New Golf 8 GTI less appealing than the older model, but it’s got fans in a tizz
Some might prefer it, but our motoring editor finds it less sporty and more of a practical version
Comparisons between the incumbent and predecessor are inevitable when you are dealing with a performance brand like the Golf GTI. These are subjective matters, of course. From my perspective, there are many aspects that make the eighth-generation car considerably less endearing than the one it replaces.
For starters, the look — but this is a criticism of how number eight has evolved overall — rather than of the GTI trim particularly. Whereas the old car had a handsomeness about it, the new one has a disinterested face.
And then there is the user-unfriendliness of its new interior, which places virtually all functions within the confines of a frustrating digital interface. They could have borrowed notes from sister division Audi on how to do this kind of thing, but that appears not to have been the case. The system in the Golf is the opposite of intuitive and needs serious revision.
On paper, it does not exactly rouse excitement in the performance metric either. Volkswagen claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.4 seconds. Which is exactly the same as the previous model. To be fair, it proved faster in reality, though, registering an impressive 6.1 seconds when we tested it using our VBOX earlier this year. So maybe the company was intentional with its modesty.
The new GTI gains a substantial 165kg and it certainly feels like a heftier animal than before. Offsetting this additional mass is a marginally greater power and torque figure (up by 11kW and 20Nm). Its EA888-series motor now delivers 180kW and 370Nm, still displacing 2.0-litres, with four cylinders and a turbocharger. It sounds decent, if you are sitting inside, savouring the simulated acoustics being piped into the cabin. From the exterior things are less inspiring.
The aural character that gave the seventh-generation vehicle some of its credibility has been well and truly muzzled. Gone are the distinctive burps as you work through the seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox. After making peace with the dull nature of the new Golf 8 GTI, my appreciation for its real-world usability grew. If you think of it as a practical hatchback that just happens to move briskly when needed, rather than a genuinely sporty performer to engage the senses, it fares better.
Top marks for comfort. It strikes a superb balance between athletic and supple. Revised springs and control arm bearings, updated damping hydraulics and an uprated aluminium sub-frame are some of the trump cards of the new chassis. Basic specification is not what you would call miserly either. A heated steering wheel, faux leather upholstery, keyless-go, climate control, park distance control, inductive charging and an ambient lighting function with 30 hues are included. So is the attractive, 18-inch Richmond-type alloy style, although a 19-inch choice can be had too.
Pricing starts at R669,300. Good luck finding one for anywhere near that, because dealers are cashing in on the cultish reverence with which South Africans regard the Golf GTI. Checking out the classifieds while compiling this story, we spotted a near-new example with only 200km on the odometer and minimal options, going for over R100,000 more than the manufacturer retail price. There are a few listed towards the R950,000 mark too.
Naturally, Volkswagen was happy to blow its own trumpet about the success enjoyed by the newcomer. It announced recently that it sold 201 copies in its first two months of retail. Which is no easy feat, considering the category. Car rental company Avis was one of the first customers, adding the model to the luxury section of its fleet.
If you want a C-segment hot hatchback experience that will not leave you snoring, please have a look at the soulful BMW 128ti (R699,500). Or if you want to be radical about it, seek out the uncompromising but oh so rewarding Honda Civic Type R (R813,100).