New VW Golf GTI: performance polish v8.0

Published: 26 February 2020

► New 2020 VW Golf GTI
► First official pics of Mk8
► Due at Geneva show 2020

The 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI has finally arrived – the most important model in the brand’s performance portfolio, the evolution of a hot hatchback icon and a paragon of affordable performance since 1975.

No pressure whatsoever, then, on this 2020 VW Golf GTI model.

The GTI (petrol) has been unveiled alongside its GTD (diesel) and GTE (petrol plug-in hybrid) siblings, all three of which will go on public display for the first time at the 2020 Geneva motor show in March.

What can we expect of the 2020 VW Golf GTI?

Much the same as we got with the standard Golf 8 models. 2020 GTIs promise to be a little bit quicker, more responsive, and even more premium than the cars they replace, effectively straddling the gap between more affordable hot hatchback such as the Ford Focus ST or Hyundai i30 N and a high-end competitor such as the Mercedes-AMG A 35 or Audi S3. Just like all of those cars, the Mk8 Golf GTI is five-door only.

Best hatchbacks you can buy right now

For once, though, there’s some rather less subtle styling differences that will mark out the GT triplets from their cooking cousins. You’ll still find classic touches such as tartan seats and red pinstriping, but optionally available is a unique lighting signature for the front made up of a full-width LED element across the grille and Clio RS-style chequered-flag foglights inserted into the honeycomb lower grille.

Both of these are to be found on the optional equipment list, though, so buyers will still be able to fly under the radar bearing only subtly reshaped bumpers and diffusers plus a rear roof spoiler.

Slightly puny 17-inch rims come standard, but you can option these up to 18- or 19-inches.

What about inside?

It’s all swoopy screens and touch-sensitive controls in here – like the standard Golf, almost every physical button has been eliminated in the name of sleekness. Could that seem out of place on this staunchly old-school, non-hybrid GTI? We’ll have to wait and see, but return buyers will doubtless be pleased to see the continuation of deeply supportive but still comfortable bucket seats, now with integrated headrests.

Available optionally is the highest-end dashboard the brand offers – Volkswagen calls this ‘Innovision’, but it’s really a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel blended into a further 10.0-inch infotainment display. All cars get the dials as standard, though only GTE models have that larger central screen without ticking an option box.

Manual cars – yes, you can still get a manual, and we’re damn glad of that – still get the iconic golf-ball gearknob. DSG cars, of which VW will sell plenty, get a similarly dinky drive-by-wire selector to the one found in the standard model. Not the most auspicious beginning to a journey, though the brand’s making lots of noise about the ‘pulsing’ lighting around the starter button just before you fire up the engine.

About that engine…

It should come as no surprise that there’s a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine under the hood. Our earlier prediction of 242bhp and 295lb ft was bang on the money. Impressively, these are the same figures as the GTE - including torque, which is a surprise considering the instant response that car has from its electric motor. No word on performance or fuel economy figures just yet.

Dynamically, Volkswagen’s promising big things – courtesy of a few clever systems drawn from the standard Golf range. The suspension – McPherson strut front, multi-link rear – can be optioned with DCC adaptive dampers as before, but they’re now capable of ‘talking’ to each other thanks to the ‘Vehicle Dynamics Manager’. This manages the lateral movements of the dampers as well as the electronic differential – VW says it’ll sharpen up dynamics and increase the spread of maximum comfort to maximum dynamism. That limited-slip differential is standard, by the way – all Mk8 GTIs will have the Mk7’s ‘Performance Pack’ features as standard.

Volkswagen won’t disclose the weight yet but claim to have kept it similar to the outgoing model, despite the extra equipment on offer.

Pre-set driving modes run through Comfort, Eco and Sport, but ‘Individual’ can be configured to make Sport even sportier. Possibly one to avoid potholes in.

Assisted driving tech is present and correct, with the usual glut of safety systems – as you’d expect. Volkswagen’s Travel Assist also appears, capable of driving the car semi-autonomously on motorways and larger roads at speeds of up to 130mph, provided you’ve an autobahn handy.

Is 242bhp enough?

Perhaps not against the mighty new breed of hyper hatches, but a higher-spec, higher-performance model will join the range later in the year. This is set to replace the outgoing GTI TCR, but will return without the TCR moniker as VW doesn’t plan to return to the race series. It’s likely that this car’s power output will begin with a ‘3’, though it’s early days yet.

When can I have one?

Right-hand drive cars will make their way to customers towards the end of 2020. No word on pricing just yet but expect a moderate increase over the outgoing model. We’ll bring you all the details as we get them, as well as all of our thoughts when we finally get to drive the new car.

VW Golf GTI Mk1 review: we test the original hot hatch 

By Tom Wiltshire

Bauer Automotive staff writer; Cotswoldian, Peugeot enthusiast, SsangYong Turismo apologist