Volkswagen Golf GTI 2020 review – eight generations new, the GTI still has the goods

A very good hot hatch, but a great Golf GTI, the new mk8 excels where required to form a very desirable offering

Evo rating
  • Performance; ride quality; feel-good factor; fun to drive
  • Not as capable or rewarding as a Civic Type R; DDC suspension an option

There have been great Golf GTIs and lacklustre ones; indifferent generations and yet specific models that have surpassed just about anything else with a hatchback body in production at the time. One thing’s for certain: everybody has a favourite. 

A healthy core GTI is emphatically a positive thing for performance motoring as a genre, and so we look to the new mk8 Golf GTI with both excitement and a little trepidation. Has VW created a car with genuine driver appeal?

Subscribe to evo magazine

Subscribe today to have every issue of evo delivered straight to you. You'll SAVE 39% on the shop price, and get evo for its original cover price for a whole year!

Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

There are no great surprises here, except perhaps the welcome retention of the manual gearbox as an option alongside the seven-speed DSG unit. The engine is the familiar VW 888 four-cylinder turbo, now in ‘Evo4’ state of tune with a particulate filter, and makes here 242bhp and 273lb ft of torque. Prior knowledge and the imbalance of power and torque suggests a lot more power is only the click of a laptop key away. VW quotes a top speed of 155mph with the 0-62mph sprint dispatched in 6.3sec.

Technical highlights

Comparing the weight of the new car versus the previous mk7.5 GTI isn’t the simplest of tasks given the multitude of models in recent years, but against the old GTI Performance five-door manual (the closest match) the mk8 is just 4kg heavier. In this era, that has to go down as a win given the ever-increasing safety and kit count of modern cars.  

The key area of progress with the mk8 is its chassis and the way the driver interacts with the car. There’s an aluminium front subframe that saves 3kg, along with new bearings and springs front and rear whose rates have increased by 5% and 15% respectively. Damping is revised too, and if you’ve ticked the DCC adaptive damping option they will now be monitoring the situation 200 times a second. That, and much more, is all tied into the central control for driving modes, which VW has christened the Vehicle Dynamics Manager. Your choice is Comfort, Eco, Sport and Individual, over all the usual parameters (steering weight, engine response, engine sound etc), which also affects elements such as the now-standard electronically controlled limited slip diff as used on the previous Performance variant. The steering is quicker at 2.1 turns lock to lock, too.   

What’s it like to drive?

First impressions of the new GTI are very encouraging. The instrumentation is very clear (although some common tasks take a little learning to start with) and the driving position is absolutely spot on as well, even for taller drivers, my shoulder virtually inline with the B pillar like an old Super Tourer and my backside about a metre lower than in a fast Ford. The bucket seats feature retro cloth centres with alcantara sides and are incredibly supportive, while the gear lever is set high, just a short grab across from the wheel rim, and there’s a dimpled texture to part of it that’s a clear nod to the old golf ball style.

So far so good, the GTI feeling gutsy, alert, yet requiring little effort to pedal along quickly. Inevitably, diving into the driver menu screen is a priority, and I’m soon experimenting with the Individual setting to isolate and sample different aspects of the car’s behaviour. The more aggressive engine map feels like an essential for the extra dose of character and response it brings, and while the low effort steering is fine for normal driving, some may want to bring in some increased weight for reassurance when pressing on. But it’s the damping that’s the most intriguing, because instead of merely swapping between comfort, sport and race, in Individual there’s a bar graph with 15 different marks on it, exceeding the factory presets at both the comfort and sport ends of the tuning bandwidth. My initial reaction is that this sounds like driver mode overkill, but because the screen works like a tablet, it’s possible to simply swipe the damping control one way or the other - which is a lot less distracting. It also means the GTI’s ability to align itself to varying types of road is extraordinary: in its softest setting it rides better than some luxury saloons, while in the next instant it can be firmed up to track day car levels of control. 

As a result, the GTI is a very quick car on a decent B road. The engine has very little lag, and pulls heartily from low down the rev range (although it runs out of puff a bit at high revs), the gearshift is reasonable, although not the slickest, and the brakes powerful, although a little overkeen in the initial application. No surfaces really faze the suspension, and grip from the Bridgestone Potenzas (18” rims are standard, 19” are optional) is impressive, with traction aided considerably by the differential on the way out of a corner. Switch off the ESP and the GTI isn’t a pointy, wild ride like a Megane RS, but it turns in well and works the rear of the car enough to make it a rewarding drive without scaring those who aren’t driving enthusiasts. 

Price and rivals

The GTI costs from £33,460, which puts it right into Honda Civic Type R territory. The Golf can hold its own against the Honda to a certain extent, but in reality they’re two extremely diverse takes on a hot hatchback, with most buyers of each unlikely to even consider the other. The Civic is a superb piece of performance engineering, but it’s looks are an acquired taste. We’ve yet to try the facelifted Megane RS, but the rumour is it’ll be auto-only from now on, which may lose it a few of its traditional fans.

