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Driven: Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI

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If you grew up in SA and loved cars, chances are that the Golf GTI was a big part of your life. Growing up, all the team members at AutoAdvisor can fondly remember a GTI in their youth. Perhaps an aunt with a penchant for performance (and a really tidy Mk2) or friends with a highly-tuned Mk5 - the hot Golf has a special place in the hearts of many.

With the advent of the latest model, it’s safe to say that the Mk8 will certainly carry on that tradition. AutoAdvisor recently attended the launch of the latest model, which turned heads everywhere it went. 

Styling

Let’s talk about the styling first. The GTI has always erred on the side of caution - it’s certainly never been boring, but rather taken the more subtle approach to being a hot hatch. Sporty? Yes, but classy too. It’s the reason why older models still look fresh and appealing. The styling, while new, is more evolutionary than revolutionary. You can see this is the replacement model for the much loved Mk7, but it hasn’t dated the previous model either.

A number of colours are available, but we must say that we fell for the Kings Red Metallic and Dolphin Gray Metallic. To really finish your GTI off, we’d recommend plumping for the optional 19-inch ‘Adelaide’ alloy wheels (R12 000) and the IQ. Light Matrix LED headlamps (R10 000).

Interior

As neat and tasteful as the Golf 7 interior is, the Mk8 is a real step up in terms of style. It looks absolutely fantastic, with a clean minimalistic look. It’s well-equipped, too - ‘Vienna’ leather-trimmed sports seats, ambient lighting, three-zone climate control and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat are just some of the standard features.

What does take time to get used to (especially if you’re coming from an older Golf) is the lack of buttons and knobs. Most of the functions are housed in menus (and sub menus) via the Golf’s touchscreen infotainment system. In fact, even the climate controls have been digitised. Navigating through the various settings can be confusing and cumbersome at first, but over time, owners should be able to get used to it.

Quality wise, most of the interior surfaces are trimmed in lovely, dense-feeling plastics. This gives the GTI a premium feel from behind the tiller. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly excellent when you consider the starting price of R669 300. Another option we’d consider ticking is the Harmon Kardon sound system (R11 400). The sound delivery is incredibly crisp and is a worthy addition for any audiophile.

Space in the rear is impressive, with the GTI being perfectly capable of serving dual roles - hot hatch and family car. With a 374 litre boot, it will easily swallow a week’s worth of groceries or a couple of suitcases.

What’s it like to drive?

Quite frankly, it’s incredible. In a straight line, it’s really fast. Volkswagen claims a 0-100 km/h time of 6.4 seconds, but it feels quicker than that. The turbocharged two-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine produces a healthy 180 kW and 370 Nm of torque, sent to the front wheels via a seven-speed DSG gearbox. Changes are near-imperceptible and smooth, too.

Acceleration is really impressive, making an incredible noise as it goes through the gears. It’s notably quieter than before, though - perhaps as a result of better sound-deadening and refinement, or perhaps a more subtle, toned down exhaust note.

Through the bends, it just grips, with no sign of giving up. It’s engaging and dynamic, with plenty of feedback via the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The GTI remains a satisfying hot hatch to drive, with sharp dynamics and a well-chosen ride. The dual personality is what makes it so great, to be honest. Drive it like a mad man and it will entertain and thrill you. Feel like cruising? It can do that too, cruising with plenty of ease and refinement. It would be the ideal commuter for families with the need for just one (very nice) car.

Verdict

Not many things can compete with the GTI - It’s the car for all people, really. Fast, stylish, practical, well-built, economical, comfortable and safe. In fact, it’s really difficult to think of a place where the Golf 8 GTI wouldn’t thrive in day-to-day conditions. What’s more, it receives plenty of attention and we reckon it’s worth the money - just budget for some options. Even so, our ideal spec GTI (with the aforementioned extras) would still be priced at a reasonable R721 200.

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