New YM Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk8 renew its vows as a fan favourite

The gold standard of hot hatches returns in its eighth avatar



By George Kuruvilla

Published: Thu 28 Apr 2022, 8:44 PM

Like a Hollywood action movie, where the dutiful middle-class lead gets called to duty, gets his game on and eventually saves the world; the story of the Volkswagen Golf GTI is a bit like that. The base car, the Golf was and still is an affordable, practical and family-friendly hatchback; and when the common folk demanded a go-faster variant that wouldn’t break the bank, VW built the Mk1 GTI in 1976. Since then, it has been the benchmark for hot hatches around the globe.

So, what now? Well, the 2022 YM Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk8 is here to renew its vows as a fan favourite.

Body positive outlook

Okay so, it’s still a hatchback and if you’re looking for a traditional sports car like a Ford Mustang or BMW M4, this isn’t your thing... or you can accept that hatchbacks are cool now. And objectively appreciate the sleek ‘2-box’ look of the GTI. The new one is even longer and lower helping it achieve that incredible drag coefficient of just 0.275 Cd, beating the predecessor’s 0.3 Cd, thanks to aero-optimised spoilers and under panelling; reaffirming that ‘sleek’ adjective.

And while it retains its Germanic heritage i.e., just straight lines with no surprises, the signature red highlights signal that made-for-mischief DNA embedded in it — a bit like your serious office colleague who wears funky multicoloured socks with their suits. The identifiable red line on the front grille is now underlined by a new light crossbar and is flanked by LED headlamps with dynamic turning lights. Then there is the red trim on the front-side fender, the red GTI lettering on the tailgate and red brake callipers; all of it combines to give it that tasteful visual effect. Also, that honeycomb pattern found previously on the grille has taken over the complete lower fascia in the new car and the fog lamps — not one, but a collection of five — has been carefully inserted into the slots.

Got to admit though, I am not a fan of the standard 18-inch Richmond wheels, it doesn’t hold a candle next to the Lambo-style ‘Detroit’ wheels we’ve seen on the Mk5 GTI. Thankfully, our test car came with the optional and very chic 19-inch Estoril wheels. I suggest you spare the change as well!

The key fob has an interesting polygonal shape, and it almost looks like one of those random things stylists do in the name of design. But if you look closer, you’ll notice that this one has been made to fit the palm of your hand comfortably.

Click to open and you enter that very recognisably sporty interior. Our test car came with ‘Package 2’, which gives it ‘Vienna’ leather upholstery with 8-way power adjustability for the front seats, instead of the signature tartan fabric — now called Scale paper tartan for the obvious resemblance. Got to love that chunky, flat-bottom steering wheel, it’s still one of the best in the business; even better than the one in a McLaren I drove recently. And it’s not just about the look, it adds a great deal of tactility of the whole driving experience too. Also, a welcome addition are the Audi-Q7-style air vents that go across the dashboard end-to-end. So far, so good!

But as you investigate further, you’ll see that things start to fall apart a little. The squeaky flap over the wireless phone charger and the cheap plastic bits take away from the otherwise Audi-esque interior (at a budget) that the Golf was known to have.

The instrument cluster is a very customisable digital screen moving away from the analogues clocks of old; and the infotainment system centres around a large 10.25-inch screen. The futuristic touch controls that have replaced all the physical knobs and buttons are a bit of a ‘fail’, as the millennials would call it. The controls are neither very intuitive, nor very responsive. They aren’t spaced right either! For example, my thumb kept hitting the heated steering wheel button every time I wanted to up the volume.

On the bright side, there is a new cupholder with an innovative design that truly fits all sizes from a dirham karak to a large Pepsi bottle. And in the back, there’s room for three adults. Yes, one could ask for a tad more knee and shoulder room but your hairstyle will stay intact, we promise you. The rear also has climate controls and air vents, which is a big plus. And there are plenty of USB-C ports front and back to charge your phones and iPads, when on the move.

So, there are a few gripes! But these are by no means a deal breaker and the good news is that it still is a confidence-inspiring driver’s car. Apologies, I knew I was to hold that thought till the end, but the excitement couldn’t be contained. The driver’s seating posture is next to ideal. The wheel and the pedals are right where you want it and the visibility is excellent.

In order to crank the engine, you have to push the pulsating starter button. The gear lever or shall I say micro transmission stub looks good, but something more traditional would be easier to operate. Put it into reverse and the nice little VW badge on the tailgate flips open to make way for the rear camera. It’s been a VW thing for a while now.

Driving around town casually, you’ll find the GTI is a smooth operator just like its plain jane Golf sibling. In ‘Comfort’ mode it absorbs the vibrations that come off the road undulations and humps well and cabin noise is kept to a minimum. A manageable size also means it easy to drive and park.

Handover the keys to your sober, more responsible better half and he/she shall do the errands, pick up the kids and do the groceries for the week to the tune of an available 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with ease. The 2-litre engine being turbocharged makes as much as 370 Nm of torque which is found, higher up the revs. The hesitation is less pronounced in ‘Sport’ mode, but you need to work a tad to keep the pot boiling… and that is the beauty of it. Once you are accustomed to this setup, it’s a hoot to drive fast. From a standstill it will hit the 100 km/h in a claimed 6.3 seconds, which may be accompanied by some mild wheel hop.

Whether you go with the quick-shifting 7-speed DCT or choose to row your own gears with the available 6-speed manual, rev this 4-cylinder hard and the exhaust emanates a deep burble and even with pops when it hits the rev limiter, enriching the whole sporty driving experience. The steering is light and communicative and the very slight squirms from the front wheels are kept to a minimum, thanks to the limited-slip differential. But you get the feeling the car is alive and it begs for your attention. Be it hasty lane swaps, sweeping turns and quick directions changes, all manoeuvres are welcomed by the taut chassis.

As for fuel economy, VW claim a hybrid-rivalling figure of 6.31/100km. So, don’t be surprised to see the 800 km range on starting up. Of course, that number started to diminish the more I stomped my right foot out from every turn and at every traffic light… which I suspect, you will too! Still, it’s a frugal tool when it needs to be.

VERDICT

The latest iteration of the Volkswagen Golf GTI reaffirms its image as a practical family vehicle that begs to be driven fast and hard. The exhilarating acceleration, the burbling exhaust and the responsive chassis will turn the chore, called city commute into to a joyride. Again, if you have an aversion for hatchback profiles, it’s difficult to have you convinced. But once you get over that hump, you still have to deal with some hard plastics and the delayed response of touch controls, which leaves the door open for competent rivals to steal the show.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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