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In-depth reviews

Volkswagen Golf GTI (Mk8) review – the quintessential hot hatchback, but is it the best?

The eighth VW Golf GTI is fast, capable and easy to live with, but can it live up to the brilliance of its predecessor?

Evo rating
  • Balanced, agile and responsive chassis; good variability within its drive modes
  • Expensive, and that’s before options; user interface is a mess; not actually that engaging

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 – the tech-forward Mk8 has a lot to live up to. 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.

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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 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. The upcoming Mk8.5 launches with a new infotainment system, extra power and refined chassis systems to move the game on, but we haven't driven it yet. 

Volkswagen Golf GTI: in detail 

Prices, specs and rivals 

The Mk8 Golf GTI has been taken off sale as we await the Mk8.5, but it was priced from just under £40,000 when it was available – a healthy sum given the base GTI's relatively tame power output. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that the GTI is no longer sold with a manual gearbox, with a seven-speed DSG equipped as standard (the Mk8.5 will be DSG-only too, and is expected to cost a little more than the Mk8). The GTI Clubsport was more expensive, starting at £41,890. 

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In terms of rivals, the Focus ST is available from £37,705 and offers a sharper, more entertaining drive than the Golf, although its hyper-quick reactions are an acquired taste. Cupra’s 296bhp Leon (equivalent to the Clubsport, rather than the base GTI) is pricier, starting at £41,945, with the top-spec VZ3 more expensive than the Clubsport at £45,290.

The Honda Civic Type R is a huge chunk more expensive at £50,050, but from behind the wheel, you get what you pay for – it's the most exciting hot hatch on sale. The Hyundai i30 N has been axed in Europe but it was also a worthy contender, combining the performance and involvement of the best hot hatches with excellent usability – all at an affordable price. 

The GTI was part of our 18-car hot hatch mega test in issue 318 of evo, where it placed eighth overall – ahead of the more expensive, four-wheel drive Golf R but behind key rivals like the Focus ST and the closely-related Cupra Leon. Dodgy infotainment system aside, it's a car that we'd happily live with day-to-day by virtue of its accessible performance and handling. evo tester Anthony Ingram wrote: 'We all broadly agreed on the GTI’s placing amongst its Volkswagen Group siblings: ahead of the slightly stilted R, but behind the Cupra, which is quicker and has more sparkle. Ask us which we’d most like to do 15k miles a year in, though…'

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