Recommended

New 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI tech insights revealed - plus details on the GTE and GTD
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

New 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI tech insights revealed - plus details on the GTE and GTD

15 May 2020
Hyundai i20 N revealed – 200bhp supermini ready for some Ford Fiesta ST baiting
Hyundai i20 hatchback

Hyundai i20 N revealed – 200bhp supermini ready for some Ford Fiesta ST baiting

20 Oct 2020
Hot Cupra Formentor spied testing – with a five-cylinder warble
Cupra

Hot Cupra Formentor spied testing – with a five-cylinder warble

19 Oct 2020

More on Golf GTI

New 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI tech insights revealed - plus details on the GTE and GTD
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

New 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI tech insights revealed - plus details on the GTE and GTD

Petrol, diesel and plug-in hot hatches will once again join the Golf family, and could be better than ever
15 May 2020
Abt launches upgrade pack for Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Abt launches upgrade pack for Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR

German tuner Abt has worked its magic on the limited-run Golf GTI TCR, bumping power to 335bhp
26 Jul 2019
Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR review - an appropriate Mk7 send-off?
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR review - an appropriate Mk7 send-off?

Quick and composed on road or track; it’s just a shame VW didn’t do something really special for the Mk7 GTI’s send-off
28 Jan 2019
Volkswagen Golf 7 GTI review (2012-2020) – is the hot hatch stalwart still the one to beat?
Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTI review (2012-2020) – is the hot hatch stalwart still the one to beat?

We can think of few more rounded, gratifying and superbly executed everyday performance cars. Classless, understated and utterly wonderful
24 Jan 2019
Oettinger TCR Germany Street – a 355bhp VW Golf GTI
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Oettinger TCR Germany Street – a 355bhp VW Golf GTI

German tuning house Oettinger has treated a VW GTI to a host of upgrades, which has been revealed at the 2018 Wörthersee meet.
9 May 2018
VW Golf GTI vs VW Golf GTE review - is the hybrid hot hatch up to scratch?
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

VW Golf GTI vs VW Golf GTE review - is the hybrid hot hatch up to scratch?

Can a hybrid hot hatch really be better than its conventionally-powered equivalent? We drive the Golf GTI and GTE back-to-back to find out.
14 Jan 2018
2017 VW Golf GTI review - The iconic hot hatch gets more power and improved tech
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

2017 VW Golf GTI review - The iconic hot hatch gets more power and improved tech

Golf GTI remains an accomplished all-rounder
3 Feb 2017
GTI’s all-electric future – What lies ahead for VW’s hot hatch?
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

GTI’s all-electric future – What lies ahead for VW’s hot hatch?

VW’s all-electric ID range likely to grow to include performance cars
24 Jan 2017
Peugeot 308 GTi 270 v Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Peugeot 308 GTi 270 v Volkswagen Golf GTI

Who makes the better GTI, Volkswagen or Peugeot Sport?
20 Dec 2016
Volkswagen Golf GTI – Seven generations of the iconic hot hatch
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTI – Seven generations of the iconic hot hatch

We've put together a gallery of every generation of Golf GTI, fresh from evo's archives
11 Nov 2016
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 road trip - Wolfsburg Calling
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 road trip - Wolfsburg Calling

We drive an original Mk1 Golf GTI 850 miles back to its birthplace to celebrate four decades since the first rolled down the Wolfsburg line
21 Oct 2016
Should I keep my VW Golf GTI mk6? - evo Market
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Should I keep my VW Golf GTI mk6? - evo Market

If you can’t face selling your car, take a look at the latest options to upgrade and improve it instead
24 Dec 2015
Volkswagen Golf-based Touring Car set for debut
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Volkswagen Golf-based Touring Car set for debut

Racer previews a closer relationship between production cars and their on-track counterparts
9 Jul 2015
2013 VW Golf GTI Performance Pack video review
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

2013 VW Golf GTI Performance Pack video review

The mk7 VW Golf GTI has more power, loads of new tech and a Performance Pack option. We drive it on video
28 Jul 2014
VW Golf GTI Performance Pack v Vauxhall Corsa VXR Clubsport: drag race
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

VW Golf GTI Performance Pack v Vauxhall Corsa VXR Clubsport: drag race

The VW Golf GTI and Vauxhall Corsa VXR Clubsport are two hot hatches at different ends of the spectrum, but both pack a serious punch
11 Jun 2014
Diesel Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Diesel Volkswagen Golf GTI

Oil-burning version of new VW Golf GTI hot hatch unveiled; 168bhp and 53mpg
26 Mar 2009
New Volkswagen Golf GTI: New Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

New Volkswagen Golf GTI: New Volkswagen Golf GTI

Sharper, meaner Mk6 Volkswagen GTI hot hatch is unveiled
24 Sep 2008
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTI

There are some boxes that you definitely don't want to tick. For example, those that result in your details going to third-party call centres generall…
6 Feb 2006
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTI

It was well and truly autumnal on my first evening with OY55 GOX; dark early, the courtyard outside the office lashed with wind and rain. I blipped th…
7 Nov 2005