The sense of deja vu is palpable. Here we have a car with 242bhp, an ‘EA888’ inline-four turbo engine, a ‘VAQ’ electronically-controlled locking differential, and some tartan-check fabric seats. It doesn’t even look that different from the outside.
The VW Golf 8 GTI is a lesson in not rocking the boat. Much like the Audi S3 and Skoda Octavia vRS we tried not so long ago, it picks up where the old one left off. It is, however, significantly more fun than either of those.
The uninteresting over-competence of the all-wheel drive S3 doesn’t feature here, and with the lower weight figure and smaller body relative to the vRS, the GTI feels significantly happier when you want to chuck it around. The standard-fit VAQ diff is also more aggressive than it is on the Skoda as it manages power across the front axle in the hunt for traction.
The front end doesn’t have as much bite as some hot hatches with purely mechanical setups, though, particularly in the wet. Nor does the fast and light steering give a whole lot of meaningful feedback. Driving the Golf back-to-back with the tremendous Ford Fiesta ST Edition (purely for practical photoshoot purposes) really didn’t do it any favours. But people don’t go for a GTI when seeking outright capability or engagement - these cars have always been about balancing useable performance with everyday practicality. And it’s this blend that the VW gets spot-on.
That smooth, predictable delivery of the EA888 we’ve come to appreciate is present and correct, accompanied by some synthesized but pleasantly grumbly noise from the ‘Soundaktor’ hidden behind the front bulkhead. It feels a lot quicker than the 242bhp output suggests it should, helped by the seven-speed dual-clutch ‘DSG’ gearbox efficiently rattling through each gear.
In terms of raw numbers, you’re looking at 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds for the auto, and an electronically-limited 155mph top speed whichever version you pick. Our choice would be the six-speed manual, which is £1500 cheaper than the DSG-equipped car.
‘Dynamic Chassis Control’ with adaptive dampers is available, but we’ve no complaints about the standard passive setup. It’s stiff enough to stop the GTI rolling to an excessive degree, without ruining the comfort the rest of the time. See? Balance.
It doesn’t seem at all interested in engaging with lift-off oversteer antics, but that’s how it should be. The GTI has long been about secure, dependable handling with just a dash of fun. The new one carries on that mantra.
In terms of truly new stuff, you have to look inside. And as with the regular Golf 8, this is where the weaknesses emerge. The GTI’s cabin is, as it should be, fancier than a boggo Golf 8’s, but there are still cheap-feeling bits of trim. More egregious is the touchscreen infotainment setup, which you have to use for most climate functions. It’s needlessly fiddly, and it takes a moment or two to properly respond to your touches. Having to stab it several times to reach the sport and off settings for the traction control is also pretty irksome.
With that in mind, if we had a Mk7.5 GTI, we wouldn’t be rushing out to order the Mk8, unless it was lease swap time or we had a particular obsession with brand new motors. Picking up where the old one left off is all well and good when the recipe was so successful last time around, but it also means the new car isn’t a must-have upgrade, particularly with the infotainment frustrations.
Compared to its peers though, it’s a very tempting option. Few hot hatches will slot into your life as well as a Golf GTI. And did we mention the tartan?