Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI: A Real-World Review (2023)

In South Africa, the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI was one of the most keenly anticipated models of 2021. Now that it’s here, does the hot hatch do its legendary predecessors proud… or have we (like so many enthusiasts in our nation) perhaps expected too much of the newcomer? You’re about to find out. This is no ordinary GTI review, however. We’ve already covered its performance credentials in-depth – here’s what the car is like to live with.

We like:Day-to-day comfort, punchy performance, refinement, techand connectivity

We don’t like:Infotainment system requires familiarisation, overly extensiveoptions list

Fast Facts:

  • Model Tested:Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI
  • List Price:R669 300 (before options)
  • Engine:2.0-litre4-cylinder turbocharged petrol
  • Power/Torque:180 kW/370 Nm
  • Transmission: 7-speeddual-clutch gearbox
  • Fuel efficiency: 7.0 L/100 km (claimed)
  • Performance:0-100 kph in 6.4 sec(claimed)
  • Load capacity:374 litres

Serious about buying?

Some Volkswagen dealerships regularly offer great deals.See our Car Specials here!

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To get the best possible understanding of the new GTI, we took the newcomer on an extended road trip.

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI –The story thus far

An all-new Volkswagen Golf GTI doesn’t come around very often, but when it does, there’s considerable fanfare – it’s kind of a big deal. Given the immense success story of the GTI lineage from the original Mk1, the Mk2, the so-so Mk3 and Mk4, to the game-changing Mk5 and its successors, the GTI’s considerable reputation is always on the line when a new-generation modelcomes to market.

Despite the global market ditching most body shapes in favour of fashionable crossovers/SUVs, sales stats still indicate that there is quite enough appetite for hatchbacks. Volkswagen knows this and while the T-Cross, T-Roc, Tiguan and Touareg sell in big volumes (and there are high expectations of the upcoming Taigo), there’s still massive interest in traditional products like Polo and Golf.

Because the GTI has achieved such a cult status,South Africais one of the biggest GTI markets outside Europe. In fact, the GTI has comfortably outsoldotherGolf derivatives in Mzansi for quite a while…

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Much has been written about the Golf 8 GTI’s performance and aural capabilities, but is it still aconsummate all-rounder?

What’s New?

Compared with its predecessor, the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI produces a bit more power from its 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol motor. The styling is bold and modern, with some fantastic details, such asthe LED light bar on the nose and those gorgeous 19-inch alloy wheels. Also, there’s no colour that shows off the GTI’s lines and poise quite like the Kings Red Metallic (as shown here).

The newcomer’s interior represents a huge leap forward in terms of digital integration. Traditional analogue buttons have been replaced by a fully digital interface, but the first thing most people will notice is the absence of a traditional transmission lever. Ithas been replaced by a minimalist shift-by-wire lever, which won’t be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that it decluttersthe Golf’s centre console.

If you’ve reached this far and are hoping to read aboutVrrr-pah!, launch control, crisp turn-in, dynamic handling, exhilarating acceleration and other performance things, rather read Ashley Oldfield’s launch reviewand watch Ciro De Siena’s on-track analysis video.This review doesn’t dwell on visceral aspects; instead, it focuses on the Golf 8 GTI’s comfort, refinement, practicality and technology.

Given the Golf GTI’s reputation as a consummate all-rounder, we wanted to put the newcomer through as thorough a test as possible during its tenure in our test fleet. Therefore, we spent as much time as we could behind its ‘wheel; we traversed a variety of tarred and dirt roads. Having filled the Golf’s load bayand back seats, weembarked on a road trip to a remote farm for a long weekend. With the weather forecast suggesting snow and sub-zero temperatures, we did consider a last-minute switch to something more suited to the conditions (like aTiguan, whichwas conveniently available), but stuck to our plan.

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During the road trip, the Golf 8 GTI was briefly dusted in fine snow.

(Video) is the MK8 Golf GTI a PROPER GTI? // Real world 2020 VW Golf GTI review + First drive

When we unlocked the Golf 8 GTI in low light,we were immediately impressed by its fancy LED arrangement. The foglights are bold and striking, but the subtle light bar, which linksthe headlights with the central VW emblem, really gives the car a premium image. It’s unmistakably a Golf GTI, with plenty of hexagonal patterning on the lowergrille and a few subtle red GTI badges on the nose, flanks and rump.

Before we get into an assessment of the newcomer’s cabin, we need to discuss the pricing and options. Volkswagen will sell you a Golf 8 GTI for R669300 (September 2021– before options. Our test unit came “fully loaded”, which pushedthe price close to the R800k mark and, at this point you’re probably thinking, “what on Earth could you add to the car to increase the price by such a big margin?”

