The new Golf GTI takes the hatch game to unprecedented levels of luxury. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE
The new Golf GTI takes the hatch game to unprecedented levels of luxury. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE

Nowhere can you see the evolution of the hot hatch more than in the Volkswagen GTI. The esteemed hatch has always led the narrative on what constitutes the genre and if we are to benchmark on the eighth generation which has officially gone on sale in SA, things are getting slicker and more luxurious while keeping to the everyday practicality and budget performance ethos.

The big story here is digitisation. The bright, touch-operated InnoVision Cockpit operating system that debuted first in the Touareg SUV has trickled down to here. Whereas the previous Mk7 Golf had its fancy bits, it was largely analogue inside. This new Mk8 really is something else.

There are no buttons to speak off. Things are now hidden behind a labyrinth of digital menus and panels as VW has flattened even the volume button in favour of soft-touch, flush clicks and voice commands.

These are also found on the new-style multifunction steering wheel while the sunroof operation is capacitive. Press to tilt or swipe a thumb to open or close.

A fully digital 26cm instrument cluster with various info displays heightens the innovation vibe inside the new GTI, and I spent most of my first drive with a large and bright tachometer staring back. It adds to the fun of rifling through the gears of a new seven-speed Dual Shift Gearbox with (DSG), which is the only transmission choice on offer.

It’s a spacious cabin with a minimalist approach to switchgear. Picture: SUPPLIED
It’s a spacious cabin with a minimalist approach to switchgear. Picture: SUPPLIED

It’s a huge shift in operational expectations and the classic GTI recipe as VW has now added a cushiness that will be welcomed by others and perhaps loathed by purists.

Possible features include intelligent active lights, Adaptive chassis control, wireless App-Connect, a Harman Kardon sound system, park assist and rear-view cameras, travel assist with cruise control with autonomous brake and throttle and head-up display, all of which are the kind of toys you expect in more expensive brands. A black styling package that adds black alloy wheels and deletes the red grille stripe in favour a LED light strip running across the same area can be optioned to create more of a dark lord GTI.

The new face is smoothed out and is more revolutionary than evolutionary but it has the details that portray a spunky and practical hot hatch of the Volkswagen GTI ancestry. You can choose the GTI with Pure White; Urano Grey; Moonstone Grey; Dolphin Grey; Atlantic Blue; Kings Red; Reflex Silver, Deep Black Pearl and Oryx White Pearl.

As standard fitment the GTI arrives with 18-inch wheels and they offer a brilliant hybrid of comfort and traction. Optional 19-inch versions bring multispoke design and a discernible difference in how the GTI handles at the limit.

Thankfully VW hasn’t forgotten how to cook up a hot hatch. The long-serving 2.0l turbocharged four cylinder now outputs 180kW and 370Nm and drives the front wheels through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Performance is rated at 6.4 seconds from 0-100km/h and a 250km/h top end.

The drive is pleasantly refined. There’s a notable absence of wind and road noise while seated on its new, sporty seats with integrated headrests and side bolstering that belies their comfort.

There are new style LED taillights and dual side exhaust ports. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE
There are new style LED taillights and dual side exhaust ports. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE

The engine’s a firecracker with good mid-range shove for overtaking, and if you dig deeper there’s a slight hesitation of turbo lag.

On the limit the standard car on 18-inch wheels attacks bends with better precision than any of its predecessors; however, if you option the 19-inchers and Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) which varies dampers through the different modes there’s palpably better dynamic driving aptitude. In this technical setup the GTI 8 dives for corners with more conviction with little to no understeer. 

My first drive verdict is that the VW GTI 8 merges modern day requirements of classy sophistication with the textures of its predecessors exceptionally well. The goalposts for the next generation of hot hatchbacks to emulate have been moved by quite a margin, especially on the technology front.

The bummer is that it doesn’t pop and crackle as much but perhaps these theatrics are reserved for the upcoming Golf R.

The new Volkswagen Golf GTI is priced at R669,300 and comes standard with a three-year/120,000km warranty and five-year/90,000km service plan.

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