Currently reading: First ride: 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI prototype
To prepare for the launch of the eighth-generation Golf GTI, its dynamics chief puts a prototype through the wringer around a top secret VW test track with us for company
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8 mins read
13 May 2020

The front passenger seat is not the place I’d usually choose to sit when it comes to the Volkswagen Golf GTI – a car whose very existence is based on the visceral thrill delivered by its driving experience. But as this is the latest, eighth-generation model not due to see UK showrooms until later this year and we’ve got one of the world’s best test facilities all to ourselves for the next hour or so, it is time to make an exception.

After filling out a variety of forms to gain the security clearance to venture beyond the heavily guarded perimeter of Volkswagen’s vast Ehra-Lessien development centre in Germany, I find myself sat beside VW’s head of driving dynamics, Karsten Schebsdat, as he fires the new Golf GTI flat out in seventh gear along a seemingly never-ending straight. It is ultra-smooth, four lanes wide in parts and a mesmerising 5.4 miles in length.

With the digital speedo indicating 155mph, Schebsdat is busy explaining the fundamental differences in driving character between the new Golf GTI and its immediate predecessor, launched back in 2013. “It’s very settled at speed. We’ve transferred more load stiffness to the rear, which improves balance and helps it track better,” he says while drawing a finger across the central display to alter the driving mode more in the direction of Sport.

Then, without warning or the faintest hint of a lift, the Volkswagen engineer whips on a quarter turn or so of steering lock. “It’s also extremely responsive and more stable than before,” he adds, as we veer sharply across the neighbouring lanes before he corrects the steering again. The lateral forces involved are truly colossal. But in the second or two they take to bury their way into the pit of my stomach, the prototype we’re in has already regained its composure and we head straight on again as if nothing had happened.

Coming after the standard version of the new Golf, there’s not much about the latest Golf GTI that isn’t familiar. And yet it feels different; more eager and sporting in its actions but with the same degree of refinement and polish as its lesser siblings. In time-honoured fashion, it retains the front-wheel drive layout of its celebrated predecessors, which means it continues to compete directly with very creditable rivals including the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R and Renault Mégane RS.

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Volkswagen Golf GTI

Can the hottest Volkswagen Golf GTI ignite the passion and reclaim its crown now lost to the Ford Focus ST?

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Up front, the 2020 model runs the same turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine as its predecessor – the EA888, to use its internal codename. Earlier signs suggested it was set to lift its reserves with 48V mild-hybrid electric boosting, but Volkswagen has decided to continue down the same conventional path as before without the additional power enhancement from the alternator seen in lesser versions of the new Golf.

The result? The standard model now develops the same 242bhp at 4700-6200rpm and 273lb ft between 1600rpm and 4300rpm as the Mk7 GTI’s Performance model, giving it a 15bhp and 15lb ft lift in reserves on the seventh-generation model it replaces.

It’s all channelled through a standard six-speed manual gearbox or, as is the case with the prototype we’re in, an optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. As with the previous incarnation of the Golf GTI, there’s also an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, or XDS as Volkswagen likes to call it. It detects unloading of the inside wheel and uses individual braking application via the electronic stability control system to restore traction.

Volkswagen isn’t giving away much at all on performance just yet but Schebsdat, who has worked on developing such highly lauded cars as the original Ford Focus and the 911 GT3 RS 4.0 during a stint at Porsche Motorsport, suggests the standard Golf GTI is close to the old Golf GTI Performance for outright accelerative ability, with a 0-62mph time of around 6.2sec.

Following the strategy established with the seventh-generation model, Volkswagen plans a two-tier line-up for the latest Golf GTI. Gone is the Performance, which in effect will be supplanted by this new, more potent standard GTI, while the Clubsport, whose moniker was previously reserved for special track-based limited-production models, will replace the Golf GTI TCR. Details have yet to be officially revealed, although the Clubsport is claimed to run the same level of tune to the EA888 engine as the outgoing GTI TCR, which develops 286bhp at 5400rpm and 273lb ft of torque between 1950rpm and 5300rpm.

Today isn’t about drivelines, though. It’s about exploring dynamic qualities. And Volkswagen’s EhraLessien is just the place to show us what the new Golf GTI can do. It has everything: endless straights, where you can run flat out for minutes on end; banked corners, where the centrifugal forces allow the driver to go hands-off above certain speeds; handling roads, featuring every kind of corner, camber and surface you could ever wish for and much more. It is torture for any car, but it also gives valuable insight into on-the-limit behaviour without having to venture out onto public roads.

