The 8th generation of the Volkswagen Golf is here and this allowed for a unique experience. Testing the latest iteration of the Golf GTI in not one but two continents. Reason why? We felt the need to find out how the roads and the country you live in determine your experience with a sporty hot hatch like the GTI, which carries a long heritage ever since the boxy first-generation machine burst onto the scene in 1976.
Countries of choice? Germany, the home of Volkswagen where the GTI is at the top of the model line-up alongside the Golf R and the United Arab Emirates, a unique place where the GTI is the entry-level version of VW’s hatchback. Over more than 4.5 decades since its initial reveal, the faster variant of the hatchback Golf has showcased its brilliance while also having dealt with fierce competition from brands across the globe all wanting to take their share of the hot hatch market space. In today’s market there is a wide variety of options available. From brands like Mercedes and BMW, to Hyundai and Ford which have their Focus ST and i30 N. More than enough different tastes available for you to choose from, and some which are a better choice when you look at value for money and the level of performance they have on offer.
Gallery: 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI test review
The latest Golf 8 is based on the same ‘MQB’ chassis foundations as the Mk7 and the engine is an evolution of the same ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo engine. The four-pot produces a lovely 241 bhp and 370 Nm, which is converted to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed paddle shift DSG. Both vehicles were outfitted with the DSG, which provided a wonderful, but interesting level playing field. Other upgrades over the previous model Golf are the slightly larger footprint, the new exterior look and reworked suspension offering improved handling.
On the inside, you will find a new look to the cabin which features multiple newly introduced TFT screens and design details still remembering you that you are in a GTI model. The overall look and feel is more than decent, but a bit minimalist for my liking. The absence of a wide range of physical buttons becomes annoying after days behind the wheel. There are two touch-sensitive sliders positioned underneath the main infotainment screen for the audio volume and cabin temperature control, plus four ‘hot keys’ for shortcut menu access. All other controls are inside the menu and controlled through the touchscreen, which isn’t the most straight forward. Switching off the start/stop functionality took more than a few minutes before we had found the place where you could disable it.
Still the interior is spacious enough to carry four people and a decent amount of luggage. Don’t expect Skoda-like interior room, but it is more than sufficient. The overall experience inside the cabin is one which is more than decent and what you expect from a Volkswagen product. Intrusive noises are hardly noticeable within the cabin and overall quality of the materials is good. The boot space offers up to 374 litres, which is again not Skoda-standard, but decent enough in the segment of hatchbacks. If required, you can opt to lower a special false floor alongside the option to lower the rear seatbacks for additional space.
Driving the Mk8 GTI can be best characterised in one word; familiarity. The fun character of the vehicle makes it somehow feel faster than its predecessor, but also more composed and refined while staying familiar to its hot hatch nature. If there is one criticism to make, then it is the lack of true emotion. The performance is delivered with a level of composed fun, but not at an emotion level that really puts a massive smile on your face. It is almost business-like in comparison to other hot hatches in this market space. This is emphasised by the level in which the throttle and brake feel are calibrated. Same goes for the steering, which is excellent, but could be a bit more sporty. Maybe I am just in need of the Clubsport version, which has a larger intercooler and new turbo. Plus a slightly more exciting soundtrack and handling.
The surprising difference in nature was felt after having driven it in Germany and taking the wheel several weeks later in the UAE. In Germany, the GTI felt less at home, which is an interesting thing to say on its own way. While piloting the Golf, you scream for more performance due to the faster road network, the availability of more twisty roads and the absence of speed limits on the Autobahns. While it takes on sweeping turns and more technical back roads with ease, you constantly feel it could handle more if there was more performance under your right foot and an enhanced soundtrack coming from the back. You constantly ask for more emotion from this hot hatch in a three-piece suite.
This character changes into another direction the moment you land in the UAE and step behind the wheel of the Mk8 GTI. Somehow this Golf felt more at home in the streets of Dubai. The GTI settled in with ease on the speed limited multi-lane highways, short exits on highways and the immense maze of parking garages. It offered through its size the ability to blend in without being noticed, while also being highly capable of taking on those horrendous speed bumps and dealing with the way other drivers seem to want to showcase their ‘interesting’ driving skills. The more subtle nature and often staggering nature of Dubai’s roads offered a more relaxed driving nature which will meet most drivers’ needs. This is also one of the reasons why you see so many GTIs across the Emirates. It is a highly successful vehicle due to its versatility, ease of use and ability to offer performance at a level that you never really need more.
For those of you considering the current iteration of the Golf GTI and you are familiar with the nature of the GTI brand, then this Golf GTI won’t disappoint you. It is a better car with a few interior mishaps with regards to its infotainment and touch controls. Look beyond those, and you have a lovely hot hatch with plenty of performance and oomph capable of bringing you from A to B in sheer business-like style and with decent abilities. However, don’t expect any charm and emotion, more under the radar performance capabilities which are more than sufficient when you need that every day-commute drivability from a five-door hatch.