VW Golf long-term test: trading up into a GTI

Published: 28 September 2021

► CAR lives with a Mk8 Golf
► The same as always, is that a good thing?
► Steve Moody swaps out of a regular one for a GTI

So the question we asked ourselves at the onset of this particular test was, in a world of electric and crossovers, is this dear old new Golf actually relevant any more?

Well, after six months, I can say definitively: yes.

I've thrown the kitchen sink at it, everyday life-wise, and there's not really been any point where I've thought I could do with sitting in a more commanding position, or felt that twinge of guilt as the fuel needle falls. There's enough room for everyone and everything, and it goes about its business with minimal fuss.

I looked at the light grey fabric seats when it turned up and doubted they would stand the test of time, but even melted Maltesers wipe off with a quick swipe. The boot I thought might be a bit on the small side, but two Labradors didn't complain and nor did our school-project cardboard-cutout Ranulph Fiennes.

When you concentrate, you can get impressively low fuel consumption, with 60mpg not unheard of. Sometimes.

Blimey, this is a dull report.

To be honest, it's a reflection of the car, I hope, and not me. It's fine. Perfectly Golfy, ideal for somebody who really just wants to move about unfussily and comfortably, and has no interest in an exciting or involving driving experience.

But with cars now pushing all sorts of technological boundaries, where each one has more tricks than Dynamo, the Golf hides the clever stuff: you really wouldn't know it was a mild hybrid.

Less clever is some of the technology that does make it to the surface. While this is hardly news, the touchscreen system is sketchy to say the least. How did it ever get signed off in such a state?

So the regular Golf, in £30k-ish mild-hybrid form, is great at being a Golf, less good at being a funky, techno showpiece. Still relevant, but by no means cutting edge.

But this is not the end of our investigation into living with a Mk8 Golf. Because now, after six months in the eTSI, I'm switching to the latest GTI. Golf GTIs rarely disappoint, but you do wonder how relevant it will feel in a world that seems to expect its hot hatches to be much hotter than this.

I wasn't that fussed about the dog sick/bile yellow colour on the eTSI but the GTI has turned up in Kings Red metallic, and frankly it is stunning. Not bright, not dark, just richly, sparkly, decadently ruby. People keep commenting on how good it looks, which is a decent start for any long-term test car.

A thing to note in the Golf changeover here is the price. Our 1.5 eTSI Style was a smidge over 28 grand and if I hadn't got a bit carried away on the options list the GTI would be only £7000 more for 95bhp extra and a skipload more presence and performance, as well as promising more driver involvement thanks to the new front locking differential and Vehicle Dynamics Manager system. In that context, £35,025 for a car like this is good value, even before a wheel has turned in anger.

But as I said, I might have got a bit carried away on the options list, and this particular one is fitted with Dynamic Chassis Control (£785), 19-inch Adelaide alloys (£725), rear-view camera (£300), head-up display (£625), Vienna leather seats (£2100), Discover Navigation Pro (£1600) and a digital key (£215), because in the old Golf I got bored of having to dig around for the fob in pockets and bags, among facemasks and sanitiser, to unlock it.

Because it was so new out of the wrapping, I've spent the first couple of weeks doddering about, running it in, which is probably an old-fashioned affectation these days, but it means I can't really make any early comments about performance.

One early relief is that the ride appears excellent. In my excitement to fit bigger, snarkier alloys, I might have condemned myself to six months of oscillating eyeballs and chattering teeth, given the state of some of my local roads, but it is firm yet beautifully damped. One early concern is the dreaded VW touchscreen seems laggier than even the eTSI's.

So go on, I'll roll the old cliche out (and promise to lock it away again after): is a Golf GTI all the car you ever need? Time to find out...

By Steve Moody

Logbook: VW Golf GTI

Price £35,025 (£42,685 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 240bhp, 6.3sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 38.2mpg (official), 33.1mpg (tested), 168g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.6p per mile
Miles this month 192
Total miles 282

Logbook: VW Golf 1.5 eTSI DSG Style

Price £28,025 (£30,900 as tested)
Performance 1498cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 147bhp, 8.5sec 0-62mph, 139mph
Efficiency 43.2mpg (official), 43.9mpg (tested), 130g/km CO2
Energy cost 13.3p per mile
Miles this month 987
Total miles 4045

Month 5 living with a VW Golf: don't look, GTI...

golf dials

While this Golf is a pretty uninspiring drive, the upside is that it's better than most at suppressing fuel consumption, when the mood takes you.

