Volkswagen continues the GTI legacy, now in its eight generation. Is there a better all round hot hatch?
Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has been steadily evolving over the past few generations. The Mk5 got the game back on track, and generations six and seven maintained the winning formula, polishing the act along the way. So did you expect anything radically different about the eighth GTI? Thought not. It’s a familiar package and evolution sees its dynamic performance improve. But does it stir the emotions like a hot hatch should?
The GTI has always been a four-cylinder machine, and this new one is 122 per cent more powerful than the original. VW’s EA888 returns for another round, now in evo4 trim. While it has the same numbers as the old Performance model (180kW and 370Nm), emissions have improved by way of new 350 bar injectors. These help flatten the torque curve, the max pull tapped from 1600rpm through to 4300rpm. Additional exhaust filters help clean the evil gases. Fuel use they quote as 6.9L/100km (95 octane required) and the 0-100km/h time is 6.2sec, (but you can dip below that without trying too hard).
There’s no manual offered here, only a twin-clutch auto which now has seven gears. The GTI also gains the electromechanical locking diff of the previous Performance and TCR models. This e-diff can vary the lock-up to suit the situation, maximising traction in Sport mode, aiding refinement in the Comfort setting. The suspension bits all get a GTI tweaking, and spring rates, compared with the old model, are stiffer again but that’s okay as adaptive dampers are standard too. These feature improved software, the shockers able to alter the damping at each corner (the system cycles 200 times a second) as it reacts to the road and driver inputs.
Along with the usual Comfort and Sport modes, you can delve into the Individual setting where there are now 15 steps to choose from, including three positions softer than Comfort and three above Sport. Can’t decide what you want? Select something in between. All these doodackies have a new overlord, the Vehicle Dynamics Manager, which coordinates all the electromechanical bits to make them work more effectively together.
Understated is the GTI way, the Mk8 with the usually discreet body kit, spoilers, lowered ride height and 18-inch rims (the 19s on the tester are a $1750 option). The red grille stripe returns, while an LED light strip links the main headlights. Inside there are new sports seats with integrated head rests, trimmed with GTI heritage tartan fabric and red stitching. It adopts the regular Golf’s digitised cabin, the instrument panel a 10-inch LCD with GTI-specific screens, including a central tacho flanked by two configurable dials. They allow you to call up, say, a G meter on one side, and a boost gauge on the other.
Yeah but will I be able to fathom the touchscreen?
Relax, you’ll be fine. Yes, the interior controls have been ceded to the touchscreen and it might not be the most intuitive ever but, once familiar, it’s okay in use. There’s voice control but it’s dim witted compared with the other German systems. The haptic buttons on the steering wheel take a few kilometres to bond with but you learn how they like to be touched. You’ll also discover they can be easily bumped, and then you’ve inadvertently changed the view of the instruments, or the radio station. Best to become acquainted with it all in your driveway so you won’t be so distracted fiddling on the run.
And if you are, the active safety gadgets are on patrol. The lane keeping is well tuned, but also easily nullified if you simply won’t be told how to drive. Active cruise works as desired, calmly keeping with the flow in slow moving traffic and on the motorway, easily set and adjusted by the buttons on the wheel.
The GTI is still very easy to live with. Sports seats support without the torture of zealous bolstering and there’s good adjustment, albeit manual. The rear seat space is passable (not huge but the seat is comfy) and the boot is generously proportioned, once you lower the variable floor. The ride in Comfort is sweet, with even fewer bones when you select the softer ride settings in the Individual mode (yes, you access that in the touchscreen). Its steering is super quick and light, the turning circle handy too. Add in a rather polished slow speed performance from the twin-clutch, and plenty of always-on torque from the two-litre, and it’s one easy to like daily. It even drinks in a mild mannered fashion, our average evened out in the 8L/100km range.
And it’s a GTI after all
It still takes to the back tracks like a champ. Sport mode does its usual thing, firming the steering, amping the throttle and controlling the roll. All aspects of the GTI’s performance have a certain polish to them; the quick helm never kicks back yet has just enough feel while the dampers ride the bumps well and sort the body movements. Clicking them three notches past Sport adds the firmness but it never becomes harsh (Sport is about perfect for the road though). The trans is quick but not snatchy, and works with the ample midrange of the engine, the down-changes enacted smartly so the paddles seem redundant. Power delivery is quick yet smooth, and the augmented sound only barks when the tacho sweeps past 4000rpm. The barps on the overrun are present but not overdone. A locking diff grounds the torque effectively, no wheel spin, tramlining or axle tramp to note, torque steer well contained too. The VDM coordinates all the electro aids effectively to see the GTI cover ground quickly without you ever really breaking a sweat. Want to feel more involved? Find the ESC Sport mode, (yes, accessed via the touchscreen, somewhat hidden under a ‘brakes’ sub-menu) and this will relax the electronic thresholds, giving you the chance to work the tyres harder and feel both ends move about a little. It’s no quicker in this mode, just a bit livelier, more interactive, giving it a tad more character. Some will still find it too tame, and they can either opt for something like the Megane R.S (P.T.O) or wait for the harder edged 221kW/400Nm GTI Clubsport.
