Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk8 2023 review – still the quintessential hot hatch?
The eighth VW Golf GTI isn't one of the very best, but it's still a formidably fast and capable hatchback
There have been great Volkswagen Golf GTIs and lacklustre ones; some indifferent generations and others that have upheld the dynasty to become icons in their own right. One thing’s for certain, everybody has a favourite.
A healthy GTI is emphatically a positive thing for performance cars as a genre, and off the back of the previous-gen Mk7.5 – a very strong generation – hopes are high for the tech-forward Mk8. New for the 8 is a consistent GTI and GTI Clubsport hierarchy, the latter pairing a more potent version of the same EA888 engine to a bespoke chassis tune and styling.
Yet despite the new look, much is shared underneath with the 7.5 – apparently sharpened, stiffened, and with more attention paid to the details. But there’s a caveat. The Mk8 Golf, so far, has been riddled with software issues, and while the lack of development beyond the 7.5 is advantageous when it comes to the bits we liked, it’s not so great in other ways.
Volkswagen Golf GTI: in detail
- > Engine and gearbox and technical highlights – A 242bhp figure is merely warm in 2022, but a slick DSG and eLSD make the most of those horses
- > Performance and 0-60 time – A strong, broad torque curve helps, with good performance on paper and on the road
- > Ride and handling – Agile and balanced; adaptive dampers have an impressive range
- > MPG and running costs – On-paper MPG figures are good, and you’ll easily match them on longer runs
- > Interior and tech – This is where things start to go wrong; at least the driving position’s good
- > Design – a familiar silhouette with slick lighting and complex detailing
Prices, specs and rivals
The basic Mk8 Golf GTI starts from £39,435, a reassuringly expensive price point in comparison to most rivals, despite having a distinctly lower power figure. A recent price hike can be attributed to the fact that the GTI is no longer sold with a manual gearbox, with a seven-speed DSG now equipped as standard.
Don’t be mistaken for thinking that it comes fully loaded with kit, though, as standard equipment is average at best. Metallic paints cost anywhere from £710 to £1185, the less expensive of the two 19-inch wheel options are an extra £820, while adaptive dampers will set you back an extra £875. The standard seats are a decent set of buckets finished in a modern take on the classic GTI tartan, but heated leather items will cost a whopping £2475.
The GTI Clubsport is even more expensive, with its basic price starting at £41,890. None of the options mentioned above are thrown in, though, not even the larger 19-inch wheels. You do get a power uplift to 296bhp and a unique chassis calibration, though.
Most rivals undercut the GTI on price, with the Focus ST available from £36,950. Cupra’s 296bhp Leon (equivalent to the Clubsport, rather than the base GTI) is pricier, starting at £38,495, with the top-spec VZ3 more expensive than the Clubsport at £41,960.
The Honda Civic Type R is a huge chunk more expensive at £46,995, but from behind the wheel, you get what you pay for. It's the most exciting hot hatch on sale, but for something more affordable, the Hyundai i30 N is a worthy contender. It’s fully loaded with kit despite its comparatively low £35,110 asking price, and there are few options to consider aside from a tasty set of bucket seats and metallic paint. At £37,135, the DCT version still undercuts the base GTI.
The Golf GTI has always been reassuringly priced just above most rivals, but in this case it is more than a bit – and as we’ll get into later, the new GTI doesn’t feel worth the money as it generally always has.