What is it?
Forty-four years. That’s how long the Volkswagen Golf GTI has been on sale. A rather decent run so far, then. The first-generation model, introduced in 1976, established the formula that each of its successors has carefully followed, with a decisive increase in performance and dynamics over the standard Golf together with a styling package that is as simple as it is subtle.
We limit our use of the word 'iconic' at Autocar, but it’s a description that fits the bill better than any other here. The letters GTI have long become synonymous for enthralling hot hatch performance. And so it is with a good deal of interest and intrigue that we approach the latest version, scheduled for delivery in the UK by the end of the year.
The new eighth-generation Golf GTI, driven here for the first time, receives a revised turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine from its predecessor – an engine dubbed the EA888 internally – developing the same 242bhp as the previous Golf GTI Performance. It also has a reworked chassis that benefits from a range of electronic upgrades, including Volkswagen’s new VDM (Vehicle Dynamics Manager), with a centralised network for faster reactions from a whole range of different chassis functions, most notably the adaptive dampers.
Based on the same MQB platform as before, it’s an evolutionary step in overall engineering terms, but relative to the previous car, it has gained greater design distinction from the standard Golf. This is most noticeable at the front, where it has 10 individual LED foglights integrated into the honeycomb insert within the lower part of its uniquely styled bumper.
That’s not all, though. There’s also a full-width LED light graphic with the red band running across the top of the headlight assemblies and through the grille at the front. It helps accentuate the new model’s width while also providing it with quite a distinctive night-time graphic. Further back, the new Golf GTI also adopts a small badge, or 'flitzer' as Volkswagen’s designers call it, within the trailing edge of the front wings, plus black sill elements below the doors.
The rear, meanwhile, is distinguished by unique tail-light graphics and a chromed GTI badge set within the lower middle section of the tailgate. The rear bumper is the same as that used by the standard Golf but gets a unique lower section in black. The traditional round tailpipes have also been moved further outboard compared with the seventh-generation model.
As it has been down through the years, the interior is a subtle upgrade over the standard Golf's. That means a new digitally orientated driving environment, with a 10.25in instrument display featuring unique GTI graphics and an 8.25in (or 10.25in as an option) infotainment display with the latest of Volkswagen’s connectivity functions together with touch-sensitive controls. A stubby shift lever sits within the centre console, operating the seven-speed automatic gearbox fitted to our test car. It’s quite a departure from the old GTI, exuding a typical impression of solidity, even if some of the shiny plastic materials incorporated within the dashboard appear a little cheap.
The GTI-specific touches are a welcome addition, giving the interior a more upmarket feel in combination with the sort of sporting flair we’ve come to expect from the long-running performance Golf. The standard sport seats, with integrated headrests for the first time, are plentifully adjustable and very supportive. The leather-bound steering wheel, complete with a red highlight and GTI badge within the lower spoke, is also more sculpted and fatter than that of a regular Golf. There are stainless steel pedals and unique trim elements, too.