A lot, actually. Don’t get us wrong, the standard GTI has plenty of standard equipmentand you could get away relatively lightly if you specified(what dealers call factory-fitted) options such as the sunroof and the gorgeous 19-inch wheels.However, a glance at the intuitive optioning system on Volkswagen SA’s product website demonstrates the broad scope for customisation available for thisderivative.

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Although the Golf 8 GTI test unit was shod with 19-inch alloys, its ride quality was relatively pliant.

South Africans are ardent fans of the sunroof, so that’s R15 000 extra.If you want the lovely Harman Kardon audio upgrade (R11 400), ithas to be taken in conjunction with the infotainment upgrade (R18 500. From a cosmetic point of view, you’ll want the clever IQ headlights (R10 000) and those tasty wheels (R12 000), soyou may as well specifythe Adaptive Chassis Control for R2 800 on top of that.

The Golf 8 GTI’s standard equipment list is anything but meagre, mind you. In stock form, the German hot hatch comes with, inter alia, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated seats and -steering wheel, park distance control, wireless phone charging, USB-C ports, cruise- and climate control (auto aircon), an electronicinstrument cluster (Volkswagen Digital Cockpit) and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility.

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI Cabin

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The Golf 8’s switch to a largely digital user interface is the biggest departure from the previous model.

If you are one of those who remainunconvinced by the aesthetic improvements from “7.5 GTI” (the last version of the previous-generation car) to “8 GTI” (this car), the newcomer’s substantially reworked interior may prove sufficiently revolutionary. In fact, currentVolkswagen owners who are looking to upgrade to this model may be flummoxed by how radically different its (largely digital)interface is. There is just a smattering of analogue buttons; Volkswagen anticipated that GTI its customers would be of the smartphone generation and implemented atouchscreen that responds to taps, slides and swipes.

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The high-end (dynamic) settings of the climate control system can be adjusted in the infotainment system menu.

After devoting a solid 60 minutesto become fully acquainted withthe new infotainment system’s interface, we got the impression that there hadbeen some overthinking on the part of some of Volkswagen’s software engineers. Granted, there are some clever shortcuts that would probably require several more inputs (and menus to sift through) in a rival product, but the VW system’s not all that intuitive.

Consider the climate control console –to turn up the temperature, you need to slide your finger along abar until you reach your desired setting. Trying to keep your eyes on the road whileperformingthis action is another story, but at least Volkswagen simplifies things to an extent by availinga Smart Climate menu, in which you simply click your preferenceseg. “Fresh Air” and it’ll take care of the rest.

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This small transmission selector replaces the traditional lever.

Once you’re seated in the plush-looking (and feeling) leather seats with the key nestled in your pocket, you start lookingfor a start button. It’s not in the usual place; keep lookinguntil you notice a gently pulsing rectangular Start/Stop button (located ahead of the transmission selector). It’s a classy touch and we’d like to believe the pulsing represents a heartbeat. Stab said button and the 2.0 litre will startup.

(Video) VW Golf GTI 2021 review - is the MK8 the best yet?

The digital dashboard (or as Volkswagen calls it, Active Info Display) has been given a makeover for this iteration of the Golf GTI.It too can be configured to present an overload of information or be kept distinctly minimalist. Also, it changes its colour scheme depending on whichdrivemode you’ve selected. Default and Sport are red, obviously, blue representsEco and yellow denotes an Individual setup.

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Then there’s that new-look multifunction steering wheel. GTI traditionalists will recogniseits general shape, red stitching/insertsand, of course, the GTI badge, but the physical buttons are mostly gone. They’ve been replaced by capacitive touch sensors with swipe/slide functionality. For example, instead of pushing a button repeatedly to turn up the volume, you simply slide your left index finger in a left-to-right motion. Alas, thetouch sensors don’t offer thetactile satisfaction the old-school buttons did and, on a few occasions, we accidentally brushed the steering-wheel heater button while skippingtracks.

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The Golf 8 GTI steering wheel remains one of the most recognisable tillers in the new vehicle market.

Is it sensible?

Practicality and sensibility have always been part of the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s appeal. Remember, it’s essentially a 5-door (premium) family hatchback that Volkswagen has been endowed with a distinctly sporty edge. First and foremost, theGTI is a Golf derivative, therefore weexpectit tobe quitecapable of transporting passengers in comfort… and accommodatingtheir stuff in a usefully sized load bay.

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The Golf 8 GTI’s load bay easily accommodated 2large suitcases, as well as a pair of cooler bags.

Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform has been an absolute winner for the Wolfsburg-based brand over the years. Not only does it underpin vehicles renowned for driving comfort and refinement, but its layout also facilitates excellent packaging. It’s impressive to think how scalable the MQB matrix is; it serves as the platform for everything ranging from the Audi A1 to the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace.

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Taller adults may battle for legroom in the new Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI, but there’s sufficient space to accommodate children.

