The new Volkswagen Golf GTI needs to meet some seriously high standards.
Its parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are hot hatch royalty, and if you trace its family tree far enough you’ll find the car that arguably kickstarted the genre back in 1976 – talk about pedigree.
The eighth-generation Golf GTI has suffered in the shadow of that pedigree since its debut, much like the wider Golf range.
Volkswagen hasn’t given it a mid-life refresh just yet, but it has made moves to improve the GTI’s standing in Australia with a recent price cut.
At $55,990 drive-away, it’s around $5000 cheaper than it was at launch, and this is the first time we’ve actually hopped behind the wheel of a proper base model, with no options packages or fancy paint finishes added.
Can the GTI shine with a sharper sticker and a simpler spec sheet?
Although the Golf GTI has a list price of $56,090 before on-road costs, it’s being offered until the end of 2023 at $55,990 drive-away.
That’s a significant discount, and one that makes the GTI pretty solid value. It aligns with a Hyundai i30 N DCT ($49,200), and comfortably undercuts its bigger brother in the Golf R ($70,590 before on-roads, currently off sale).
It also comfortably undercuts the Honda Civic Type R ($72,000 drive-away), although the Civic is an altogether more focused sports car.
2024 Volkswagen Golf pricing:
- 2024 Volkswagen Golf Life: $39,190
- 2024 Volkswagen Golf R-Line: $42,290
- 2024 Volkswagen Golf GTI: $56,090
- 2024 Volkswagen Golf R: $70,590
All the prices are before on-road costs
With a chubby steering wheel, tartan trim on the seats, and plenty of red highlights, you’re not going to mistake this for a regular Golf at first glance. With that said, all that’s good (and bad) about the regular Mk8 Golf cabin carries over.
The sports seats and their one-piece backrests look and feel more purposeful than the seats in the last GTI (although the tartan trim is less appealing to my eyes) and offer a great balance of comfort for the daily grind, and support when the road gets interesting.
Volkswagen’s latest sports steering wheel feels great in your hands; although, the touch buttons are easy to press by accident if you have big hands. They’re being axed in future models, which is a move in the right direction – but while you’re at it VW, can you ditch the small plastic paddle shifters in favour of bigger, metal units?
Buttons are scarce in the GTI. Two big screens dominate the dash, below which sits a bank of shortcut buttons and touch sliders for the audio volume and temperature. It looks thoroughly modern alongside the more upright, staid Mk7 Golf, and the graphics and animations on the displays are a step forward.
But… the complaints we’ve been making since our first drive of the latest Golf remain here. It used to take one action to adjust the airflow direction, for example, now it takes at least two. On a bumpy road, the place you’d naturally rest your wrist to stabilise it is on the touch slider that controls your volume.
Although there’s lots of GTI-specific touches around the cabin, I wish the technology felt a bit more bespoke. The driver’s display only has one unique layout, and it’s a bit tacky. The ability to tailor a set of retro, sporty dials in the digital dashboard would be welcome.
Although the red backlighting makes the dashboard and doors look sporty at night, a bit more colour in the cabin wouldn’t go astray either.
Storage spaces abound up front, from the covered wireless charge pad to the cupholders, big underarm storage bin, and felt-lined door pockets. The cubby to the right-hand side of the steering wheel, which was perfect for garage keys or coins, is notably absent though.
The rear seats are very usable for kids or average-height adults, but the chunky one-piece backrests on the bucket seats in the GTI and R loom large in your vision back there. Along with the three top-tether mounts, there are ISOFIX points on the outboard rear seats.
Boot space is 374 litres, expanding to 1230 litres with the rear seat folded. It has a dual-level floor allowing you to prioritise easy loading with a fully flat floor, or to free up more space by dropping the floor and creating a load lip.
You’ll get a set of golf clubs back there; although, you’ll need to take the driver (the golf club, that is) out.
Power in the Volkswagen Golf GTI comes from a version of the venerable EA888 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.
It makes 180kW and 370Nm, sent to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and an electronic locking front differential.
A more powerful version of the same engine is offered in the GTI Clubsport overseas, making 221kW and 400Nm, but remains off the cards for Australia… unless you buy a Cupra Leon VZx.
Claimed fuel economy is 7.0 litres per 100km, and we saw 7.8L/100km on a week with an even mix of city, highway, and spirited driving. The fuel tank holds 50 litres, and you’ll need to fill up with more expensive 95 RON unleaded.
Volkswagen has mastered the art of subtle generational improvement, and the Mk8 Golf GTI is proof.
On paper it has the same running gear as the Mk7.5 GTI, with a version of the same engine, transmission, and differential doing the heavy lifting, but each bit has been slightly refined.
Prod the start button and the 2.0-litre engine fires to life with a subdued growl, before settling into a quiet idle. It’s incredibly polished, and doesn’t really offer any hint as to its potential when you’re just mooching around the city.
