8 Smiles High [COTY2021] : 2021 Volkswagen Golf Mk8 GTI Drive Review

By davidkhoo, 11 February 2022

Volkswagen Golf Mk8 GTI 2021 Drive Review : 8 Smiles High [COTY2021]

Singapore - It’s never easy having big shoes to fill and as the definitive OG hot-hatch enfant terrible, the ‘GTI’ is one of the most beloved automotive icons – possibly in the world! – with ginormous shoes to fill.

You’d think that the ‘GTI’ moniker is so authoritative that any car bearing its name can do no wrong.

But… and here’s the big ‘but’, as with most such cult institutions, the GTI comes with a passionate fan base that never quits and won’t hesitate to call-out anything it feels isn’t doing justice to the ‘GTI’ name  – cannot xia-suay the legendary status hor.

When a model builds up such a towering reputation for itself, the boffins in charge of each successive ‘GTI’ generation need to preserve the spirit of the original, yet have it evolve with the times so it stays relevant and this can only happen when you look forward, not only backwards with nostalgia-tinted glasses.

There have been several big evolutionary leaps over the course of the GTI’s eight generations since the mid-1970s original first started kicking sand into the faces and bloodying noses of more expensive sportscars through the winding roads.

Each big leap tends to be good for a few model iterations. The first big change after the original Mk1 GTI was the Mk5 GTI, which popularised the DSG transmission that made its debut on the Mk4 R32. Like the Mk1-Mk4, there were minor tweaks from the Mk5 onwards, before that cycle culminated in the Mk7.5.

With the latest Mk8, we’re witnessing the GTI’s gradual journey into digitalisation as VW tries to future-proof its crown jewel.

In spirit though, the GTI is still very much a GTI, which means it’ll gamely dance and run more expensive machines ragged down your favourite series of twisties, yet will just as easily let you pop to the shops for groceries or flat-packed furniture with the family in tow.

One constant that has held true throughout the different GTI generations is seeing it mature from the Mk1’s scrappy rebel without a cause into an urbane and articulate haute-hatch… that just so happens to be able to handle itself in a bar-brawl.

The familiar design cues that differentiate GTI from Plain Vanilla Golf help clue you in to its sporty status.

Apart from the GTI-specific front/rear diffusers, roof spoiler and honeycomb grille, the red frame around the radiator grille of the original has evolved into a horizontal slash from left-to-right to create a menacing, predatory effect.

Although the Mk8 has picked up a lot more styling details over the original’s chin spoiler and wheel-arch extensions, it’s not over-the-top as compared to some of its peers. It’s bold, but not brash and exudes a purity in design that doesn’t come across as fussy.

There’s a smattering of ‘GTI’ badging around the car, including an oversized one on its rump in place of the ‘Golf’ moniker on the regular models.

There's no better testament to the power and ubiquity of the ‘GTI’ name, when people recognise it without the ‘Golf’ word appearing anywhere!

The sense of posh purity continues into the cabin, especially with the stubby, minimalist gear-selector and complement of digital displays for the central 10.25-inch touchscreen and instrument cluster with GTI-specific displays.

VW is moving away from ‘hard’ buttons, with a newfound focus on Marie Kondo-inspired decluttering and the use of haptic touchpads that are neatly integrated into the fascia. You’d be surprised but this arrangement works for driver-oriented cars like the GTI, since it keeps the cabin free of distractions.

There’s a satisfyingly confident woomph as the engine fires-up, with scarcely any hint of the car’s latent potential for tarmac terrorising.

The GTI plays the role of civilised, sophisticated runabout very convincingly, because this is no hooligan that rouses readily to red-mist driving.

Like all engaging driver’s cars, you’ll need to work at piloting the GTI fast and loose and this is something all driving enthusiasts should appreciate.

In city driving, it’s comfortable, competent and composed with never a single hair out of place.

In fact, it takes quite deliberate provocation for the GTI to spring into action, because it needs to appreciate the helmsman’s commitment before it pulls out all the stops to go-go-go!

Compared to the rambunctious responses of the Mk5 GTI, the Mk8 is the very soul of civility, especially with the chassis’ admirable levels of grip.

For what it’s worth, drama isn’t about creating a cloud of tyre smoke as the front rubber squeals in protest at having to put all 245hp/370Nm to the ground every time you try to move-off from standstill. That may be a giggle to see (and smell), but isn’t the best way of making brisk progress.

As you start exploring the outer reaches of the GTI’s grip levels, you’ll quickly realise it is a precise instrument that is able to dispatch the winding roads ruthlessly and efficiently.

It gives as good as it gets, which means it can be as calculated or as cosseting as you desire, which was ever the defining Jekyll-Hyde personality of the GTI from the start.

A good squeeze of the throttle sees the turbo’d 4 burst with Ribena goodness as the juicy wave of torque hits hard from just 1600rpm to the accompaniment of a rousing exhaust soundtrack.

True to its roots, the Mk8 GTI remains eminently chuckable with impeccable body-control in the transitions as you play with weight-transfers, steer, stomp and spurt it fluidly from corner to corner, more often than not with a huge smile on your face.

However, the GTI is not just a one-dimensional character. It can also put on its big-car-fancy-pants to impress the boss, clients or colleagues when the going is easy with its chic and cutting-edge tech-laden cabin and refined road manners as you shuttle them between lunch, office and meetings.

The original GTI was a blue-collar, working-class hero that not just defined the hot-hatch genre, but also helped democratise performance cars for the masses with its compelling hot-hatchery hijinks. The Mk8 GTI has cleaned-up, matured and gone digital in keeping with the times.

Ultimately, the Mk8 GTI proves to be the sort of 'hatch fund' that continues to pay dividends drive-after-drive. It delivers a perfectly-rounded driving package for boy-racers and businessmen alike that does it all, puts a smile on the face and most importantly, keeps the ‘GTI’ flag flying high.

PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 TSI

Engine 1984cc, inline4, turbo
Power/rpm 245hp/5000-6500rpm
Torque/rpm 370Nm/1600-4300rpm
Transmission 7spd dual-clutch DSG
0-100km/h 6.4secs
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Consumption 6.5l/100km (combined)
CO2 149g/km

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