I've done a few hypermiling competitions over the years, and I reckon this 1.5 eTSI would fare well. The mild-hybrid powertrain, giving a little electro-nudge at low speeds and shutting the engine down imperceptibly at a moment's notice, means you can spend a lot of time not blowing up the Earth's resources.

If you're concentrating it's relatively easy to beat its official fuel economy figure and get over 60mpg – from a petrol engine. Brilliant! I must be getting old...

By Steve Moody

Logbook: VW Golf 1.5 eTSI DSG Style

Price £28,025 (£30,900 as tested)
Performance 1498cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 147bhp, 8.5sec 0-62mph, 139mph
Efficiency 43.2mpg (official), 40.1mpg (tested), 130g/km CO2
Energy cost 12.2p per mile
Miles this month 759
Total miles 3058

Month 4 living with a VW Golf: too close to call

golf id3

One of the incontrovertible truths about the Golf is that it is suited to any occasion. This current one, even in middling 1.5 eTSI Style form, is no exception.

So it is ironic that a car pushing it to the margins is also from Volkswagen, and really isn't suited to all occasions. The ID.3 is a Golf for those who find the Golf a bit too much of a rounded companion, and prefer something with more electric habits.

And there are more of those customers. In some months, the electric one is outselling the petrol one, and it is easy to see why.

The Mk8 Golf is a workmanlike upgrade while the ID.3 is essentially the Golf as concept car: what designers and engineers would build if the market allowed them to move the Golf away from its inch-by-inch evolution. True, from a distance, it hardly looks like a futurist's wet dream, but it is smoothly handsome and has sleek detailing, while the Golf's two-box outline looks clunky alongside.

Where the Golf's cabin is everything you might expect, with big, solid surfacing (albeit with some bits of rather lacklustre plastic lower down) the ID.3 is uplifting. It's light, airy, clever and elegantly spare.

And the way it drives. I adore electric cars for their ceaseless momentum and the ID.3 is as good as any at this: the instant production of speed means you get everywhere quickly without going fast – as long as you don't need to go more than 180 miles, that is.

Over poor surfaces the ride is chattery, and the regenerative braking infuriatingly inconsistent. But getting back in the Golf – revvy, noisy and gearchange-y – felt strangely reductive.

Then I had to go on a 350-mile trip. The Golf on a motorway is dependably excellent and did nearly 50mpg. The ID.3, for all its brilliance, couldn't be as handy. Given the choice of only one, I would dearly love an ID.3. But for now, and with boring rationality kicking in, I'd stick with the Golf.

By Steve Moody

Logbook: VW Golf 1.5 eTSI DSG Style

Price £28,025 (£30,900 as tested)
Performance 1498cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 147bhp, 8.5sec 0-62mph, 139mph
Efficiency 49.5mpg (official), 42.4mpg (tested), 130g/km CO2
Energy cost 12.8p per mile
Miles this month 897
Total miles 2299

Month 3 living with a VW Golf: a celebrity hitch-hiker

golf canvas

I gave Ranulph Fiennes a lift the other day and I was very surprised he fitted in.

Due to a failure of online ordering the canvas for my son's art project on the subject of explorers was not quite as anticipated and mixed-media Ranulph ended up somewhat more massive than planned. But with the rear seats laid flat and the fronts pushed forward, he slotted in the Golf as snugly as if he was in a sleeping bag at the North Pole.

On this front, tackling the mundanities and idiocies of everyday life, the Golf is consummate. As I said when it first arrived, the hatchback is an old-fashioned concept but an enduring one, and for a reason. And this smooth Golf does it as well as any. But it has an unambitious comfort zone, and once out of it, things are not quite as strong.

There's a sport setting on the gearbox, but it does not do sport. The engine is horribly harsh when revved above 3000rpm, delivering nothing, while the chassis lags behind steering inputs and changes in altitude, and things get quite discombobulated pretty quickly, with the body heading one way while the direction of travel is elsewhere.

While this is a car for many things, it is not for fun.

