DRIVEN: Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI impresses with its sophistication

By Willem van de Putte Time of article published Sep 6, 2021

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Launch review: Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI

JOHANNESBURG - It’s probably the most recognised car in South Africa and has become an absolute icon with enthusiasts flooding social media with video clips on vrrrpha Thursdays.

I’m not sure how that happened, safe to say that the Volkswagen Golf GTI is the darling of the masses and has reached an almost cult status on our shores.

That’s borne out by the fact that South Africa is VW’s biggest seller of the GTI outside of Europe.

How else would you explain a car guard walking over to discuss the merits of the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI, a guy winding his window down at a robot and saying his prayer is that one day he may own one and a man mowing the fields at my son’s school climbing off the tractor and asking me to hear the vrrrpha sounds from the exhaust and marveling at the digital interior.

It’s the GTI that coined the term hot hatch and I can well remember my first experience in one when it was launched in the 80s.

As a young conscript platoon commander we were training troops in Touws River when a call came through that we had to play a rugby match in Cape Town the following day almost 200km away.

One of the senior NCOs had just bought one and he also happened to be a part time production car racer at Killarney Raceway.

With the temporary plates still stuck to the back window he gunned that GTI as fast as it would go with scant regard to oncoming traffic, terrified passengers or sharp corners.

I remember his smile well as we headed up and down the old Du Toitskloof pass and I realised that this Golf was something special.

In today’s terms it was positively archaic but VW had a winning recipe and had someone given us a glimpse into the future and told us what the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI would look and perform like, I would also have drunk the Kool Aid.

Under the hood is the same engine that did duty in the Mk7 and 7.5 but VW have sprinkled some magic dust to tune it to deliver 180kW and 370Nm of torque coupled to a refined and quick-changing seven-speed DSG automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels.

The one that had me clenching my butt cheeks had a five speed manual gearbox and produced almost 83kW and 153Nm of torque.

The interior of the eighth generation is a button-free environment with almost every function now on the touchscreen infotainment system save for a few short cut buttons around the hazard button for the driving mode setting, IQ Drive, climate control and park assist.

So any adjustment to the car’s configuration, audio system seat heating or cooling and well, basically everything, is done through the screen.

It will take you a while to become accustomed to it but it’s not dissimilar to scrolling through your smartphone and once you’ve got the hang of it and as an owner optimised your personal settings you’re good to go.

The steering wheel also has touch sensitive buttons with haptic feedback and settings and volume control. Settings can also be changed by sliding your finger over them. Perhaps my fingers are a bit thick and clumsy but I found them very sensitive and sometimes buttons work just as well especially when it comes to volume control and muting sound.

The rest of the digital cockpit and interior boasts top-class premium finishes including the sporty looking seats with typical VW attention to detail all round making the Golf 8 GTI the benchmark for interiors in the segment and in fact some more expensive and premium contenders too.

VW has improved the underpinnings of the previous generation with a new aluminium front subframe, structural upgrades and stiffening the rear suspension which makes it a pleasure to drive especially at speed.

We took it on the usual Sunday Cradle of Humankind round trip towards Hartbeespoort that included gentle turns, sharp corners, potholed roads and hard braking for speed bumps.

The new GTI doesn’t mind being thrashed at all and especially in Sport mode it revels as a GTI should.

Power delivery when pressed is quick and reassuringly linear with no nasty surprises as it races to the red line before smoothly changing cogs with just as little fuss.

I did find that left to its own devices gearing down is a little slow when you want it to change while tackling twisty bits of road so using the easy to reach paddles is called for especially if you want to quickly change down two gears and hear the snap and crackle from the twin exhausts.

Steering is well weighted with a quick response to inputs which are typical of GTI but driven hard it has a tendency to understeer slightly around sharp corners although once you’ve found the sweet spot it clings very well.

While many people think that the GTI is perhaps a bit of a hooligan, this new rendition is very much a sophisticated piece of machinery. Even when driven hard it remains well mannered and stable when changing direction quickly, it’s fast too but it never seems to let its hair down completely which probably isn’t a bad thing if inexperienced drivers suddenly think they have a licence to race on public roads.

And vrrrpha?

There’s that too but it’s not as pronounced as I suspect some owners would like and I have no doubt that tuning shops have already worked out how to allow for more loud blips and pops to flood social media timelines.

The Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI starts at R669 300 before options and comes with a three-year/120 000km warranty, five-year/90 000km EasyDrive service plan and a 12 year anti-corrosion warranty.

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