• The Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI has landed in South Africa.
• The newest model is the latest in a lineage of cars to have carried the 'GTI' badge.
• Volkswagen SA will only sell GTI and R models of its new Golf locally.
• For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is popular for a wide variety of reasons, but most notably for versatility. It is not the best in one department, but it does everything exceptionally well, making it a car for all people and broadens the appeal of a hot hatch to more than those looking for a robot racer or track day toy.
I have owned a sixth- and seventh-generation Golf GTI and have used them for carrying washing machines, towing trailers, the everyday commute, holidays and the occasional track day or driving event. Recently, I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the soon-to-be-launched Golf 8 GTI during a film shoot that included GTIs from all previous generations.
As a fan of the GTI, I was eager to see how Volkswagen would modernise this icon without messing with the recipe that makes it great. The Golf 8 GTI is an important model for the Golf brand in South Africa as Volkswagen South Africa decided to only import performance models of the eighth generation to the country. The Golf 8 will only be available as GTI or R models. Those looking for a regular Golf will have to settle for a T-Cross, T-roc or Tiguan instead.
Like an iPhone or Porsche 911, the GTI has evolved through the generations, and I can confirm that the eighth generation is another step in that evolution.
The upper grille has been reduced in size with just enough space for the red detailing and GTI badge. The headlights and iconic red line extend into the fenders, giving the car a wider and lower appearance. The lower honeycomb grille is now a single piece and quite a bit wider too. Instead of separating the fog lamp housings, the daytime running lights now form part of the grille comprising five individual honeycombs. At the rear, the same strategy has been applied, with the twin exhaust pipes spaced further apart to create a perception of width.
The GTI is fitted with IQ lights, while sleek LED tail light clusters dominate the rear. Dynamic turn signals use an animated strip of lights to show which way you are turning.
The unit we had a look at was fitted with the optional 19-inch Adelaide wheels, which are much better looking than the standard 18-inch Richmond alloys - in my opinion. Behind those wheels, the brakes seem quite a bit larger and are again clamped by a red calliper.
The inside story
The interior has been completely modernised too. The premium sports seats are one piece with an incorporated headrest and finished in black and grey leather with red piping in the model we inspected. This colour combination could be an option, however, with traditional black seats fitted as standard. LED background lighting adds accents in all the right places.
Gone are the days of golf ball gear knobs or gear levers. The gear selector is now about a quarter of the size of the one in the previous model. A start button and the parking brake flanks it, and ahead of it is a wireless charging tray with a flip-down cover, which will keep your cell phone out of sight. USB-C charging ports make their appearance for the charging of devices via a cable. In the centre is a tandem cup holder that once again features the retracting insert to clamp smaller items like a thinner Coke can and a height-adjustable armrest.
The cabin features significantly fewer buttons. The ones that are there are piano black and of the touch-sensitive type for a more premium feel. Haptic feedback through gentle vibration confirms every entry. The headlight switches on the right of the steering wheel are of the touch type, too. The three-spoke steering wheel is filled with buttons, though, 17 in total, allowing the driver to control a myriad of systems, including the multimedia system, voice control, adaptive cruise control and heated steering wheel.
The majority of functions, including the radio, air conditioning system and lighting, can be operated using touch-sensitive sliders on the high-resolution display. Behind the steering wheel is a Digital Cockpit Pro instrument cluster, while the centre console is home to a 25.4cm screen touch screen. On this screen, drivers can choose to display GTI-specific functions such as torque, lap timer and boost pressure.
The materials and finishes do seem significantly more premium than the outgoing model, even though a large portion of the dashboard is made of a harder plastic material. The cabin, including leg, head, and shoulder room, seems similar in size, but the boot is significantly deeper than its predecessor's and measures 374 litres.
Under the bonnet
The engine is the same EA888 as fitted to the outgoing model. The only apparent improvements are a significantly larger engine cover and the turbocharger, which does appear to be a tad larger. Volkswagen claims that the 2.0-litre four-cylinder will produce 180kW and 370Nm, which is slightly more than its predecessor, but the German brand has always been conservative with its power claims. The weight has increased to 1463kg, which could handicap the power gains slightly when comparing 0-100km/h times, although I still expect the Golf 8 GTI to be quicker.
Red, white and black remain the stalwarts of the colour palette, but they were given a modern touch with metallic and pearls available. The Kings Red metallic pictured here looks amazing in person.
As to what it drives like, we will still need to wait until the end of August to find that out, but I doubt it will disappoint. Volkswagen has perfected this recipe, and in my opinion, the Golf 8 GTI is sure to be a runaway success once more. The new GTI is priced at R669 300 and will go on sale from 1 September 2021.