All new Golf GTI 8 would press all the right buttons. If it only had them.

Volkswagen tells us its Golf GTI’s DNA has never changed. A Golf GTI, they say, is defined by powerful, clean design, those iconic GTI logos and a red stripe on the grille. As much as it is by supreme performance and drivability. Yet the PR story goes straight on to tell you that this latest GTI 8 has an all new digitised cabin and intelligent assistance systems to catapult into the future. A conundrum in itself…?


Hugely popular in this market, Volkswagen sold almost 15,000 previous generation GTI 7s in its 8-year tenure. And 34% of total Golf 7 sales were GTIs in South Africa, making it among the biggest Golf GTI markets outside of Europe. Now there will only be two Golf 8s in SA. This GTI and the forthcoming R. That’s it. So a new Golf GTI is big news.

The all-new eighth generation Volkswagen Golf GTI certainly looks the part. Some love it, others don’t. One of the guys said its low headlamps and grille make it look like one of those worms you find in garden loam. Another argued it’s space age. Either way, it looks a little squatter. Ours had the full tilt auto high-beam 22 LED matrix headlights. Their DRLs are joined by a new LED strip embedded in that red grille stripe. And their turn signals are even configurable.

Clean and powerful as always, the chiseled GTI 8’s lines rise rearward to end off in the default roof spoiler. It presides over a rear diffuser punctuated by a couple of now expected round GTI tailpipes. Click the keyless door open to reveal a cool, ‘digital and innovative’ Climatronic air conditioned, 30-colour ambient lit cabin. Top class, it has Vienna leather seats under an optional panoramic sunroof. Which like most else, uses a phone-like swipe to open and close.


GTI also gets an all-new touch control multifunction leather sports paddle shifter steering wheel, a cool smaller shift-by-wire gear knob and digitised lighting controls. Fully digitalised touch and swipe control 10.25 inch infotainment fires up as the doors open. It has App-Connect and an inductive charging mobile interface. Ours even had optional 12-channel 480W eight speaker Harmon Kardon Composition sound.

The new touch controls mean that working your GTI is like operating your smartphone. You swipe it to do it. From pumping up audio volume to setting cabin temperature. Which is fine in practice. Using your smartphone when you drive is banned. Because it demands too much driving concentration. Yet it’s just as distracting to delve deep into GTI 8’s layers of cyber windows. To toggle a simple function that most other cars simply use a button or knob to do.

Our full-spec Kings Red (cool colour, cool name!) car was also packed with everything from optional power folding mirrors to a parallel parking assistant. That adds a rear view camera, blind spot monitor and Rear Traffic Alert. And a Vehicle Dynamics Manager co-ordinate everything electromechanical on board.


Getting down to driving, finger the throbbing red start-stop button and fire it up. It feels and sounds like a GTI and ride is surprisingly soft and pliant. Impressive, considering those marvellous inched-up 19” alloys. And adaptive and dynamic chassis control sets it up exactly like you want it.

Which is a bit of a waste. This car had the optional Travel Assist package. It’s a lane assistant with adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking. So, while the car handles brilliantly, unless you are so lucky to find how to switch all that off, the nannies interfere with the steering to make it feel quite horrible. And good luck switching it off. Ugh! We’d go as far as to warn against the Travel Assist option. It just isn’t a GTI thing.

Getting on to performance, GTI 8 of course comes packing a 180 kW 370 Nm version of VW’s multitalented turbo 2-litre EA888 four-pot. It turns out 11 kW more power than its predecessor did and drives the front wheels via VW’s 7-speed dual clutch transmission.


When we go testing, we usually select traction control off. Or find a decent launch control option for best results. Just press the little skidding car button for a set amount of time. And drive. Do you know that we had to pull up on the side of the road and fiddle for a quarter hour trying to do that in GTI 8? And still we could not turn it off. So we resorted to Google to find a rightly scathing instruction to toggle it off in the braking menu. Deep in GTI’s cyber menu! Really, VW?

Anyway, bareback acceleration proved futile as GTI just stood there burning its tyres as soon as the power went down. But the other traction control option in the braking menu, d’uh, arms you with a really effective launch control. Effective enough to propel our Kings Red machine to 100 km/h as quickly as any other front wheel drive car we ever tested. Only its uncle TCR was a touch quicker in our tests. GTI 8 even beat Type R, Megane RS and the Minis, et al.

So it’s fast. Very fast. But you need a PHD to unlock that speed!


So therein lies the rub. GTI 8 is no more the epitome of hot hatch driving. It’s too stymied by overzealous systems to cosset and bamboozle the driver. Which makes it no more a GTI than its badge. And performance. If you’re ever so fortunate to release it. Rest in peace, GTI. It’s as though VW knows there will never be another petrol Golf GTI. And it’s preparing us for that dull electric future… — Michele Lupini

ROAD TEST: Volkswagen Golf GTI
Engine: 180 kW 370 Nm 2-litre turbo I4
Drive: 7-speed DC auto FWD
0-60 km/h         2.90 sec
0-100 km/h:       5.74 sec
0-160 km/h:       12.95 sec
400m:             13.8 sec @ 166 km/h
80-120 km/h:      3.52 sec
120-160 km/h:     5.29 sec
VMax:             250 km/h
Fuel:             7.0 l/100 km
CO2:              159 g/km
Warranty/Service: 3y 120K/5y 90K km
LIST PRICE:       R669K
RATED:            7
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