Volkswagen Golf GTI review
The Golf GTI is a great all-rounder – fast enough to be great fun, sensible enough to drive every day comfortably. But the next Golf R will be even faster when it goes on sale later.
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This is the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the latest in a dynasty that has mastered the ‘superb all-rounder’ game throughout many generations.
So, is the Mark 8 VW Golf GTI still the annoying kid at school who’s good at everything? The initial signs are good; it looks like a regular Golf that’s making the most of its gym membership.
It has lowered suspension and a black grille with some cool LED daytime running lights, plus Matrix LED headlights. There are also lots of GTI badges about the place and a bunch of contrasting red stripes – just like the original Mk1 from the seventies. At the rear, there are LED lights and twin exhaust pipes that are, thankfully, real. Shame they sound a bit anaemic though.
Meanwhile, the interior of the new Mk8 Golf is all very minimalist and classy, with few buttons and fiddly details. The GTI has a sportier steering wheel with some bright red bits (as well as some annoying touch-sensitive buttons), plenty of sporty contrasting stitching, and sports seats with chequered trim.
Those sports seats hold you really well when you’re having fun driving along a twisty road, and they’re very comfortable on the motorway, but they’re pretty bulky when you’re sat in the rear, and so are difficult to see around.
An 8-inch infotainment system and a 10-inch digital driver’s display are both standard but you can pay extra to get a pair of 10-inch screens instead. Both displays come with GTI-specific graphics and you can customise the driver’s display using buttons on the steering wheel. You also have the option ability to control lots of the car’s features using voice commands – just as you can in the standard Golf.
However, the ventilation and audio systems are controlled using touch-sensitive ‘sliders’ below the infotainment screen, and these are much less successful. What’s wrong with buttons?
There’s also mood lighting with 30 customisable colours, and there’s even a funky start button that pulses red before you start the engine.
It's a successful formula - take the very good standard Golf and make it a look a bit cooler and drive a bit faster. The GTI-specific graphics for the infotainment system is a classy touch
Under the bonnet lies a 245hp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, which also produces 370Nm of torque. It drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox is also available.
This gets the same shift-by-wire controls as the standard Golf, so you use a tiny switch to change gear instead of a big mechanical lever. Or you can use the paddles on the steering wheel – whichever you prefer.
The auto better suits the ‘all-rounder’ character of the GTI, because it allows you to feel like a racing driver one minute and then lets you sit back and leave everything alone the next.
The power output is the same as the Performance Pack version of the old Golf GTI, and allows the DSG-equipped car to complete the 0-62mph sprint in 6.2 seconds. Both manual and automatic models reach a top speed of 155mph. We used the launch control system and got pretty close to this, even though the slippery road hampered the GTI off the mark.
Just like the old Golf GTI, the Mk8 is front-wheel drive. It also gets independent suspension all-round, which should help it feel agile through the corners, and there’s an electronically controlled limited-slip differential to maximise traction out of corners.
You can also pay extra to have your GTI fitted with adaptive dampers. These let you stiffen everything up for hooning down country roads and soften the ride for cruising home on the motorway. The system works very well indeed.
You can personalise these settings through the infotainment system, too. So you can fine-tune your favourite setup and save it for later.
You can get the VW Golf GTI with an optional driver-assistance pack called Travel Assist. This beefs-up the standard Golf’s adaptive cruise control so it can accelerate, brake and steer for you at up to 130mph. This might be a God-send if you spend hours cruising up and down the autobahn, but in the UK the normal adaptive cruise control will probably do you just fine.
Space in the GTI is the same as in every other Golf, so there’s plenty of room for four adults (or five if they’re on speaking terms), and loads of room in the 381-litre boot, and there are all the usual hooks and lashing points to keep shopping where you want it to be. Yup, that’s the ‘all-rounder’ point being proved once more.
So the Golf GTI continues the tradition, by being really good at pretty much everything it does. The grandparents would be proud.
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The GTI is just as practical as the standard Golf. So four adults should be comfortable enough, but a Skoda Octavia vRS has a bigger boot
The VW Golf GTI has loads of front-seat space for the driver and passenger to get comfortable in, and the standard sports seats are both extremely supportive when you’re testing the car’s cornering grip, and comfortable when you’re testing its fuel-tank range.
There’s also lots of adjustment for both the front seat and steering wheel. In the back, the GTI feels just as roomy as the conventional Mk8 Golf, so there’s plenty of legroom and headroom for a couple of adults to feel perfectly comfortable. If there’s a downside, it’s that the two large front seats can make the back feel a little claustrophobic.
There are loads of neat little cubbies dotted around the Golf GTI’s cabin, and as is usual on a VW, the front door bins are lined to stop stuff rattling around. They’re big enough for a decent-sized bottle, too. A fair-sized area resides beneath the centre armrest, and there’s a pair of adjustable cupholders on the centre console.
Talking of the centre console, there’s a long box beside the gear selector, and a dedicated area beneath the dashboard for storing your phone.
In the rear of the cabin, the door bins are pretty large, and each front seat comes with three seat-back pockets – one large enough to hold a map and two smaller ones that’ll accommodate phones.
The 381-litre boot is exactly the same size as you’ll find in lesser Golfs (the four-wheel-drive Golf R’s capacity is slightly less because of the presence of the rear differential), so you’ll be able to fit in five carry-on flight suitcases. It’s also easy enough to flip down the rear seats, which reveal a 1,237-litre load area that while not the biggest, is certainly decent. If you need more carrying space, perhaps a Skoda Octavia vRS might make a decent second choice.
There’s also an adjustable boot floor that eliminates the step behind the folded rear seats, so you won’t have any trouble sliding in heavy items.
The boot is also a decent, regular shape, and features all the usual bag hooks and lashing points so that you can ensure your shopping remains unscrambled on the journey home.
As fun to drive as you’d expect, you’ll have a grin on your face driving down a twisty road. But your grin will probably be bigger if you’re driving a Civic Type R.
Under the bonnet lies a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that develops 245hp and 370Nm of torque. It’s a strong engine, pulling well from around 2000rpm right to near the redline.
Volkswagen claims the Golf GTI can get to 62mph in just 6.3 seconds, but we got very close to those figures on a decidedly greasy road, which stopped the car getting off the line as quickly as it could have. Still, the 50-70mph acceleration, which is the sort you use when overtaking slower vehicles, is really pretty rapid.
The Golf GTI has a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but you can pay extra for a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic, which better suits the car’s relaxed character.
It also has an average economy figure of 38mpg, which is pretty decent for a car with such pace.
So, when you come across a deserted B-road early in the morning, it has the pace and reflexes to mean you’ll get to the far end with a smile on your face. Yes, you might get there quicker in a Honda Civic Type R, but you’ll be out of breath when you do arrive.
The steering is consistent and gives you reasonable feedback about what sort of a day the front tyres are having, and when you’re back in suburbia dealing with mini-roundabouts, it’s quick enough so that you aren’t forced into frantic arm-twirling.
So, while the Golf GTI is entertaining, it doesn’t quite have that last element of precision and nimbleness that would make it both more fun and more tiresome.
However, that is a definite benefit when you’re on a motorway, or slow traffic, because the Golf GTI just gets on with the job of getting you from here to there as unobtrusively and comfortably as possible, to the extent that without seeing the badges you’d be hard-pressed to know you were in a GTI.
The Golf GTI is stylish and comfortable but the controls for the air-con and on the steering wheel are tricky to use
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