So just how do you instil the dynamic qualities that have distinguished the Golf GTI since its introduction to the Volkswagen line-up in 1974 into the new model while also ensuring it meets its brief of appealing to a wider customer audience than ever before? “There is a lot of detailed tuning work,” says Schebsdat. “Every component has come under the spotlight. It is a process that was integrated into the development of the new Golf from the very beginning.”

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Once again, the starting point was Volkswagen’s versatile MQB platform – a structure renowned for delivering some of the highest levels of stiffness in the class. To this, the new Golf GTI adds an aluminium front subframe in place of the steel unit used previously. Similar to that developed for the earlier limited-production Golf GTI Clubsport S, it not only saves 3kg but also provides a more rigid basis for the electromechanical steering and MacPherson strut front suspension than before.

Predictably, the steering continues with a variable ratio rack as standard, although it is more direct, with an on-centre ratio of 14.1:1 resulting in two turns lock to lock. A new software package has also been developed to improve steering response and deliver more urgent self-centring.

Another key development brought to the latest Golf GTI is Volkswagen’s new VDM (vehicle dynamics manager) system. It provides a centralised network for a series of different functions, including the steering, throttle, gearbox and adaptive dampers – the last of which continue to be made available as an option as part of an upgraded DCC (dynamic chassis control) system that’s claimed to provide faster damper adjustment at each wheel for improved body control, added ride refinement and, as displayed during our high-speed runs, a generally more settled feel to the whole car.

Volkswagen says the VDM system also enhances the operation of the XDS electronic diff lock by providing it with additional information on other systems, including the DCC. “It is now more effective than ever, especially during hard cornering,” says Schebsdat. “The apportioning of drive to each of the front wheels is now more finely controlled and dependent on a greater number of different factors than it was previously.”

As before, there are four driving modes: Comfort, Eco, Sport and Individual. However, they can be set more precisely via a digital slider with extra steps now incorporated between each mode for a broader range of driving characteristics.

The suspension, which adopts the same rear multi-link set-up as the old model, is set 15mm lower than in other versions of the new Golf and is imbued with its own unique kinematic properties. The standard wheels are 17in, although buyers will be able to choose 18in and 19in options. The prototype we’re in runs 18in wheels with 225/40-profile Bridgestone Potenza S005 tyres.

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What Volkswagen has set out to achieve with the new Golf GTI is greater cohesiveness, linearity and incisiveness in the way its mechanical components work in combination with its various electronic systems. The aim is to build on the solid basis of the old model with a heightened feeling of precision, composure and stability through a superior networking of each individual function.

“We didn’t want a nervous-feeling car tuned for ultimate performance, but one that instils confidence in the driver in every possible situation,” says Schebsdat.

Over Ehra-Lessien’s more demanding handling roads, you sense the consistency in its actions, the inherent balance of its chassis and its heightened agility. It all starts with the apparent decisiveness with which the new Golf GTI turns in to corners in Sport mode and then continues with the way its electronic differential deftly goes about the business of doling out drive to the front wheels. There is outstanding grip from the tyres, which do a great job of resisting any urge of the front end to run wide prematurely even on bumpy surfaces, allowing the driver to maintain lots of momentum to the apex without the car feeling on edge.

On a particularly demanding section with lots of high-frequency bumps, we enter a tight constant radius corner. Schebsdat keeps the throttle nailed and delicately places the new Golf GTI on the inside white line while maintaining constant steering angle. All the while, I keep expecting the impressive purchase that was evident on entry to weaken. However, it sticks to its guns. There is no scrub or even a hint of understeer, despite a heady combination of lateral and vertical forces loaded through the suspension.

At the next corner, a long, opening left-hander, Schebsdat carries even greater speed before suddenly lifting the throttle and then mashing it against its back stop again. It’s remarkable just how stable the rear end remains. Even with provocation, the prototype continues to track with great determination.

Body control is another real strength at the sporting end of the new Volkswagen’s various driving modes. There is a degree of lean in slower corners, but the improved action of the adaptive dampers ensures it builds in a more progressive way than before, especially from the initial point of unsettling. Indeed, overall composure is one of the key attributes of the Golf GTI’s handling, and that can also be said of its ride.

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There is a predictable firmness to the underpinnings but there’s no real abruptness, even on the optional tyres. Vertical movement is exceptionally well controlled, giving it impressive settled properties in Comfort mode. Its ability to dampen aftershake over large bumps is also worthy of note.

On that note, my time in the passenger seat of the new Golf GTI is over. It may not be the most powerful or fastest car in its class, but the new, eighth-generation model is a big advance on its predecessor. It feels wonderfully agile and responsive in the best of GTI traditions but also assuredly stable and composed when pushed to its limits. It’s going to be a few more months until we get to jump behind the steering wheel ourselves, but we already know there’s a great hot hatch here.

