The new Volkswagen Golf GTI holds few surprises, and that’s a very good thing. This model is so well defined that it doesn’t need reinventing with every generation; it simply needs renewing. There wasn’t much wrong with the seventh-generation version, so Volkswagen didn’t mess with the formula.
A tuned performance engine? Check. Classic front-drive layout? Check. Subtle but distinctly restyled bodywork? Check. Red GTI badging and flourishes? Check. Golf ball-styled gearstick? Check. Tartan sheets? Special seat fabric? Not check: it's tartan, of course.
Everything is as you'd expect it to be for a Golf GTI – and while such predictability doesn't sound too exciting, we'll be happy if the eighth-generation Golf GTI maintains the capabilities, performance and all-round usability of its predecessor. Of course, it does raise the question of what VW haven't added by not messing with a proven formula.
For starters, there's no electrified powertrain. Fitting a 48V mild-hybrid system may be bang on trend - and is being done to standard Golf models – but Volkswagen believes it wouldn't add anything to the GTI formula, because such systems only boost fuel economy and low-speed performance. So Volkswagen didn’t do so. To its enormous credit, it has made the GTI that GTI fans want. Brilliant.
Of course, as the industry shifts towards electrification, this does mean the GTI risks being left behind. It’s still jolting to consider that new cars like it could be banned from sale in the UK within a decade.
So that’s why the performance hike and subtle shift in presentation of the GTE plug-in hybrid is notable. For the first time, Volkswagen is presenting it as a true equal and alternative to the GTI, with near-identical styling and performance figures. Having a 242bhp plug-in hybrid that can sit alongside the petrol-engined GTI is a way of showcasing how electrification can appeal to hot hatch fans without forcing it on them.
It's similar to how Volkswagen had long presented the diesel Golf GTD, and has the benefit that the badges are technically accurate. Volkswagen's task now is to truly convince people that the GTE can be the true equal of its long-running sister car.