Facelifted VW Golf 8.5 promises to be less annoying this time | CAR Magazine

Facelifted VW Golf 8.5 promises to be less annoying this time

Published: 23 January 2024 Updated: 23 January 2024

► Refreshed Volkswagen Golf officially revealed
► New-generation infotainment; AI-augmented IDA assistant
► Upgraded mild and plug-in hybrid engines, punchier GTI

Volkswagen has pulled the covers off its refreshed Golf hatchback and Estate, as well as the GTI and GTE models. The 8.5 facelift might look extremely similar to the previous car, but the aim has mainly been to address some of the Golf 8’s biggest flaws – mainly surrounding infotainment, software and interior quality.

The brand and its engineers, software developers and product managers have been hard at work updating and upgrading the bits that matter and, crucially, the bits that really did need fixing after the Mk8 redesign backfired – something that Michael Blaul, VW’s product marketing manager for the Golf, told us was a ‘painful experience’ with the initial launch of the Mk8 Golf.

‘It was a radical strategy to change everything [with the Mk8],’ says Blaul. ‘Because the average Golf customer had a Mk7, and before it a Mk6 and so on – they expect to step into the car and everything is there where you expect it, and that nobody has to explain it. [The Mk8] was the first time we had to explain everything.’

VW is hoping to turn its fortunes and the car’s reputation back around with the Golf 8.5 as the nameplate celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2024.

It doesn’t look like it’s changed…

Visually, not much has. The Golf 8.5 features a revised front light signature with more angular backlit headlight surrounds, as well as a glowing front badge – a first for Volkswagen, as restrictions on lighting use regarding logos are relaxed. Redesigned bumpers, including a squarer lower valance for R-line and GTI models, and some refreshed wheels (including fat five-spoke aero ones also seen on the new Passat, and almost Alfa Romeo-like ones for the GTI) feature. New lights at the rear feature, too.

Inside, not a great deal has changed either. Proper physical switchgear for the steering wheel makes a return, and the new infotainment system is on a MASSIVE screen. The screen itself is 10.4 inches as standard, with a larger 12.9-inch version offered on higher trims or as an option.

Besides the physical screen size, the infotainment has seen the biggest overhaul with the introduction of MIB4 also seen on the latest Passat and Tiguan, as well as Skoda-flavoured version on the Kodiaq and Superb. The old MIB3 one was mired with lag, bugs and even some frankly silly UI oversight. The touch slider for the volume and temperature controls wasn’t backlit, for example, making it useless at night, while the system itself was deeply laggy in its infancy (it was fixed somewhat with later updates) and riddled with menus and sub-menus for basic functions.

While the new MIB4 software here is still entirely reliant on touchscreens and touch panels, there’s a permanent quick-access climate control overlay and the ability to add a layer of icons on the top row for the settings you use the most. Our early test showed it felt much more responsive, too – though a bigger CAR ‘Does It Work?’ test will happen soon.

Much more on-trend news came at the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show, which saw Volkswagen announced that its new IDA personal assistant would be augmented with generative AI. This isn’t the first time that the AI chatbot service has been available in a car; DS has incorporated ChatGPT into its Iris infotainment in a trial phase, and we’ve tested it here – but VW says it’s the first brand that will have the software integrated as standard. It reflects the creeping ubiquity of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it’s popping up in all walks of life.

VW Golf 8.5: specs and engines

UK variants are to be confirmed, but VW has announced Life, Style and R-line trims for the Golf hatch and estate as well as a refresh of the GTI and GTE.

For the standard Golf hatchback and estate, there is a range of engines available. There are two TSI petrols (113bhp and 148bhp), two mild hybrid eTSI petrols (113bhp and 148bhp), two diesels (113bhp and 148bhp) and an eHybrid version generating 201bhp.

The eHybrid model features a 19.7kWh battery pack and e-motor as well as a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, and claims around 62 miles of electric-only range is possible. Then there’s the GTE plug-in hybrid. It, too, claims up to 62-miles of e-range, but benefits from 268bhp. Both the eHybrid and GTE PHEVs can be charged at up to 11kW on AC chargers and now up to 50kW via DC fast chargers.

GTI fans will be pleased as the potent 2.0-litre turbo engine has seen a power boost to 261bhp, but only a seven-speed DSG auto is listed in the engine specifications, marking the end of a manual Golf GTI.

After more punch? A facelifted GTI Clubsport and refreshed R will be on the way later in 2024.

When can I buy a new VW Golf?

VW says the first deliveries will start in the spring of 2024. UK prices and specs are to be confirmed, but likely won’t change too much from their current offerings.

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, gamer, serial Lego-ist, lover of hot hatches