Driving Wolfsburg’s Finest

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Forget Vrrr-pah! when driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic at 8:22 am on a grey Monday morning.

Vehicles with a performance bent are usually reviewedin a manner befitting motoring journalists who have 24/7 access to unlimited petrol, tyres and secure track facilities(okay, just to be clear… only the first part has some truth to it). In assessments of that kind, phrasessuch as “dynamic turn-in, communicative chassis, wholesome steering feel” (and so on) are liberally bandied about.

Yes, there’s an expectation that the Golf 8 GTI willdeliversatisfactorily when it comes to those things– and it does, but the reality is that the majority of customers who are capable of spending R700k on a hatchback are likely to want all the creature comforts on top of corner-carving capabilities… and spendvery little time driving flat out. If comfort and practicality don’t matter, you’ll adore the Toyota GR Yaris!

As for the rest of us, we need our spines uncompressed, our eardrums insulated and a steering setup that doesn’t require constant micromanagement. Thanks to the GTI’s different drivemodes, you can dial things up or down depending on your mood and situation. Reached a section of empty sweeping roads? Engage Sport and give it a good go. Trundling to work in congested peak traffic? Optfor Eco.

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There’s just one interior trim option. These contoured front seats are heated and cooled.

En route to our remote weekend destination (with our favourite tunes playing through the glorious Harman Kardon setup), the GTI cruised with impressiverefinement. In its default setting, the car’s demeanour is docile,but it can easily be made to deliver all of its 180 kW and 370 Nm of torque if you lean on the accelerator pedal hard enough. We got used to the small drive-by-wire transmission selector very quickly; the lack of a mechanical handbrake and a conventionaltransmission lever addedto the perception of extra freespace in the front of the cabin.

(Video) Volkswagen Golf GTE Summary - Should You Buy One in 2022?

The dual-clutch automatic transmission (DSG)is a peach– per default,it executes each shift almost imperceptiblyand is ever so responsive. Should you wish to overtake a slow truck on the N1, it doesn’t take much more than a quarter depression ofthe accelerator pedal to spur the ‘box into action… it’ll effortlessly drop from 7th to 5th gear and, once you’ve completed the manoeuvre, quietly slot back into 7th. Plus, drive gently and you’ll achieve admirablefuel economy;Volkswagen claims an average consumption figure of 7.0 L/100 km and we saw an indicated 7.9 L/100 km after a long stint in Eco mode.

Having completed the initial section of highway driving (during which we cruised at the national speed limit), we turned off onto a tarred road that wasn’t of the best quality (to put it mildly). A combination of heavy winter rains and, we imagine,being pummelled by countlesslarge trucks had resulted in some small potholes and undulations appearing on the road surface. Despite itslarger wheels wrapped in low-profile rubber, the Golf 8 GTI’s ride quality was firm but composed. There was none of the crashing and jarring you’d experience in cars such asa Renault Megane RS280 or a Honda Civic Type R.

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The 19-inch alloy wheels look the part and coped admirably with some muddy dirt roads.

As we approached our destination, the tar road made way for a dirt road, and it started to rain. By this time the outside temperature was down to single digits and we were thankful for the Golf 8 GTI’s heated seats and heated steering wheel. For us, this presentedthe perfect way to test a vehicle that’s renowned for its breadth of talents. A Golf GTI has to feel poised, balanced and capable irrespective of the conditions, and thanks to some prior research into the newcomer’s specified Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) settings, were able to ride along in comfort despite the rutted condition of the road surface.

The Individual drive mode allows you to customiseyour driving experience by adjusting a multitude of the Golf 8 GTI’s parameters (too many to mention here), but what really caught our eye was that there were not 2, or 3, but FIFTEEN suspension settings to choose from. Is that overkill? Absolutely. That’s at least 10 too many. Still, by dialling the DCC to a “pillowy” setting, we could slowly but surely traversethe uneven parts of the road. In the rainy conditions, the foglights helped us to spot nasty potholes and the sufficiently responsive steering helped the GTI to swerve away from those hazards.

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There are no fewer than 15 Dynamic Chassis Control settings to choose from. The wide choice is somewhat daunting.


With such significantadvancementsin the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s cabin design, user experienceand technology, we could have written tens of thousands of words on the 8th-generation modelwithout it even needing to leavethe driveway. The user interface is initially complicated and fussy, but not impossibly so – you’ll just need to spend some quality time to familiariseyourself with all the menus.

Those who want to exploit the newcomer’sfull performance potential(and virtually all GTI owners will, at some point) maygetquite frustrated when they attempt to engage launch control in a hurry. You’ll need to set the stability control to ESC Sport, but that setting is hidden deep within the infotainment system, there’s no longer a button on the fascia for that. Hint: It’s hidden under vehicle settings– brakes.

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The ESC Sport mode lurks in this unassuming-looking menu.