Volkswagen Golf GTI prototype specification

Where Germany Price £29,900 On sale Autumn Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 242bhp at 4700-6200rpm Torque 273lb ft at 1600-4300rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1370kg (estimated) Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 6.2sec (estimated) Fuel economy tbc CO2 tbc Rivals Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R, Renault Mégane RS

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New 2020 Volkswagen Golf: first prices and specs announced

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Comments
24

12 May 2020

 No, VW kind of missed the Boat with this car, others are doing it better, and that price is in Germany, not here.

13 May 2020

hopefully those silly looking daylights are not the ones fitted when this car is launched. look like a boy racer made them at home to show of to his uber cool mates. Its such a dull looking car generally ,where is the excitment V W Where are stand out features ,it looks the same as the last 3 models that preceeded this one. Utterly Boring park it in Asda car park and people will just walk by it Not sure about the over screened interior surely we will see a step back from this type as your eyes  when operating are taken of the road, a simple knob can be operated with out distraction.

13 May 2020
Antony Riley wrote:

Utterly Boring park it in Asda car park and people will just walk by it

That's the point. There will be lots of people wanting a subtle, grown-up hot hatch, and this is for them. If you want lairy there's the CTR and the i30N (and we should be glad the options are there), or buy anything and slap a dump valve and a cheap bodykit on it if your main concern is attracting attention.

VW know exactly where they're pitching this, and there'll be plenty of customers.

13 May 2020
Antony Riley wrote:

hopefully those silly looking daylights are not the ones fitted when this car is launched. look like a boy racer made them at home to show of to his uber cool mates. Its such a dull looking car generally ,where is the excitment V W Where are stand out features ,it looks the same as the last 3 models that preceeded this one. Utterly Boring park it in Asda car park and people will just walk by it Not sure about the over screened interior surely we will see a step back from this type as your eyes  when operating are taken of the road, a simple knob can be operated with out distraction.

 

T'was ever so...if you had bothered to read the OTHER article re this new GTi, you would know that they are NOT "daylights", nor indeed daytime running lights, but FOGLIGHTS.

 

Then you go on...to contradict your own hopes for this car, by in turn being critical of the lack of boy racer lighting, then calling it utterly boring. Not going to say you should make your mind up...not possible, given you don't have one.

 

Do though, admire your own self assessment, using the "simple knob" moniker...well done...

14 May 2020

Takeitslowly even if those lights are foglights still to my eyes they are an amature design not worthy to be  used on such an iconic car  .The rest of your comments I appreciate your  to the point analysis Thank you.Still a dull  looking car and No I don't  do glitzy like Honda or Hyundai .Remember the first Golf which I own in cabriolet form a nice shiny red with red roof  was designed by an Italian as is still considered the best of all Golf designs.Hello Italy for the next Golf design I say

14 May 2020

Takeitslowly why do people on these comments pages think it adult to think personal insults are a good way of replying to others who come from different angles of thought. Remember these comment sections are to be comments about what we on here like cars. Not about playground insults

13 May 2020
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 No, VW kind of missed the Boat with this car, others are doing it better, and that price is in Germany, not here.

So how are others doing it better?? The new Focus ST is a bit flawed. The Megane RS is too schizophrenic. The only contender, no surprise, is the Civic Type-R. But some may want the subtlety of the VW. And horsepower isn't everything.

13 May 2020
manicm wrote:

Peter Cavellini wrote:

 No, VW kind of missed the Boat with this car, others are doing it better, and that price is in Germany, not here.

So how are others doing it better?? The new Focus ST is a bit flawed. The Megane RS is too schizophrenic. The only contender, no surprise, is the Civic Type-R. But some may want the subtlety of the VW. And horsepower isn't everything.

 

A good point very well made...just a shame that petey has no concept of the fact that there are those who prefer quality of material, premium positioning and a considered choice rather than as you say, outright ps.

13 May 2020

Top secret VW test track.....as in Leha-Essien which everyone knows about and we've seen countless shots of. And where Bugatti has publicly set records at. Yes, very top secret!

13 May 2020

I don't GTi has much lustre anymore for VW as it once did, more so as it's no longer the top performance moniker for VW and hasn't been the case since the VR6 from the early 1990s appeared. And this was probably compounded by the woeful Mk4 GTi at a time when the first, and excellent, R made an appearance as the top performance Golf. Since then GTi has always been seen as 2nd best, and not just in performance terms. And in terms of performance and power (242bhp) of the Mk8 GTi, that's more akin to a just a higher output regular version of a car of this size nowadays, not a hot hatch. The TCR should just be the standard GTi, it'd restore some credibility to the Golf GTi brand then.

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