By Gordon Hall
Golf 8 was announced with great fanfare over the past two years, with fans practically falling over themselves to get a closer look. Much had to do with new powertrain options and connectivity; particularly of the in-car and inter-car kinds. This included warnings about roadworks, traffic congestion, animals and changes of speed limit in the next few kilometres along your route.
But the Golf line-up in SA has been restricted to GTI, and special variants thereof, since early 2021, so the part about powertrain options is of little interest at present. And inter-car communications appear to be mercifully absent for the time being. It might appear “cool” at first glance but there are security issues; if one car can communicate with yours, a hacker could easily cripple you. Be wary of what you wish for.
Getting down to basics, Golf 8 GTI appears to be primarily a facelift, some changes in body size and added power, although Top Gear mentions higher-pressure fuel injectors, stiffer spring rates, sturdier steering mechanicals and a new computer that monitors engine revs, how much traction the tyres have, steering angle, what gear you’re in, the electronic front differential and (if you’ve ticked the box) the optional adaptive suspension – all at the same time.
It also scores VW’s seven-ratio DSG in place of the previous six-speed, although some markets’ first choice is a six-cog manual. That would be nice. To preserve the spirit, you understand.
Style-wise, the honeycomb grille is wider, with LED running lights set into it and an LED strip-light running across the nose. Out back, its twin tailpipes have been pushed further apart for a more planted appearance.
As for body changes, the new car is 29mm longer, 10mm narrower and 14mm lower on a wheelbase stretched by 7mm, making the new car’s dimensions 4287 x 1789 x 1478mm on a 2627mm wheelbase. According to local-car specs the fuel tank remains at 50 litres, luggage space shrank by three litres and tare mass increased by 165kg – from 1298 to 1463.
That possibly explains why, despite an added 11 kilowatts and 20Nm, acceleration from zero to 100km/h remains at 6.4 seconds, with maximum speed increasing only marginally from 248km/h to 250.
Is it still the hot-hatch, get-your-body-involved, thrill-a-minute GTI we’ve loved since late ‘76? That one produced 81kW and 140Nm from a bored and stroked 1588cc engine with 9.5:1 compression ratio. And carburettors. Coupled to a close-ratio, four-speed manual gearbox, zero to 100km/h came up in 9.2 seconds with a top whack of 182.
Possibly not. Although succeeding generations have all been appealing in their own ways, this one seems to have lost the plot. Don’t get me wrong; it still accelerates like a student at free beer call, makes the right growly sounds under hard acceleration, creates satisfying “pops” with each full-throttle upward gear change, has exactly the right steering feel, and corners like a demon in hot pursuit of the hounds of hell. But that special GTI ambience and spirit have been deleted – by over-enthusiastic app-meisters and misguided interior design.
I mean, really, who dreamed up that dinky little gear selector tab? Why, oh why, does one have to delve into menus to zero the trip odo or adjust the air conditioning? Why can’t it have a proper hand brake? Why must the intrusive lane-keeping aid default back on at every restart? And what’s with those motherly admonishments: ‘Mustn’t drive with the sunroof open’ (I want to find out when wind noise gets too loud – anything above 110 km/h), or ‘Don’t exit the car with the engine running’ (selector in Park and handbrake on – to open my front gate?)
This thing has morphed into your father’s Audi with “cool-app” inputs from somebody’s teenager. If I were rude, I might use dodgy language like, “I spit on this travesty!”
Sorry, Volkswagen, but the last true-to-spirit GTI, a Mark 7, rolled off a showroom floor this past April. Lucky buyer.
Test unit from VWSA press fleet
Price: R669 300
Engine: Volkswagen EA888 DNPA, 1984cc, chain-driven DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder with Garrett turbocharger
Power: 180kW between 5000 and 6300rpm
Torque: 370Nm between 1600 and 4300rpm
0-100km/h: 6.4 seconds
Top speed: 250km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 8.8 l/100km
Tank: 50 litres
Luggage: 374 – 1230 litres
Standard tyre size: 225/40R18
Turning circle: 10.9m
Ground clearance: 137mm
Warranty: Three years, 120 000km
Service plan: Five years, 90 000km at 15 000km intervals