Test driving the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI

The Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI goes on sale in South Africa on 1 September

Reuben Van Niekerk
Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI
Golf 8 GTI
VW Golf 8 GTI

The popularity of the Golf GTI in South Africa is unparalleled. Fans of the marque are not a type, they come from all race and income groups. But what has made the GTI such an automotive icon? I drive the latest, eighth generation to try find out.


Traditionally the Golf GTI has not been the best in any one department but it has always done everything everything extremely well. This makes 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.


The Golf 8 GTI is an important model for the Golf brand in South Africa as Volkswagen South Africa have taken the decision to only import performance models of the eighth generation to South Africa. For the time being, the Golf 8 will only be available as a GTI or R model.


Evolutionary design

Every generation of GTI follows a simple recipe. A hatchback design, front wheel drive and a powerful four-cylinder engine under the bonnet.


A new GTI never strays to far from this concept, with each generation it is tweaked and modernised to ensure that remains true to the original concept whilst answering the needs of modern consumers.


This concept of evolutionary design is exactly how designers set about modernising every aspect of the Golf 8 GTI, including the exterior design.


The upper grille is now smaller while the headlights and that iconic red line extend into the fenders giving the car a wider and lower appearance. The lower honeycombe grille is now a single piece and home to the fog lamps that comprise five individual honeycombs. Similarly at the rear the twin exhaust pipes have been spaced further apart to create a perception of width.


The GTI can now be fitted with Volkswagens latest lighting technology, called IQ lights, while sleek LED tail light clusters dominate the rear. Dynamic turn signals use an animated strip of lights to indicated intended direction.


Wheel choices include the optional 19-inch Adelaide wheels, which are much better looking than the standard 18-inch Richmond alloys in my opinion. Customary red callipers clamp larger brake discs.  


Inside story

The interior of the new GTI has truly been taken up a notch. The seats are now one piece, incorporating the headrest, and finished in black and grey leather with red piping, unfortunately no cloth plaid for the South African market.


The gear selector is now about a quarter of the size of the one in the previous model and it is flanked by a start button and parking brake and ahead of it is a wireless charging tray with flip down cover. USB-C charging ports make their appearance for the charging of devices via a cable.


The cabin features significantly fewer buttons. The ones that are present are of the touch sensitive haptic type, for a more premium feel. The three spoke steering wheel is filled with 17 buttons in total, allowing the driver to control a myriad of systems including the multimedia system, voice control, adaptive cruise control and heated steering wheel while the remainder of the functions are operated via the central touchscreen. Utilising some functions can take a while to figure out, as you follow the menu flow, but will become second nature as you live with the car.


Behind the steering wheel is a Digital Cockpit Pro instrument cluster while the centre console is home to a 25.4cm screen touch screen. This screen offers plenty of customisation options including GTI-specific functions such as torque, lap timer and boost pressure.


Under the bonnet

The Golf 8 GTI utilises the same two-litre, turbocharged EA888 engine as fitted to the previous model. Volkswagen claim that the 2.0, four-cylinder will produce 180kW and 370Nm, which is slightly more than its predecessor but the German brand has always been conservative with their power claims. Weight has increased by approximately 150kg to 1463kg, which could negate the power gains, although Volkswagen claims that it will complete the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.4 seconds.


What is it like to drive?

First impressions behind the wheel are of a car that offers similar levels of performance if not slightly better. The engine certainly seems more willing to rev and definitely feels stronger in the mid range. This manner of tuning makes it a great car to drive on the open road, as you can put your foot down in any gear and acceleration will be brisk.


A big update is the addition of a seven-speed DSG gearbox as opposed to the six-speed unit that was previously used. While gear changes are super smooth both up and down the gearbox, in all driving modes I did find that the gearbox did take a millisecond or two longer to decide what it wanted to do at times.


Where Volkswagen has made massive improvements is in terms of refinement both in terms of the suspension as well as the noise vibration and harshness.


We drove the GTI on some terrible tar roads and it did a much better, quieter job of soaking up the imperfections when compared to the outgoing model. Although the same platform is still in use, I suspect these improvements are due to improved damper settings, new bushings and improvements in insulation. The result is a much quieter, more relaxed driving experience, especially on bad roads, of which South Africa has many.


Volkswagen has perfected the, do it all, hot hatch recipe ensuring that the Golf 8 GTI will be as successful as the seven generations that came before it.


Availability and pricing

The Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI goes on sale on 1 September at a price of R669 300.


Contact a dealer today.

Pre-order here.