As you becomeaccustomed to the Golf 8 GTI’s digital interface, you’ll start to remember where settings are, but the best part is that you can swipe down vertically on the touchscreen, which brings up a shortcut menu. This is where you can deactivate start/stop (if necessary) and access ESC Sport, so you don’t necessarily have to spend minutes swiping and sliding through all the menus and settings.

As much as we like the fancy new digital look, the user experience is ultimately not entirely convincing. Surely some compromise can be made with a blend of analogue buttons and touchscreens?

With this new look – inside and out– plus the uprated engine, the new Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI moves deeper into the premium space.The thing is, once you’ve ticked a few options, the humble Volkswagen starts rubbing shoulders with some premium offerings (in terms ofprice). AroundR700k also gets you into aMercedes-Benz A200 AMG Lineand Audi A3 40 TFSI Sportback. The Benz and the Audi are similarly sized to the Golf, but they’re considerably down on power/torque and their standard equipment levels aren’t nearly as comprehensive as the GTI’s. What’s more, the level of fit-and-finish in the Golf is certainly up to the standard of its Audi cousin and ahead of the Benz(every A-Class test unit we’ve sampled thus far has featureda few marginal plastic surfaces and emitted rattles and squeaks).

However, the Golf 8 GTI faces one rival that its predecessor didn’t… BMW offers a 180 kW/380 Nm 128tithat seems to have beencreated specifically to snaffle GTI customers. “Why buy a VWwhen you can get a BMW?”is probably the sales pitch you’ll hear when you walk intothe dealership. The GTI and 128tiare near-identical in performance, as you’ll see in the drag race we conducted early this year.

(Video) REVIEW; is the VW Golf MK8 GTI a proper GTI?

Compared with the Golf 8 GTI’s introductory price of R669 300, the BMW 128ti costs R707 918and the (165 kW/350 Nm) Mercedes-Benz A250 AMG Line retails for R734 240 (September 2021), which are premiums of just under R40k and R65k respectively, before options. We’d suggest that if the Volkswagen is at the very limit of your budget, don’t feel aggrieved that you cannot make up the difference to the BMW or, especially, the Benz; the latestGTI is a sound choice and remains one of the most desirable vehicles in its segment;nothing says you’ve achieved successquite like parking a GTI in the driveway…

Compare the Golf GTI to the BMW 128tiand the Mercedes-Benz A250 here.

It’s not every day that an all-new Golf GTI comes around. If you’re a Golf 6-,7-or 7.5 GTI owner, the new version’s enhanced cabin and the slight increase in performance just about justifies an upgrade; the Golf 8 GTI remains accomplished– Volkswagen arguably reins in its standard GTI to ensurehardcore enthusiasts will clamour for future Performance Packs and/or Clubsport/Clubsport S/TCR versions.

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The Golf 8 GTI has changed so much, there’s even a new key!

Now, if you want a Golf 8 GTI (as tested here), they’re unfortunately in short supply due to the global semiconductor shortage, but the units are slowly coming in and, once the initial rush of buyers has blown over, you should be able to get one. As a matter of fact, thecar-chip crisisdelayed the GTI’s launch becauseVolkswagen SA struggled to secure units to supply its respective local dealerships. There’d be no point in launching avehicleif there were plenty of customers ready to hand over money… but very few vehicles to sell them. It’s not just a Volkswagen problem, the entire automotive industry is battling.

So, after a few hundred kilometres in adverse weather conditions on tarred and dirt roads in varying states of decay, we can conclude that the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI is still the best all-rounder in the premium hatchback segment. It may not be quite as engaging/driver-focused as the (still manual-only in SA) Hyundai i30 N or outgoing Honda Civic Type R, but it beats its rivalswhere it counts most: blending spirited performance with day-to-day usability (in terms of comfort,refinement and practicality),offering an expected level of luxuryand, of course, the latest in onboard tech features.

Want to buy a Golf GTI? Browse units for sale

Further Reading:

Volkswagen Golf R International launch review

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI Dynamic and performance review

(Video) FIRST DRIVE: New VW Golf GTI Mk8 2020: In Detail, Interior, Full Driving Review (4K) | Top Gear


1. 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTi MK8 Real World First Drive // Jonny Smith
(The Late Brake Show)
2. How The New Golf 8 GTI Is the Best And Worst GTI I've Driven
(JayEmm on Cars)
3. VW Golf 8 GTI FULL REVIEW - driving the Mk8 Golf GTI 2021 - Autogefühl
4. NEW VW Golf 8 GTI Clubsport Review: This Is The GTI You Want | Carfection 4K
5. 2022 Volkswagen Golf R – MPG Test | Real-world Highway Range [DSG]
(Daily Motor)
6. 2022 VW GTI – MPG Test | Real-world Highway Range
(Daily Motor)
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