A new Golf is akin to a new generation for Volkswagen. It’s designed to be one of the biggest earners, for one of the biggest companies, for the next seven years, yet also form a technical waypoint for both Volkswagen and the group it spearheads. In this eighth generation though, Volkswagen’s electrified future is casting an evergrowing shadow over its traditional internal combustion range, one this new Golf will have a tough time escaping.
This diversion of emphasis has not come at the expense of development or innovation though, as the new Mk8 Golf promises to improve on its class-leading predecessor with new levels of quality, digitisation and efficiency, whilst still offering the performance variants we’re so fond of. Though supposed leaks are our only source of information on the next sporty Golfs, Volkswagen has confirmed that GTI, GTI TCR and Golf R variants will return, with plug-in GTE and diesel GTD versions below.
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Just a few months since its reveal, the all-new hatch is now on sale in the UK, with the range initially beginning at £23,875 for the Golf ‘Life’, equipped with a 128bhp, 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol 4cyl, mated to a 6spd manual. Standard kit includes 16” wheels, automatic LED headlights and ambient interior lighting are highlights, with an array of safety features such as Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist also to be found.
Perhaps more relevant to the evo reader is the inclusion of an electronic locking differential as standard, something that was first seen on the Mk7 GTI. Also available on any trim level is Dynamic Chassis Control, allowing drivers to fine tune the suspension at a cost of £950.
Chassis and powertrains
The new Golf introduces the single biggest update on the MQB platform since its introduction underneath the previous seventh-gen model. Although it holds on to the nomenclature, the MQB platform has been focusing on better integrating electrified powertrain components while keeping its adaptability. The actual technical makeup of the chassis has changed little though, as all models pair a MacPherson strut front suspension design with either a torsion beam or multi-link rear axle, depending on specification. Size-wise, the Golf is very close to before too; some 29mm longer, but 10mm narrower and 4mm taller, while the wheelbase is 1mm shorter.
The powertrains might seem similar to those of the outgoing Golf, but there are lots of subtle detail changes going on under the bonnet to talk about. Though not yet on sale, two basic TSI models kick off the range with a three-cylinder turbocharged unit in 89 and 109bhp forms, while the aforementioned 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine in 128 and 148bhp flavours make up the middle ground. All petrol engines will come as standard with a six-speed manual transmission, and both four-cylinder models and the 108bhp three-cylinder then include the new eTSI mild-hybrid system when fitted with the optional DSG transmission. The system comprises a 48V supplementary electrical system and small electric motor to extend the Golf’s start-stop functionality and subtly assist acceleration at low speeds. Both four-cylinder models also feature active cylinder management, and completing the package all engines with 128bhp or less (be it three- or four-cylinder) run on the ‘Miller’ combustion cycle, also helping reduce fuel consumption.
Two non-hybrid, but all-new 2-litre diesel versions will be available with 113 and 148bhp in manual or DSG forms, with a higher state of tune due for the incoming GTD variant. A plug-in hybrid GTE will also arrive later in 2020, with a 242bhp combined power output, which like before combines a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and electric motor. Rather than significantly update the combustion elements of the powertrain, Volkswagen has instead increased the battery capacity to 13kWh, extending the electric range and thus improving its overall efficiency over short distances. The all-electric Golf-e will not be resurrected, leaving room for the ID.3 to fulfil the BEV space.
The powertrains we’re really interested in though are the three specifications of 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine due to be available in the incoming GTI, GTI TCR and Golf R models. Volkswagen has not confirmed specific figures, aside from the most powerful variants of which will feature ‘over 297bhp’. This alludes to the flagship Golf R’s higher power output than the recently detuned WLTP-friendly model. Rumours persist of a certain level of mild-hybrid assistance, although we’ll have to patiently wait for more concrete details.
Design and Technology
Even at a glance the all-new body is undoubtedly ‘Golf’, defined by a thick C-pillar, simple surfaces and two-box silhouette. It’s suitably sophisticated for a car that classically dates very well. The new low-set headlights are arguably the most dramatic element, giving the new Golf a defined brow without being needlessly aggressive. LED headlights are standard across the range, and slip underneath the strong horizontal line that forms the leading edge of the crisp, near-clamshell bonnet.
The rest of the design is more understated, but is highlighted by a sharp crease running level with the headlights that forms a more defined shoulder towards the rear. New LED tail lights bleed into the boot lid, which continue that crease across the rear above the iconic VW badge and boot release.
GTE models give us a glimpse into what the next-generation GTI versions could look like too, with a more expansive and aggressive lower opening filled with a generously sized honeycomb mesh and a black trim piece that frames the outer edge and continues to form the leading edge of the front bumper. The GTE augments the standard LED daytime running lights with an illuminated bar across the nose, giving it a distinctive lighting signature on the road. R-line models share a similar aesthetic to the GTE, but instead of the honeycomb mesh, feature a slightly more complex arrangement of black slats and fins, while at the rear the lower bumper area picks up some chrome (and fake) exhaust finishes.
But it’s the interior that has been through the biggest transformation, with an all-new dash layout, digital interface and design mantra fresh for both the Golf and wider Volkswagen range. It’s dominated by a new 10-inch touchscreen that’s standard on all models in the UK, paired with a second driver’s display behind the steering wheel. The two are amalgamated into a single black panel that weaves in and out of the driver-centric cowling. It’s not a seamless panel, but does group a majority of the control interface, with little more than a set of auxiliary controls between the air vents making up the new Golf’s physical controls. New for this generation of Golf fitted with an automatic transmission is the small Porsche 911-like gear selector, freeing up space on the centre console, although cars fitted with a manual transmission lose this for a more traditional gearstick.
The Golf’s technological arsenal has also been bolstered, with a new emphasis on connected driving via its Car2x communication system that feeds data between the Golf and EU road network to pre-empt road or traffic warnings, roadworks or emergency vehicle information. A full suite of integrated active safety systems including active cruise control, front assist, travel assist and autonomous emergency braking are integrated too.
Order books for the eighth-generation Golf are open now, with first customer cars arriving in April. This timing gives the Golf a few months’ head start on the all-electric ID.3, which it will soon have to consider as a new in-house rival. For the majority not ready, or able to switch to an all-electric commuter car, the new Volkswagen Golf Mk8 promises to be all the family hatchback you could ever need. How long it remains that way is the question.