Volkswagen wasted very little time, having launched the current eighth-generation Golf onto UK roads in early 2020, to introduce the latest-generation of its celebrated hot hatchback, the Golf GTI. That shows you how important this derivative has become, and how significantly it now underpins the profitability of the Golf’s business case.
That’s because the GTI is big business. Relatively restrained and judicious tuning has, as its four decades on sale have rolled on, given the car a broader-based appeal than so many of its hot hatchback rivals; and that has meant money in the bank for VW. The plain truth is, every volume car-maker in the world wishes it had a big-selling performance derivative as commercially successful as this, and plenty have tried – and often failed – to emulate its recipe.
And yet, while you might expect VW to tinker very cautiously with such a recipe, we already know that this eighth iteration isn’t just more of the same. Over recent generational metamorphoses, the GTI has certainly been treated with kid gloves; when the goatee-bearded Mk5 segued into the slightly plusher but deeply familiar Mk6, and then into the more chiselled Mk7, you’d have been forgiven, in some ways, for blinking and not noticing.
But while Wolfsburg assures us that everyday, real-world driver appeal, and that just-so blend of desirability and bang-for-the-buck value, remain the heart and soul of the GTI’s mission statement, it’s certainly taken a risk with its golden goose this time around. The Mk8 is quite clearly a car with greater ambition to excite and entertain than so many of its forebears.
But is it still the slick, versatile, usable and dynamically polished proposition you might expect it to be? That’s a question that may be hard to resolve after you first long drive in this car. Modern fast front-drivers come a lot more firm and frenetic, it’s true; but the GTI has undeniably changed – and arguably lost part of its old appeal as a result.