburg”.
For the Mk6, not much changed as it sat on the same platform, but peak power was boosted to 157kW. For the Mk7, Volkswagen put the Golf on the then-new MQB platform, and set power for the GTI at 162kW.
Now, the Mk8 Golf GTI has landed in New Zealand, and we’ve taken it for a hoon.
While this new Golf GTI looks really different inside and out, it sits on the same MQB platform at the Mk7, so the overall driving feel isn’t too different.
Alongside the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that now produces 180kW/370Nm, the Mk8 GTI has received a few trick pieces of tech to make for a more composed ride – while still pushing the boundaries.
First introduced to the GTI range with the Mk7, the Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system has been updated for the Mk8, and it works wonderfully. An electronic LSD is now standard.
In terms of driving impressions, it’s hard to pick up on any differences from the Mk7 GTI with everyday use. The DCC system is a little more forgiving in Comfort mode, and Sport mode is a touch tighter than I remember.
While it benefits from an extra 18kW, it’s not noticeably faster than the Mk7. If anything, it feels slower due to the lack of wheel slip and drama on launch.
Volkswagen claims that it’ll hit 100km/h in 6.2 seconds, which is the same figure quoted for the Mk7 with the performance pack fitted.
Through the corners, the GTI soaks up bumps with ease, and body roll is kept to a minimum when Sports mode is engaged. Steering isn’t overly direct compared to more hard-core hot hatches like the Renault Megane RS, but in the GTI’s case, mastering one trade isn’t a priority when it’s trying to be the jack of them all.
Powering out of corners at low speed is an impressive affair in this Golf, as the traction control system works perfectly with the electronic LSD to minimise any hint of wheel slip or torque steer. While the latter has never really been an issue in any generation GTI, sending 180kW exclusively to the front wheels without any adverse effects is a feat of engineering in itself.
In terms of engine noise, you won’t be blown away by how it sounds, but it has a satisfying rumble to it that doesn’t sound overly artificial. It doesn’t snap crackle and pop like other options in the hot hatch segment, but will still fart like a classic DSG on aggressive upshifts if that’s what floats your boat.
If you’re cross-shopping the GTI, you’ve got a number of options, as the hot hatch segment is as large as it’s ever been. At its starting price of $61,490, it comes up directly against the Ford Focus ST and the Honda Civic Type R, with its manual transmission. Along the same lines, the Hyundai i30 N sits below it in the $50k region, but doesn’t feature the same quality interior, and all three of these options are a lot less subtle on the road.
Above it, you’ve got things like the Audi’s upcoming S3, BMW’s M135i, and the Mercedes-AMG A35, but they’re all quite a bit more expensive.
As a whole, this new Golf GTI continues the lineage of what a perfect all-rounder hot hatch should be. It looks nice, it’s comfortable, it’s not in-your-face loud, it’s reasonably quick, and above all else, it’s still a hot hatch at heart. Yet again, Volkswagen has moved the goal posts for this genre.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo
GEARBOX: 7-speed dual-clutch, FWD