Like a Ferrari, it’s quicker with the computers helping out

The Mk8 Golf GTI is four seconds faster around VW’s internal handling track at Ehra-Lessien than the Mk7. Some of that is down to its new tyres, but Volkswagen insists a big player in the new car going quicker despite having the same 245hp as the old one is… the computer.

Indeed, the test drivers say they’re around half a second faster per lap when they leave the ESC in Sport mode as opposed to switching it all the way off. Funnily enough, Ferrari now says supercars like the SF90 Stradale are faster around Fiorano when the driver allows the stability control to join in.

What’s going on? Well, the ESC Sport setting lets the Mk8 GTI slip and slide a little more than it used to, because the chassis has banished understeer thanks to a faster-acting differential and stiffer rear springs. But when it does cut in to stop you crashing, it’s less of a killjoy, so the car maintains more momentum, and it’s a bit neater through the corners.

As a result, the GTI 8 is nippier on its toes when the algorithm is mopping up where our talent hasn’t quite managed. Which is clever, right?

The steering wheel buttons are really, really bad

Glossy, shiny, smeary surfaces and haptic feedback don’t feel like ‘the future’. They feel like a concept car folly that maybe Peugeot would’ve signed off in the 1990s, but not Volkswagen in the definitive hot hatchback. These semi-clickable touch-keys are utter pants. Interestingly, the related Cupra Leon and Audi S3 don’t have them…

Volkswagen hasn’t lost its kitsch sense of humour inside

The new GTI is angrier looking on the outside, and sixty-three per cent more crammed with technical whizz-bangs than before. So you’d have been dismayed but unsurprised if Volkswagen hadn’t bothered with its usual GTI trademarks inside. But it has. The gearlever might be plasticky, but the grip remains dimpled like a golf ball, and the excellent one-piece sports seats get a new tartan plaid pattern. 

You’re going to want the optional adaptive dampers

Spec the Dynamic Chassis Control and a whole world of fiddling awaits. No longer are you restricted to standard Comfort / Normal / Sport settings. Oh no. Now, the touchscreen offers a sliding scale of stiffness, so you can tailor your ride setting just-so, and then save it in the Individual menu. Soon, all adaptive suspension that doesn’t have this option is going to feel a tad last-week. 

The paddleshift one comes first (just like a Porsche 911)

Yep, you’ll be waiting a little longer outside the showroom for the regular six-speed manual. Because it’s the more popular option, the seven-speed DSG twin-clutch auto will be the first GTI to hit UK shores, with prices around £1,400 higher than the eventual stick-shift.

At least the manual is an option, mind you – the new S3 has gone flappy-paddle only. Don’t feel too hard-done by about waiting a little longer to have a clutch pedal, since you’re in the same boat as every poor, poor soul who ordered a Porsche 992 but didn’t fancy the PDK gearbox. 

The rivals VW cares about most are Ford and Hyundai

“Which cars did you benchmark? Who do you most want to steal sales from?” is always an interesting question to throw at some expert car engineers. Sometimes they mumble something about “we don’t think this car has any rivals”, which is usually code for “please don’t test this car against any of its rivals”.

Team GTI, however, was less coy. Apparently the development bods listened to customer feedback and criticism of the old GTI, and then decided the best car to set the pace for the new GTI Mk8 was… the GTI Mk7 facelift. Which was, in fairness, a seriously sorted and roundly desirable bit of kit. 

They also claimed that only now the car is finished and ready to go on sale will they back-to-back test it against the hottest competition. Hmm, not sure if I believe them, to be honest. 

But the choice of competitors is noteworthy: Ford’s brilliant Focus ST, and the upstart Hyundai i30N. Funnily enough, Ford said its target for the latest ST was to split the middle between the GTI and the angrier Honda Civic Type R, while Hyundai is known to have benchmarked everything from the old RS Megane to previous hot Golfs when building its first quick i30. So, in the hot hatch world, what goes around comes around. 

There are faster GTIs on the way

Right now we’ve only driven the basic model. Not that it’s very basic, of course. It has 245hp and a limited-slip diff, which used to be exclusive to the GTI Performance. TG has learned there is a new GTI Performance incoming, and there’s likely to be a fresh ‘TCR’ limited edition at some point too. 

Those will plug the gap between the standard Golf GTI, at 245hp and and the next Golf R, which is set to offer 320hp, a DSG gearbox and all-wheel drive only. There’ll be a hot Golf for everyone, then. Unless you hate the steering wheel buttons as much as we do.

STORY Ollie Kew

Check out TG’s complete Mk8 GTI verdict here

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