The latest iteration of what is regularly Australia’s top-selling hot hatch, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, has been revealed ahead of a world premiere in Geneva set for next week.
The GTI version of Volkswagen’s eighth-generation Golf is billed as “an agile, raw, efficient and high-tech compact sports car for the digital age”, which is “newly designed and engineered, fully digitalised and networked… fit for the modern era”.
That all might be the case, but the Mk8 GTI does retain the EA888 (evo4) engine, making an unchanged 180kW and 370Nm, that was added to the outgoing Mk7 Golf GTI during its life cycle to replace the original 169kW unit.
It’s mated to a six-speed manual gearbox or a new shift-by-wire seven-speed DSG auto (codenamed DQ381), the latter of which we’d expect to be standard in Australia. It remains front-wheel drive.
The Golf 8 is based on a refined, stiffer version of the MK7’s ‘MQB’ modular transverse platform. This helped it save money which is needed to pump into its massive electric car rollout, based around its MEB platform and kicking off this year with the Golf-sized ID.3.
The Mk8 Golf is 29mm longer, 10mm narrower and 4mm taller than before at a respective 4285mm, 1789mm and 1456mm. It also sits on the same 2636mm wheelbase.
The suspension configuration remains MacPherson struts (front) and multi-link (rear), but as well as utilising the stiffer chassis Volkswagen has fitted new versions of the familiar adaptive dampers/shocks that can make the car softer or stiffer depending on which mode is selected.
A new control system called Vehicle Dynamics Manager appears to marry together the XDS diff-lock system that slows the inside front wheel to counter understeer, with a given damper state.
That means the difference between isolating Comfort and maximum-damping Sport modes should be easier to notice. The GTI has always been a Jekyll/Hyde car, and the Mk8 promises to do it better than ever.
“It significantly increases the spread between maximum comfort and maximum dynamics, and the vehicle benefits from significantly sharpened driving dynamics as a result,” Volkswagen claims.
Volkswagen’s engineers have also reworked the steering, making it more direct in a bid to improve both response and feedback for the driver.
Stylistically the Golf 8 is as evolutionary as ever, though the nose is clearly quite a departure. The GTI has LED headlights that sort of blend into the illuminated slim grille, and sit below a distinctive red stripe. There’s also a new lower bumper with plastic hexagons and five-piece LEDs.
You can choose from rims sized between 17- and 19-inches, and can fit red brake calipers. There’s a GTI logo on the front fender. At the rear there are LED combination lights, twin pipes, a subtle lip spoiler, and a big badge with VW’s new corporate design, right above large red ‘GTI’ lettering.
While the engine is carryover and the exterior evolutionary, the GTI’s interior - along with the rest of the Mk8 range - is a far more significant upgrade. The red garnishes and checkered seat trim remain (the new checked design is called Scalepaper) but otherwise this is a far more modern place to be.
There is a completely new dimpled leather-wrapped wheel with flasher buttons to control audio functions and cruise control, behind which sits a 10.25-inch fully digital instrument readout with various configurable displays that appear to move beyond the MK7.5’s Active Info Display.
Between the driver and the side mirror sit a series of buttons to control the headlights. On the other side is a 10-inch touchscreen running VW’s latest infotainment system with phone mirroring, and access to its We Connect app services that’ll expand in scope rapidly. You can also get a heads-up display.
There are very few physical buttons. All the major controls, including for the ventilation and driving modes, are housed within a touch-sensitive panel below the central display. A 'slider' is used to regulate various functions, including the volume.
Below this sits a large open cubby, ahead of a stubby little gear shifter enabled by the move to shift-by-wire. There’s an electric parking brake with anti-creeping Auto Hold. The standard LED background lighting in 30 colour options lights up the dash panel, door trim, storage areas, and footwell.
When will the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI hit Australia?
The Mk8 Golf range is due in Australia in the fourth quarter of 2020, unless factory supply tightens. However the GTI is not likely to hit here until early 2021 due to tight supply.
The hotter AWD Mk8 Golf R will be revealed globally soon, and arrive in Australia in early 2021 to tackle the newly launched BMW M135i and Mercedes-AMG A35 at the more premium end.
Combined, the GTI and R account for 25 per cent of all Golf sales in Australia, a far higher average than is typical.