Reggie keeps it real
Renault’s updated Megane R.S has landed recently too, giving hot hatch buyers something else to mull over. However, this one’s aimed more at the enthusiast. Where previously the Megane R.S was available in both ‘mild’ Sport and wilder Cup chassis settings, it’s only the latter we get these days, although now it’s called the Trophy. This sees it with stiffer, lower suspension, the torsen LSD and dual cast braking system. It is available with both a six-speed manual ($65,990) and six-speed twin clutch ($68,990). Sportswear includes the pumped R.S body with wider guards, F1-inspired spoilers and 19-inch alloys. It’s certainly more aggressive looking than the GTI, but no road racer like the Type R (which is in its last throes). We couldn’t quite get the GTI and R.S together for a formal comparison, but we literally finished with one and swapped into the other, spending a decent amount of time in each.
You get an instant idea of the R.S’s flavour when you open the door and hop in, the wider sills and more extreme seat bolstering requiring careful negotiation. The R.S possesses an ‘enthusiast’s ride’, the progress being a tad stiff after the GTI. While some will deem it hard, it’s not horrid if you appreciate a decent drive. The twin-clutch auto works away well at low speeds and the steering might be heavier but it’s quick (2.1 turns) and the four-wheel steer gives it a friendly turnabout. The engine now develops 221kW and 420Nm, serious numbers for a 1.8 turbo, yet it doesn’t suffer serious lag, the torque streaming quickly. It’s no quicker against the clock than the old 205kW model (0-100km/h still taking 5.8sec), traction the issue you see, though it is a tad friskier on the overtake (0.2 faster at 3.2sec) once hooked up. It gets through more gas than the GTI, somewhere in the 10-12L/100km region depending on how much throttle you enjoy.
It’s as practical as the Golf, there’s more room in the rear and the boot is a handy size. It’s not as swish up front with more hard plastics about but the new user interface is quite straightforward, the big tablet-like screen easy to use and quick to respond. They have repositioned some of the buttons to more logical positions. For example, the cruise switch is now on the wheel, but it’s not the active type, unfortunately. There is only a smattering of active safety minders (AEB and lane departure warning) and so the warning bongs are minimal, which some might appreciate. A new TFT display gives you various views for the instruments.
The R.S is more the enthusiast’s type of machine. With more power and torque it is simply faster. But there’s a sniff of torque steer and more of a tendency to tramline. Where the GTI turns quickly, this is sharper again, the rear steering effect helping it tuck in faster. There’s more happening at the wheel too, the chassis more alive beneath, and even more so in the ESC sport mode. The R.S corners flatter, faster, the engine likes being worked over harder, and the brakes function best when you stand on them. The GTI is quick and easy, this is quicker and harder. The ride has more of an edge to it, though diffuses big hits thanks to the inclusion of hydraulic bump stops. The road noise is noticeably louder however, but so too is the engine note. This R.S Trophy is essentially more a competitor to the GTI Clubsport, and a better fit for the genuine Reggie enthusiast.
Back to the GTI
The VW’s price has risen a few grand to $61,490, but it seems justifiable given the spec list has improved vastly. On top of all the mechanical updates, you now get a 10-inch touchscreen with nav, Car Play and Android Auto, four USB-c outlets and a wireless charge pad (which has a clever cover so that the spot at the base of the centre stack can still be used for general storage) and a head-up display. There’s three zone AC, a smart key, LED lights, lots of safety bits, self parking, a five-year/150,000km warranty and a three-year/45,000km service plan for $1300. A $4500 leather upgrade also gains you powered driver’s seat adjustment and seat heating and ventilation.
Still the one?
Well, if it’s the most rounded hot hatch you are after, yes. The continual evolution of the formula delivers yet another great GTI. It appeals as a daily driver with its myriad convenience features and overall refinement levels, but it also works as a driver’s car. It’s quick enough to cut it against the competitors, does it easy when you don’t feel like trying, and there’s a playful element when you fiddle with the settings to get it in the mood. It’s still a great all round crowd pleaser.
|Model||Volkswagen Golf GTI|
|Engine||1984cc, IL4, T, DI|
|Drivetrain||7-speed twin clutch, FWD|
|Stability systems||ABS, ESP, TV|
|Safety||AEB, ACC, BSM, LDW,|
RCTA, ALK, AHB
|Tow rating||750kg (1600kg braked)|
|Service intervals||12 months/15,000km|
|Service plan||$1300, 3yrs/45,000km|
|ANCAP rating||5 stars (2021)|