Volkswagen Golf 8.5 GTI: A welcome update as Golf turns 50
The Volkswagen Golf GTI holds a special place in the archives of automotive history. Born in 1976, it emerged during a time of unrest and change in South Africa, as students from Soweto bravely protested against the adoption of Afrikaans.
Just as these brave students were challenging the status quo, the Golf GTI was doing the same in the automotive industry. Since then, eight generations later, the GTI nameplate has matured to deliver the perfect balance between day-to-day usability and hot hatch performance joys.
Truth be told, the Golf 8 GTI experienced some dynamic ups and downs, but looking at the refreshed variant, locally known as the Golf 8.5 GTI, it promises to be the best yet.
Subtle yet significant
To begin with, the exterior tweaks are subtle but give the hot hatch a sharper stance compared to the preceding model. These include reshaped headlights, a broad lower grille opening with upward-slanted accents, a large honeycomb radiator grille in the style of a motorsports splitter, and in GTI-fashion, there’s a coloured stripe in the upper radiator grille and above the headlights.
For the first time, there is an illuminated Volkswagen badge on the front.
The bulk of the rear remains unchanged, with round chrome-plated exhaust tips and a black diffuser, with the only notable modification being the taillights, which now have new interior graphics for a much cleaner appearance.
It is offered in 15 exterior colours and rides on standard 17-inch Richmond alloy wheel rims that resemble an Italian-made performance saloon, but that's a story for another day.
Amongst other things, the re-introduction of actual buttons on the steering wheel has to be the biggest improvement and one area in which VW has admitted its current cars fall short, which the marque is looking to rectify with a new approach to cockpit design. The haptic touch controls on the steering wheel in the outgoing Golf 8 GTI and its R counterpart are prone to unintentional activation, so this is certainly a welcome change.
The German manufacturer has also updated the cabin, which now includes a new and enhanced free-standing infotainment touchscreen, illuminated touch sliders for the volume control and air conditioning system, a contrasting black roof option, as well as a carbon trim.
According to VW, the infotainment system’s (now with ChatGPT) menu structure has been simplified, and functions are now easier to find.
Speaking of kilowatts, the Golf 8.5 GTI now spews 195kW and 370Nm from the same 2.0-litre 4-cylinder TSI engine—up from the pre-facelift’s 180kW of power. Looking at the power figures, the Golf 8.5 GTI now combats in the same territory where the Golf 6 R was once sovereign with its 188kW and 350Nm.
It still shuffles through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that sends power to the front wheels, and while VW doesn’t make mention of performance times, expect it to be slightly quicker to 100km/h from rest. For reference sake, the outgoing model hurtles from 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds.
A Golden Jubilee Update
The VW Golf, in general, was introduced in 1974, followed by the GTI in 1976, and over 37 million models have been produced across the globe.
The introduction of the revamped Golf range, including the GTI, signifies an important anniversary milestone. This update is particularly noteworthy as it appears to address the prevalent criticisms associated with the previous models.
The new Golf 8.5 GTI is expected to make its appearance locally before the end of the year, which will be followed by the formidable Golf 8.5 R at a later date.