The MK8 Golf GTI takes Volkswagen’s staple nameplate one step further in a market flooded with competition… and wins by a long margin.
What is it that sets a good car apart from a great one?
The answer is simple: it must carry passengers from A to B with ease, offer oodles of tech to keep up with changing driving demands, be safe to run on the highways, add fun to the mix with a healthy dose of power and torque, and return acceptable fuel efficiency over the course of a drive.
By this set of criteria, the car we’re describing here is a top contender for greatness – a benchmark vehicle that determines how good a car truly is. The Volkswagen Golf GTI.
It’s a model that’s gone through seven generations spanning four long decades and continues to set the standard for spiced-up sporty hatchbacks.
Perhaps it’s the simplicity and stalwart engineering – of everything from the motor to the interior and exterior design – that helps Volkswagen keep its signature mark.
It all begins with the functional design – the sharp LED headlamps, large air intakes to cool the engine, the subtle character lines, and the tall hatchback stance – that help distinguish the Golf GTI from a sea of other hot hatchbacks that try to replicate the same formula.
The GTI signature is carried forward with the red accent that runs across the front grille and through to the headlamps. Aside from that and the ‘GTI’ badges, understated roof spoiler on the tailgate, dual exhausts, and the fancy 18-inch alloys, there’s not much else to the car’s overall design when compared with its rudimentary Golf sibling.
A wide posture, along with a moderately-sized wheel-base (in the five-door hatchback spec) keeps the car looking proportional from all angles. Couple that with the fancy grey paint job as seen on our tester and we had a winner on our hands.
Moving over to the interior reveals a simple and functional cabin. There’s enough high-grade leather and alcantara to justify the price, and much of the dashboard is made up of soft-touch plastics. Cheaper panels reside on the lower portions of the cabin – on the doors where the map pockets and bottle holders lie – that your eyes won’t meet immediately.
Taking up the dashboard is a slick 8-inch touchscreen running a user-friendly interface. The response times are average, but the optional, user-customisable digital 3D screen on the instrument cluster makes a world of difference.
Our top-spec variant also received semi-leather and alcantara sport-bucket seats that were well-bolstered and supportive, while the rear seats were sizeable for two adults and one child. Leg room is above-average for a car in this segment, but head room is top-class.
Volkswagen completes its winning formula with its drivetrain, and on the forefront of it lies a 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder turbocharged engine pumping out a respectable 230hp and 350Nms of torque.
It’s further coupled with a six-speed DSG auto-manual gearbox that drives the front wheels, and helps it accelerate from zero to 100kph in about 6.5 seconds.
Numbers, however, only tell a part of the story – as what makes the Golf GTI truly special is the car’s agility and driving dynamics; especially in the corners, where the car shines.
Throwing the car into ‘Dynamic’ mode stiffens up the suspension and the steering wheel while keeping the gearbox and accelerator pedal on its toes for instant response. The latter response times are nearly telepathic when you’re on the go, and the gearbox shifts gears instantly. We also didn’t experience any of the low-speed jerks normally associated with dual-clutch gearbox systems.
Driving feel is sensational, with exceptional amounts of grip while throwing the car into sharp corners. Understeer is virtually non-existent thanks to the front differential, while a fit of lift-off oversteer can creep in to add more fun to an already punchy driving experience.
This allows the car to attack corners at some serious speeds; sometimes even at 80kph in tight bends without any form of ESP or traction control interference. The feeling can be mind-numbing and, at times, intimidating – especially when you factor in the size of the car.
Ride comfort is decent when the car is set in ‘Normal’ and ‘Eco’ modes, and there’s very little tire and wind noise creeping in at speeds of up to 100kph. Meanwhile, brake feel is excellent and there’s a level of progression to the stopping power that we haven’t quite experienced in a car of this class.
In all, the four pot-banging GTI does more than just offer a sporty car for the masses. It takes the recipe and sprinkles just enough functionality and tech to keep it in contention as the best hot hatchback in the market. In pursuit of that, VW has created an on-road masterpiece.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI takes a very simple description. It’s a hatchback that’s flawed across a handful of avenues, but flawless in the grand scheme of things. And for that very reason, the car gets our stamp of approval.
• Engine: 2.0-litre ‘turbocharged’ in-line four-cylinder
• Transmission: Six-speed ‘dual-clutch’ automatic
• Power: 230hp
• Torque: 350Nms
• Top Speed: 250kph
• Front-wheel drive
• Park Assist
• Cruise control
• 8-inch infotainment screen
• LED headlamps and tail lights
• 6-way adjustable driver seat
• Back-up camera with 360-degree parking sensors
• 18-inch alloy wheels
• Leather and alcantara upholstery
• Remote keyless entry and push-button start
• Blind Spot Monitoring