• The Golf 8 GTi was launched in South Africa in July 2021.
• It is powered by the popular EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with 180kW and 370Nm, and mated to a seven-speed DSG.
• The 8 GTI is one of the most highly-anticipated cars in SA this year.
• For motoring news, go to News24/wheels
It is no secret that the long-awaited Golf 8 GTi is probably one of the most highly-anticipated cars South Africans have been waiting for to make its local debut.
And, just like SA tends to believe the Toyota Hilux is the best bakkie in the world, vrr-pha fans idolise the iconic Golf. So, GTi purists will think I'm crazy, but the latest, and most anticipated car in SA, is heartbreakingly underwhelming.
Many people would say Volkswagen could have made more effort in terms of the styling of the new Golf 8 GTI, that it looks too similar to the previous version.
Since day one, the automaker had a good recipe to begin with, based on previous generations, so changing this car completely wouldn't have worked for them. They took a good car and only made it better.
The VW Golf GTI is a cultural icon, especially here in South Africa - and around the world, we all know that. I was adamant I didn't want to like this car because I thought it could have been better when the first images of the Golf 8 GTi first surfaced. I thought my fellow motoring peers built too much hype around it.
But then, I saw it for the first time and drove it for the first time. And while driving this car didn't exactly blow my mind, there's just something almost hypnotising about it. You're drawn to it and constantly want to drive it. And that is something no car could ever take away, or another brand could ever recreate in any other vehicle. That's why this is, and forever will be, the people's car with its iconic cult status.
That's what this GTI is, though: a status buy, a display of someone who has gotten their ducks in a row and made it in life. A car for the traditional Golf GTi fans.
The model which came through the Wheels24 test garage was painted in midnight black, and the colour probably played a massive role in its impressions on me, but honestly, driving it is underwhelming. Its real-world fuel consumption figures were a bit concerning, even in conservative driving conditions, with the aircon off and windows up. Even that distinctive vrr-pha sound GTI-lovers are fascinated with, is disappointing and I was reminded of it when a throaty little Ford Fiesta ST drove by me, burbling down the road on the school run. I almost felt embarrassed.
It's a stunning car; there's no arguing about that, and its innovative cockpit is beyond intuitive, making the car entirely customisable for its owner. As a daily drive, that 180kW coming from the 2.0-litre engine is more than sufficient, but I can't help thinking of the 195kW in the new GR Yaris instead.
It's a piece of work, just revolutionised. Perhaps I am just a purist at heart, and it's too modern for my traditional roots. Is there something as too refined? And if I had to choose, I'd pick the Golf 7.5 GTI TCR over this any day; it might not be as good-looking as the 8, it's still a handsome car, but it's a lot more powerful, sounds better, and drives better too. Such a pity VWSA sold all 300 units allocated to our market.
I can't wait for the Golf R, though. I reckon that's going to be pretty special...
Have you driven the new VW Golf 8 GTi? What are your thoughts about the latest model? Please email us here, or use the comments section below.
But that's where it ends, for me at least, and if I were to spend money on a new Volkswagen, I'd much rather go for one of these instead of the new GTi:
1. Volkswagen Amarok V6 bakkie
We've driven many bakkies over the years at Wheels24, and we all have our favourites, but the Amarok V6 is just a different beast altogether. Not only is it the fastest and most powerful bakkie in SA, but it has so much more going for it. It is a wonder the brand doesn't move more of these units monthly.
It drives like a dream, and while its suspension is fine-tuned to do the hard work, it's also comfortable enough as a daily drive on a school run or while you're hauling a caravan for the holidays. Of all the bakkies we've driven, this one is also the easiest to manoeuvre on your way to the office or off the beaten track.
It's everything you want in a bakkie. It's good-looking yet not intrusive. And gosh darnnit, did I say it's really fast? It's proper value-for-money with the 3.0-litre TDI V6 engine kicking out a whopping 190kW, while mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with all-wheel drive. What more could you possibly want?
Even if it's pricey at R1 011 900 for the Extreme model, money would not be an option if I had the means and had to choose among all of SA's available choices. The top-of-the-range Toyota Hilux GD6 4X4 Legend RS auto model is not far off at R882 400, while Ford's top-spec bakkie is the 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo Ranger Raptor mated to a 10-speed auto transmission and priced at R920 300.
2. VW T-Cross 1.5-litre
If you want to buy a compact SUV, this is it. I don't say this often, but while was I driving the new T-Cross 1.5-litre R model in conjunction with the GTI, I was gushing about this car non-stop. It's a sensible buy and a lot more practical for young families looking to upgrade from their Polo or smaller cars.
It's incredibly frugal, too, averaging 5.6-litres/100km in realistic driving conditions, compared to the GTI's reading of 12.6-litres in urban traffic. The lowest I could get on the Golf was 7.9-litres/100km on the highway, which isn't too bad. But in real terms, city-driving and stop-go traffic on the school run is the figure I would watch most, and it just wasn't working for me.
This T-Cross delivers 110kW from its 1.5-litre engine, and it's a feisty little number. It's quick off the line and very confident to overtake on national roads when needed. It has enough rear legroom and sufficient cargo space for any purpose.
This top-of-the-range model is significantly more affordable than the GTI, with a price tag of R464 900.
3. VW California 6.1
Ever since I tested the VW Caravelle a few years ago, my then three-year-old cried gut-wrenching tears when it had to go back; it has been her most favourite car of all time. It's mainly because it's big enough to take the whole family, including her grandparents, on special trips. The lounge layout is also a winner, especially with the fold-away table in the rear of the Caravelle.
So when the California came around, she lost her mind and could not get enough of the tiny built-in kitchen, complete with a fridge and dishwashing sink, and all the storage space. Never mind the fancy bed when the roof is lifted and the extended bed when you move the seats in the rear of the van. There are even camper chairs, and a table stowed neatly and safely in the tailgate and sliding door. Her dad dreams of going camping, but I'll hear none of that. This campervan would be the answer to our problems; I wouldn't think twice about going camping in this.
At R1 232 600, it might sound ludicrous, but it's absolute value-for-money for families who love making road trips of every weekend.