DRIVEN | Why VW's new Golf 8 GTI will still be a megahit for traditional vrr-pha fans

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Volkswagen's latest Golf GTI will officially launch in South Africa on 1 September 2021.

• The hot hatch continues the trend of its forebears wit aplomb.

Pricing for the new Golf GTI is R669 300.

For more motoring stories, visit Wheels24

Had it not been for Covid-19 and its devastating grip on the world, the all-new Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI would have seen its local debut take place a long time ago. And lest we forget, South Africans have been waiting for this car to arrive for the better part of a year. But finally, though, the Golf GTI has made its much-anticipated South African debut and will officially go on sale come 1 September 2021.

During the media presentation in July 2021, Volkswagen South Africa said they aim to sell "between 600 and 700 units" from 1 September to 31 December. It might sound ambitious because how on earth can a car retailing for R669 300 achieve that goal?! Firstly, it's a Golf GTI - the favourite hot hatch in South Africa. And secondly, pre-orders have exceeded that goal. Let that sink in for a moment…

We had a chance to drive the newcomer at its official launch and used the opportunity to better understand the car and what it offers now. In a nutshell: the new car has been digitalised, but the driving experience is still classic GTI.

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI
2021 Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI

Brief history lesson

When we think of 'GTI', the first thing that comes to mind is that it's the sports derivative of Volkswagen's popular Golf range. But did you know that the GTI nomenclature was first used on a Maserati in 1962? Twenty years after Maserati did so, Volkswagen would use the same three letters on the first-generation Golf's performance model. It was a monumental success because despite only wanting to build 5 000 units of that car, Volkswagen eventually saw more than 460 000 units roll off the production line.

This was a 'volkswagen', a car for the people. Even South Africa received its share of the allocation, and locals began a love affair that would continue to this day. It's little wonder, then, that the car is widely regarded as aspirational.

But while the Golf range would sell like hotcakes, the GTI accounted for the lion share. This is also why Volkswagen South Africa opted to introduce the Golf 8 GTI first, followed by the all-wheel drive Golf R in 2022. And the non-performance models? "Watch this space," VWSA says.

It's been 39 years since the first Golf GTI came to market, and more than 2.3 million of these cars rolled off Volkswagen's production global lines spanning seven generations. The latest model will undoubtedly continue the booming sales trend, and South Africa will continue to be one of the top GTI markets outside of Europe.

Will the new Golf GTI continue its success story in South Africa? Or, what do you think of the new Golf 8 GTI? Please Email us your thoughts or use the comments section below.

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI
2021 Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI (right) with the 1982 Golf GTI MK1

A digital affair

The latest Golf GTI is undoubtedly a striking car. It continues with the chrome tailpipes on either side of the rear diffuser the car's become known for, as well as the honeycomb grille. Only now, LED fog lights have been integrated into the front spoiler. As always, the car comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, but 19-inchers are optionally available.

The most significant talking point must be the car's new interior. In brief, the cabin has been wholly digitalised, with many operations needing only a gentle touch. Atop the dashboard sits a 10.25-inch digital cockpit from which users can operate the various menus, including multimedia and smartphone connections. The steering wheel is VW's latest unit that also plays home to soft-touch buttons and features such as cruise control and the information display in front of the driver. The latter relays various driving information to the driver, but the layout of dials and menus can be adjusted with the touch of a button. The optional sunroof is operated by merely swiping one's finger over the control, and the climate control is also electronically operated.

Golf GTI experts will quickly point out that the car's interior is quite different than before. But in typical Volkswagen fashion, you quickly grow accustomed to the look and feel, and your fingers will intuitively know where to go.

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI
2021 Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI

Updates and drive

Volkswagen carried the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine from the previous GTI over to the new car, but upped power from 169kW and 350Nm to 180kW/370Nm. The car remains front-wheel driven, with the automaker's seven-speed DSG transmission channelling power between the engine and wheels.

Volkswagen also didn't leave the suspension untouched, with the MacPherson front axle's wishbone bushing, springs and bump stops having been reconfigured. The damper hydraulics are reworked and mated to new software, while the aluminium subframe's rigidity has been optimised and is 3kg lighter. At the rear, the multi-link rear axle's springs and auxiliary springs are reconfigured, along with new wheel mounts, reconfigured wishbone bushings, and new damper bearing and damper hydraulics.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from the new GTI is that it is 165kg heavier than the Golf GTI 7.5. Yet, the car does not feel that way. Volkswagen's managed to gift the car with driving traits comfortable on a track, a mountain pass, or a cruise to your holiday destination. Toggling between the various driving modes, the car adjusts its characteristics accordingly and will act in accordance with what you ask of it. Is it fast, though? Definitely, and the added weight does nothing to detract from the experience. A downer is the gearbox's tardy reaction to downshifts.

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI
2021 Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI

In summary

The new Volkswagen Golf GTI will appease the masses and those wanting a hot hatch that's both easy on the wallet (relatively speaking), and that does what's asked of it. For years, the Golf GTI has managed to do it, and it is clear that the new car has not done away with that recipe. Despite a very digital approach, the car is still classic GTI and is it unlikely that it will deter customers from acquiring one.

While some might feel that the GTI is not exciting enough, its strength has always been how accommodating yet adaptable it is. And going on pre-sales figures, South Africans will appreciate the car for continuing that tradition. The people's car just got a whole lot better, and it's undoubtedly the best version yet.

The new Golf GTI comes standard with a three-year or 120 000km warranty and road side assistance, a five-year or 90 000km EasyDrive service plan, and 12-year anti-corrosion warranty.

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