Relative to the last GTI the start/stop is smoother, and the DSG may be marginally sharper, but it’s the same super polished commuter as ever. Comfort mode is perfectly acceptable over pimply streets and sharp speed bumps, but you’re able to dial the dampers into an even more relaxed mode using the Individual options in the touchscreen.
The steering is light and direct, and vision out of the car is typically good when you’re looking forwards thanks to the little quarter windows ahead of the mirrors. The chunky C-pillar is a classic Golf design cue, but it does impede over-the-shoulder vision.
While we’re talking about the boring stuff, the GTI remains a deceptively grown-up highway cruiser.
The IQ. Drive suite of driver assists is well tuned, keeping a steady gap to the car in front and holding the car smartly in the middle of the lane. It takes the load off on long highway drives, although the undertake protection – which won’t automatically pass a slower car if you’re on its left, and will instead match their speed – is annoying in Australia, with its poor lane discipline.
When you find an interesting road, the GTI still has what it takes to put a smile on your face. It’s not as focused as a Civic Type R, nor is it as raucous as a Hyundai i30 N, but it’s incredibly effective in essentially any conditions thanks to that super snappy DSG and impressive electronic front differential.
Front-wheel drive cars are better than ever at putting their power down, but even in the context of its rivals the GTI is unbelievably good at accelerating out of tight corners on slick roads, and the nose is remarkably determined to hold on when you get on the power mid-corner.
It never feels super lively, although dialling back the suspension (which you can do in Individual mode) but leaving the powertrain in Sport means you can feel the rear end moving around a bit under braking. Once I’d set it up like that, I left it that way.
Although the dual-clutch transmission is incredibly smart in Sport, you’re better served taking control yourself with the little paddles behind the steering wheel. It lets you more aggressively downshift to keep the torquey turbocharged engine in its sweet spot, or short shift on the way out of corners to cut down on wheel spin (or enjoy a traditional DSG pop on full throttle upshifts).
The steering is fairly heavy, and is nice and direct. On tight roads you never really need to take your hands from 9 and 3 o’clock on the wheel, and it’s easy to be precise with the front end despite limited feel through the chunky wheel rim.
It even acquits itself well on track; although, it’s not going to set your heart racing like some of its more focused rivals. The differential is the star of the show, allowing you to get on the power sooner out of tight corners, and the engine pulls hard.
The GTI isn’t really pitched as a track-ready hot hatch, but it will do it. It’s an approachable place to start your life on the track.
Golf Life highlights:
- LED headlights and tail lights
- Rain-sensing wipers
- DAB+ digital radio
- 6-speaker sound system
- Tri-zone climate control
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Cloth upholstery
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- Power-folding side mirrors
- 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro (digital instruments)
- 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- 7-speaker sound system
- Wireless phone charger
- Satellite navigation
- 10-colour interior ambient lighting
- Keyless entry and start
- Comfort front seats with lumbar adjustment
- Luggage partition
- Emergency Assist
- Exit warning system
Golf R-Line adds:
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- R-Line exterior trim
- Lowered (15mm) R-Line suspension
- Progressive steering
- LED performance headlights
- Rear privacy glass
- 30-colour interior ambient lighting
- Sports seats with leather trim
Golf GTI adds:
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- GTI exterior trim and highlights
- Twin exhaust pipes
- LED grille strip
- Adaptive Chassis Control
- Tartan-trimmed sport seats
The 2024 Volkswagen Golf has a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing based on carried out by Euro NCAP in 2019.
It scored 95 per cent for adult occupant protection, 89 per cent for child occupant protection, 76 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 80 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- 9 airbags incl. front-centre airbag
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Multi-collision brake
- Lane-keep assist
- Travel assist
- Front cross-traffic alert
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Adaptive cruise control with stop & go
- Driver fatigue monitoring
- Park Assist
- Reversing camera
- Front, rear parking sensors
- Emergency assist
- Safe exit warning
The Golf GTI is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, and a five-year prepaid Care Plan for servicing will set you back $2950. A three-year plan will cost you $1700.
Have we been too hard on the latest Golf GTI? Maybe.
It still ticks all the boxes Volkswagen has ticked since the fifth-generation GTI debuted in 2006, expertly balancing day-to-day usability with plenty of performance, and recent changes to the price have improved the value equation significantly… provided you can track one down.
This base model makes a lot of sense, it doesn’t feel short on luxuries or like a poverty pack. There was no learning curve; every time I hopped into the car it did exactly what I wanted, and did it well. Actually that’s being too harsh – it did it effortlessly, and put a smile on my face while doing it.
It’s not fair to want more, but I do. Volkswagen needs to improve the interior of the entire Golf range with a mid-life update, but that’s especially applicable in the GTI. It’s the only real criticism of this car, but it should be so simple to fix.
It’s a very, very good car, the GTI. Is it fair to want it to be that little bit better?
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