New VW Golf GTI Mk8 sticks to its evolutionary guns for 2021

More power, more technology and refined looks keep the new-for-2021, eighth-generation GTI familiar, yet slightly different.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
3 min read
Volkswagen Golf GTI
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Volkswagen Golf GTI

The hot hatch standard has returned.


Meet the eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI, everyone. VW on Wednesday evening swiped the sheet away from its new hot hatch ahead of its scheduled debut at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show (before it was canceled), and after going through the details, the Golf GTI remains faithful to what's made it an icon.

The big news is what everyone wants to know. Yes, there's more power for the Golf than the 228 horsepower currently packed into today's GTI. Now, drivers will have 245 hp from an upgraded 2.0-liter turbo-four engine. Torque also rises from 258 pound-feet to 273 lb-ft, which will definitely give the hatch some more grunt. Note that these are European specs and they could change for the US.

You can also quit chomping on your fingernails because the manual transmission will stick around as well. In fact, the six-speed manual is standard on all Golf GTI models. For those not into the three-pedal way of life, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission will still be an option.

VW didn't get too technical with us as it's likely saving more of the juicy details for the Geneva debut, but we know it'll have a strut-type front and multilink rear suspension, and it'll work with the next generation of the automaker's DCC adaptive damping system. New this time around, however, is a Vehicle Dynamics Manager that'll let drivers tinker with the setup more than ever.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI keeps things fresh and familiar

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Moving onto the design, we've had some mixed reactions here. Some of us think it's an excellent take on a sporting motif, while others feel it's grown a tad bulbous. Personally, the front fascia works well for me, though others have noted the fog lights integrated with the lower honeycomb grille look a smidge busy. Seen here are 17-inch wheels, which look awfully small by today's standards, but 18- and 19-inch wheels will be on the menu. VW also added wider side skirts over the standard Golf and a "race car-style splitter" design.

The interior is where the brand touts a digital makeover, and rightfully so. While the outgoing car looks firmly cemented in the analog age, the eighth-generation Golf GTI is chock-full of technology. Immediately, onlookers will see no traditional gauges -- just digital ones, thanks to a 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit. To the driver's right is another screen that measures 10 inches for infotainment and navigation.

What is rather lovely is the fact they flow together, but the absence of physical buttons will likely be something to get used to. Hopefully, the digital solutions work well, but as a backup, some essential functions do feature good ol' buttons for pressing.

These photos also show the new Porsche-like gear selector design for those who chose the dual-clutch transmission. It doesn't look great in the 911, and it still looks goofy here. I'll take the golf-ball-style six-speed manual, thanks. Most importantly, purists will still find the one must-have feature for a GTI, though: plaid upholstery. The plaid seats return with a new design twist that VW calls Scalepaper. The red from the seats also finds its way to the chunky steering wheel, outlined with silver accents.

While the future of the standard Golf in the US looks pretty dim, the Golf GTI is confirmed for the US. Across the ocean, Europeans will also get a new Golf GTE (a really cool hybrid GTI, basically) and a Golf GTD (the GTI's diesel-fed cousin). Prices and US availability aren't known yet, but we'll dig up all the details we can next week, coronavirus permitting.

Watch this: 5 things you need to know about the 2019 VW Golf GTI

Originally published Feb. 26.
Update, Feb. 28: Adds that the Geneva Motor Show was canceled due to the coronavirus.