You might wonder why the title is significant. Yes, it is the title of a legendary song by Eagles but there’s another reason why. Think about the last time you drove down the motorway, where did you see a GTI?
It was in the fast lane of course! In America, the second most ticketed ‘brand’ when it comes to speeding is the GTI. Now that is some reputation. It’s a hot hatch with a real badass character to it but one that your accountant would drive. It is the literal joker card, all things to all people. A hoon machine to some while being a family vehicle to others. That three letter badge is steeped in history. The world has changed so much in the last 50 years but the hot hatch icon is still around and so there are expectations when it comes to this icon.
Is the MK8 Golf GTI up for life in the fast lane?
First things first, the visible stuff. There are a few major things that make a Golf worthy of that badge so I’ll break them down for you.
It’s a proper GTI on the exterior, the three letter badging is on the front, sides and rear. The red striping around the grille, check. There’s a cheeky lip spoiler on the boot plus some side skirts and 19inch diamond cut wheels. Yes, it looks discrete but some might say a little too much. Previous GTIs have walked the fine line very well but the LED light strips in the front almost seem to hide the badge and red striping. Similarly, the new Golf has sporty trim, a roofline spoiler and bigger wheels which also make it harder to tell apart.
While the overall design still echoes ‘Golf’ cues, the MK8 features a few tweaks. The headlights and tailights are new, so is the bonnet. New VW badging all around and the more observant of you will notice that the door mirrors are now lower as well.
It’s a five door family hatch with good space on the interior and a decent boot. You get tartan seats and red highlights that play on the heritage. The screen and gauges too can be configured in red with ‘GTI’ logos to further enhance the sporty demeanor of the car. Still, it’s a proper Golf on the inside which means plenty of cubbies around and a solid fit & finish to go with it. Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of the new touch sensitive haptic buttons but I can see how one can get used to them.
The solid build quality has always been a part of Volkswagen and while it continues with this MK8, there is something that worries me. The doors, boot etc all feel a lot lighter than they did on the MK5 or MK6. It’s the same story with the plastic trim lining them, not as thick as before. Yes, the door still makes the ‘thunk’ sound but not quite as convincingly as it used to.
One of the defining characteristics of a Golf GTI has always been the drive, the ability to go from motorway commuter to back road beast in an instant. The new MK8 is reassuringly soft on motorways and higher speed roads, it is a very easy to car to live with. When the going gets twisty, it doesn’t back down either. Grip is phenomenal thanks to the front differential, meaning you can keep pushing the car around corners. Back roads are a rewarding drive in this but the exhaust, not so much.
I hate to be negative nelly but as a GTI owner, I want it to be the perfect car so it will suffer from harsher judgement. The MK8 feels too electronic, there I said it. The gear stub is not connected to the transmission anymore, the steering isn’t connected to the wheels. Everything is ‘by wire’ and the cost of that is your connection with the car.
Evaluating the Golf GTI is always tough because it is almost meant to be the perfect car. It’s practical, safe, powerful, efficient, looks good, has heritage and the price is quite reasonable too. Living up to that reputation is arguably a tough task for any car. Unfortunately, the MK8 hasn’t quite lived up to the high bar set by its predecessors. It ticks the right boxes objectively but emotionally, it misses the ingredient that has made these cars so special. Good but not quite cut out for ‘Life in the Fast Lane’.
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI MK8: 4/5
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Words and pictures by Matthew D’Souza.