Bodystyle, dimensions and technical details

James Disdale
27 September 2021

Part of the Golf’s huge success over the decades has been the ‘evolution not revolution' approach to its styling, something this eighth-generation machine demonstrates perfectly. Look back at the 1974 original and you can clearly trace the lineage to this latest car. There’s the same thick C-pillar with its kinked rear window line, the upright tail and a carefully considered simplicity to the surfacing. It could only be a Volkswagen Golf.

The same is true of the go-faster GTI addenda, which, with the exception of the rather sombre Mk3 and Mk4 models of the 1990s, follows a similar path of carefully evolved updates. Essentially, the template involves the subtle addition of red-piped trim, a smattering of GTI logos, a twin-exit exhaust and some larger wheels with fatter rubber. Rather garish illuminated front grill aside, it’s nowhere near as attention-grabbing as rivals, but then it’s this low-key, under-the-radar approach that has always been a key part of the Golf’s appeal. 

Under the skin you’ll find a revised version of Volkswagen’s scalable MQB architecture that made its debut in the Mk7 back in 2013. Changes designed to improve strength and refinement have been made, as well as tweaks to accommodate the latest electrical hardware and its more sophisticated software. For the GTI, there have also been big changes to the suspension and steering in an attempt to give the car a similarly hard edge as the upstart competition.

As before, it rides 15mm lower than the standard car and uses MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link rear axle. However, the front spring rates have been increased by 5% at the front and considerable 15% at the rear, while the optional DCC adaptive dampers have been recalibrated to deliver a wider spread of adjustability, which you can manually tune more precisely using a slider control on the new infotainment screen. The rear axle has also been tweaked to offer more lateral control and responsiveness, something that can be exploited by the 7%-quicker variable ratio steering rack.

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That’s not all, because the front axle now gets the VAQ electronically controlled XDS+ limited-slip differential as standard (it was previously only available as part of the Performance upgrade), which has been fine-tuned to act more quickly and aggressively when needed. There’s also the option of 19in alloy wheels (fitted to our test car) wrapped in specially developed Bridgestone rubber. 

In terms of the engine, it’s the venerable turbocharged 2.0-litre EA888 that’s seen service in numerous Volkswagen Group machines over the years, but with a higher-pressure injection system and tweaks to the combustion and emissions systems aimed at meeting the latest regulations. Power is now 242bhp for all GTI models - a figure that was previously reserved for the Performance Pack versions. A seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox is available for the first time, but here we test the six-speed manual.