The Volkswagen Golf, it’s one of the most famous names in the motoring world. One of the best selling badges of all time that has inspired countless variants like the GTI, GTD, GTE and R just to name the cool ones! So what happens when such a car needs a generational upgrade. A lot of sleepless nights I’d imagine as the last thing VW want is to get this recipe wrong. They’d much rather that the Golf be a hole in one if they can help it. Just to clarify, the below par bit was also a Golf related pun. If you don’t know anything about the sport then take it from me that below par is where you want to be!
So then, what exactly makes up the perfect Golf. Firstly, VW want it to look different enough when compared with the previous iteration. Secondly, they’d want it to keep up with the times, technology wise. Thirdly, the build quality has to be to a very high standard with a price that is not so high. Fourthly… Actually, let’s stop there because there are far too many elements that make up the Golf so let me try and go through them in this review.
If you are wondering what my Golf judging credentials are, let me remind you that I own a Golf GTI. Arguably, the perfect version of the perfect family hatchback. There I go again about my GTI, back to the review!
Let’s start by looking at the exterior. You’ll notice VW’s refreshed logo and language straight away with the Golf badge now moved to the middle of the boot along with the font being rounder. The headlights and tailights have changed to fit in with VW’s new design language applied across the Golf and Tiguan mostly. A nifty new quirk is that Volkswagen is now spelt out on those signature gloss black door frames. Lastly, the mirrors have been moved from the front quarter glass to the door, this is a lot more noticeable when you are driving. Apart from that, the shape still resembles a Golf. Not many changes have been made to the shape of the body with design aspects like that kink on the rear door still carrying over to the 8th generation.
Our review model came with the R-Line package which now includes a whole lot more than before! The exterior additions include a body kit with some gloss black highlights. A rear lip spoiler and diffuser with fake chrome exhaust tips further complete the look. Lastly, a couple of R badges have been added on the sides and front. While on the inside, you get a sporty flat bottom ‘R’ steering wheel along with Golf R seats. You know, the ones with the integrated headrests. Admittedly, I would feel a little shortchanged if I had a Golf R. Especially with the interior. Speaking of which, that’s really where the biggest changes have been with this MK8 Golf.
I don’t know what was in the water that day but the fact that the VW team actually decided to change the interior drastically is a surprise in itself. Golfs have traditionally had their air con vents at the very top of the dash whereas that has been swapped with the infotainment screen this time. Yes, that is the very screen that has split more opinions than anything else in 2021. The screen itself is a little bit fidgety to use because of the amount of menus that there are. However, you can simplify that by using the shortcut buttons below. Whoops, I said buttons! What I really meant to say was touch capacitive things. It’s an important differentiation to make because every ‘button’ has been replaced by a touch capacitive panel instead. That’s not such a bad thing for the air con and volume controls as you can get into the habit of using them over time. What I’m not so fond of is the ones on the steering wheel because a slightly over zealous grip could probably change an infinite number of things!
As part of VW’s new brand identity, there are several different layouts and themes to choose from when it comes to the digital dash. This allows you to immerse yourself in serenity, tranquility and whatever other options there are. The central infotainment screen itself feels just like a phone in terms of its user interface. It has app icons, a home button and all the rest so maybe that’s where VW got their inspiration from. With the interior and exterior out of the way now. Let’s put this Golf R-Line’s performance credentials to the test.
Perhaps one of the biggest improvements with this new Golf is in its driving dynamics. Firstly, the cabin is a lot quieter even though this R-Line model rides on 18 inch wheels with 225mm width tires on it. That is the same combination that features on the GTI and R models if you were wondering! Naturally, the wider tires mean that it must grip better in the corners and oh it does. Its cornering ability is just phenomenal when you take into consideration that this is still a normal VW Golf, it makes you want to push it further around the bends. Not to mention that once you are out of the corners, that 1.4 EA888 TSI engine is surprisingly punchy. The 8 speed auto box makes the best use of the 140bhp available on tap for the most part but I can imagine that it may not have all the power you need when overtaking. Still, it’ll do 0-100 in around 9 seconds so it’s not bad! That 8 speed auto box is very good but it’s just the fly by wire shifter that annoys me. Just look at that stubby little thing… It particularly puts me off because I’m one of those rare auto drivers who actually shifts using the stick rather than the paddles. But that’s a criticism of my rather than the car if I’m honest.
Volkswagen have done a fantastic job with the new Golf. It still retains all the characteristics that have made it such a bestseller over the last four decades while still keeping up with the times. What else can I say, it’s a Golf! They are known to be pretty damn close to perfection when it comes to hatchbacks and this latest generation is no different. Don’t listen to me though, I’m biased.
The 2021 MK8 VW Golf TSI R-Line gets a 4.5/5 from me.
Thanks for reading! Words and pictures by Matthew D’Souza.