GOLF 8 GTI: first impressions
OK, so call us impatient, but we had to have the first possible Golf 8 GTI. And so we found ourselves on the shores of the beautiful Lake Bodensee on the Swiss-German border to collect our new left-hand drive GTI, arranged by our friends at RacingLine Switzerland, right up against the clock to get the car back to the UK before Germany re-entered lockdown and closed to foreigners.
There's a lot at stake here for us with any new generation of Golf GTI. Because if VW's entry-level performance model is a great platform, we know that the R, the Clubsport, the TCR that will follow will build upward from this humble GTI and have a shot at greatness. And lets be honest, not every generation of GTI has been a true great. Mk3 GTI 8V anyone? So this car matters to us. A lot.
With the long drive back to the UK, and a lot of testing mileage put onto the car since, what are our first thoughts? We’ve covered a good couple of thousand miles in the last few days and got to know the car well. And overall, it's good news. We’re impressed. It’s exactly what a new GTI should be. A fun, but usable all-rounder.
With a bit more power than before at 242bhp, it certainly goes well enough. The new EA888 Gen4 engine has a surprising number of differences the more time we spend poking around the engine bay. New to this motor is a Garrett turbo, with new injectors running fuel pressure up from 200 to 350bar. Of course, it has the dreaded GPF too. Driving the car, it almost feels as if it's holding back a little at higher revs; is this GTI artificially having its power kept low to allow for more powerful models to slot into the range above it later on? Could be. If so, our OEM+ software magic will likely release a whole herd of hidden horsepower.
It sounds pretty good too, inside and out (yes, it’s mainly sound generator, but still...) It's quieter on the motorway than the mk7 ever was. Underneath are a lot of new plastic covers over suspension arms and subframes to smooth airflow underneath to keep wind noise low. Ride and handling are exactly what you’d expect, neat and tidy but fun to chuck around. Having done our first suspension work, spring rates have increased 5% front and 20% rear over the mk7.
Combine that with the quicker 2.1 turns steering rack and the stiffer and lighter front subframe, and the front end feels like it turns in harder and grips better than any previous GTI did. The new DCC dampers have surprisingly wide adjustment, apparently adjusting themselves 200 times per second. In ‘individual’ mode, you can even configure them to be softer than Comfort mode, or stiffer than Sport. For once, it lets the car have truly different characters across the different modes.
The DSG box is the 7-speed DQ380 that we've seen before in the mk7.5. It's a quick and efficient 'box. Just a shame that the whipcrack changes of the 6-speed in the earlier boxes seem destined never to return to modern DSGs.
The interior? Well that’s the more controversial bit. First impressions are great. It has a really modern cockpit, beautifully lit at night (with infinite colour choices) with the virtual dash extending across to the large central touch screen. There’s a nice heads up display and the new, tiny gear selector sits in the high centre console. Very fresh. Quality is on point too, with some really nice design touches and textures in there. Not a squeak or rattle to be heard in here.
Seating position is perfect. The seats are really comfortable and grippy, and adjust so low that you feel like you're sitting on the floor. Great. The steering wheel is lovely to use and has tons of adjustment. Very good indeed. Like all Golfs are, but better.
However, it all gets less successful with the new touchscreen. Just about all of the car’s many many functions have to be controlled through this screen. Maybe we’ll all get used to it. But for now, it takes too many presses and menu choices to get to where you want, and way, way too much time taking your eyes off the road. And don’t even try making adjustments on a bumpy road or in a stiff suspension mode - your pointing finger will jiggle about missing every screen button you're aiming at.
Unbelievably, the temperature and volume buttons under this screen aren't illuminated. Very clever in daylight as you can choose to either click or swipe to adjust, but impossible at night. More than once, we’ve had to use a phone torch to find and use these basic controls. We've experienced a good few glitches in the system (including a couple of complete powerdown sort of reboots). Three software updates so far have arrived in the car via the e-sim - which presumably are slowly overcoming these glitches. Would have preferred Volkswagen to do that before selling us the car, to be honest.
We’ll let you make up your own mind on the mk8 looks. We like it a thousand times more now we’ve fitted a set of R360 alloys and some development Sport Springs to replace the 17” factory wheels (yes, 17s. Welcome to 2005). Parked next our mk7.5 GTI PP it looks sharp, crisp and edgy. The front air intakes are huge, and sadly our very early-build car didn't get the funky spotlights that should be in there to break up the black plastic.
But know what? It already makes our beloved mk7.5 GTI suddenly feel pretty dated, inside and out.
So mk8 is certainly an excellent GTI. If we can just learn to live with that touchscreen, it could yet become a great GTI. If this is the starting point, the signs are very good for future more focused sports models.