By Steve Moody

Logbook: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI DSG Style

Price £28,025 (£30,900 as tested)
Performance 1498cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 147bhp, 8.5sec 0-62mph, 139mph
Efficiency 49.5mpg (official), 40.1mpg (tested), 130g/km CO2
Energy cost 12.9p per mile
Miles this month 459
Total miles 1402

Month 2 living with a VW Golf: Mr. Coldfinger's kiss of death

vw golf screen

Nine pokes it took me to get it turned on. You'd think I'd be a bit more skilled after all these years.

I'm starting to think that the cold weather affects the efficacy of the Golf's touchscreen, because first thing in the morning it's grumpier than my wife with a hangover. This morning, just to switch the heated seat on, access the climate control, turn the temperature up high and sync it (again) with my phone, it took nine frustrating jabs with my finger, because half those thrusts didn't land the requisite punch.

Oh for old-fashioned buttons, like the two I have to press every time I start the car to switch off the infernal lane-keeping assist...

By Steve Moody

Logbook: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI DSG Style

Price £28,025 (£30,900 as tested)
Performance 1498cc turbo four-cylinder, 147bhp, 8.5sec 0-62mph, 139mph
Efficiency 49.5mpg (official), 39.8mpg (tested), 130g/km CO2
Energy cost 13.1p per mile
Miles this month 189
Total miles 843

Month 1 living with a VW Golf: hello and welcome

vw golf ltt cornering

The first point of order, and then we shall never speak of it again, is that the day our new Golf Mk8 was to turn up, my dog ate something untoward and then threw up some luminous bile-coloured sick on the landing carpet.

As I was cleaning it up, a car of exactly the same luminous yellow threw itself up on our driveway. What a coincidence!

Lime Yellow Metallic is a £625 option that may not be chosen by many buyers not involved in breakdown recovery, but it's certainly garnered quite a bit of attention. That may be at odds with the usual Golf proposition, of providing high-quality, mostly anonymous driving, but this level of attention-seeking feels appropriate for an icon trying to stay relevant: the ageing rocker making a grime album. For as the Golf has gently and conservatively morphed into its fairly predictable eighth generation, the streets are burning (or in fact, quite the opposite: not burning) with revolution and radical reinvention.

Even Volkswagen itself has put a new-era rival into contention with the dear old Golf in the shape its own ID.3. The ultimate dissonant, disruptive act. How very 2020s...

So I'll be spending six months with the Golf working out its place in the world. Or if there is a place for it at all. We've gone for an engine which, while not the full grime album, is perhaps a collaboration on one or two tracks: the 1.5 eTFSI 150PS. This mild-hybrid powertrain has a 48-volt lithium-ion battery and starter-generator, which among other thing acts as small motor to add boost when pulling away, and to let the car coast with the engine switched off while on the move.

All this should – according to the new official fuel consumption test system – provide us with fuel economy in the mid-40s. It will be put to the test, though, because escaping the Moody homestead requires seven or eight miles of winding country lanes that might as well have been designed specifically to royally bugger up fuel economy.

On said lanes, early driving impressions have been very positive, if not exactly mind-blowing. This new Golf is remarkably smooth, predictable and comfortable.

Perhaps that's because several options have been added to the spec, mostly to bring comfort to the ageing driver (me): heated front seats (£275), head-up display (£625), rear-view camera (£300) and some rear side airbags (£475). On the sexier front, there are 17-inch Ventura alloys and a digital key option for a phone (£215). I'll get my daughter to set that up.

Technology of course plays a big part in a new car now and we have as standard Car-Net and We Connect, which between them provide advanced infotainment and connectivity. As with all Golf 8s we have Car2X, which seems to be some sort of Tinder for cars, meaning it will talk to other Car2X-equipped vehicles and ask them out for a drink (no strings attached) or avoid them if it doesn't like the look of their profile, or they are about to crash into them.

So far, not much swiping either left or right has occurred on this front, because living in darkest Lincolnshire the only communication most cars elicit is their 'Back Nigel' UKIP bumper stickers, partially obscured by diesel soot and mud. Nevertheless, we wait excitedly for first contact with other techy millennials like ourselves and will report back on how the whole thing goes.

By Steve Moody

Logbook: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI DSG Style

Price £28,025 (£30,900 as tested)
Performance 1498cc turbo four-cylinder, 147bhp, 8.5sec 0-62mph, 139mph
Efficiency 49.5mpg (official), 38.9mpg (tested), 130g/km CO2
Energy cost 13.3p per mile
Miles this month 235
Total miles 321

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper