Apparently, VW thinks we Americans don’t like Golf. Well, we do…so long as it’s a GTI. While VW officially killed off sales of the standard Golf stateside, they aren’t yet coming for your local VW GTI dealer. Despite our national preference for sedans and SUVs, the hatchback market remains alive with enthusiasts like us, keeping affordable, performance vehicles on the road. So we’re gonna take a look at a few of the quirks that make the Mk8 GTI a GTI, and we’ll explore some of the new standard features that continue to make VW an automotive force to be reckoned with.
For nearly 50 years, VW has evolved its crown performance hatchback into the fun, relatively affordable car it is today. For the Mk8 generation, there’s been an update in design, engine power, technology, and more. And don’t think the Wolfsburg giant has forgotten about the tune-ups you’re planning. They’ve teamed up with an aftermarket company that’ll allow you to customize your GTI to your liking while still having manufacturer backup and approval.
The Autobahn Trim
First, we’ve got to talk about the Autobahn. GTIs have long been a “love letter to driving,” and, in the case of this trim level, VW takes that very seriously. So serious, in fact, that the exact phrase––”love letter to driving”––is part of the official trim description.
The GTI Autobahn comes with most of the features you’d expect of an upper-tier vehicle: leather seats, a heated steering wheel, etc. We’re not really interested in that, though it is nice. No, what we’re after is what they’ve done beneath the shell to turn this little hatchback into something truly special.
Enter the lead: VW’s new Vehicle Dynamics Manager. This system manages the electronic stability control (ESC), maximizing traction through the XDS electronic differential lock and VAQ electronically-controlled limited-slip differential. Okay, cool, but how does that enhance the driving? Enter the supporting cast: DCC.
DCC is VW’s adaptive chassis control system. This is mated to the Vehicle Dynamics Manager and allows you to go beyond the standard driving modes you’ll find on lower trim levels. Essentially, DCC allows you to configure the drive setting of your GTI. VW calls this the “personal driving profile.”
Your profile is designed through a digital slider, calculating the exact formula needed to create your driving signature. In nitty-gritty tech terms, damping occurs at each of the Autobahns 19″ diamond-turned surface alloy wheels, increasing and decreasing vehicle body motion granting a variety of road feels ranging from the more smooth and comfortable to the snappy and sporty.
All told, the Autobahn trim allows you to go beyond exterior styling and create a car that truly drives the way you want it to. All with tech straight out of the factory. That’s special.
Don’t think, however, that the lower S and SE trims are any less lovingly engineered. They’re the only trim levels that come with the tartan cloth seats synonymous with Golf driving. All trims, though, come with some updates to the steering. The electronically tuned steering uses algorithms developed to provide a more direct steering ratio, enhancing the Mk8s maneuverability and responsiveness while simultaneously reducing the steering inputs needed at lower speeds. All said, any GTI is gonna go in whatever direction you point it without much fuss. That’s what makes them so much fun to drive.
And you know what else makes for fun driving? Stick.
The Stick Shift isn’t Dead!
Yes, we all know the stick-shift is dying, and we’re crying ourselves to sleep over it. No, really! It’s sad for those of us who love the unparalleled connectivity a stick brings to the driving experience. Unfortunately, for the majority of manufacturers, sales are proving that manual transmissions are on the out. Not so for the GTI.
VW knows its customers, and it knows that GTI buyers want a manual option. Sure, it’s not going to give you the smooth, zippy gear changes as the dual-clutch transmission, but that’s not really the point. Stick shift is about that connectivity, and if that means slower gear changes, so be it! That is why all three trims of the Mk8 GTI still come standard with a crisp 6-speed transmission.
Mk8 does come with an available 2.0L 7-speed DSG for the automatic-inclined. Available with Tiptronic and Sport modes, the DSG allows you to shift out of automatic and control shifts for yourself via the flappy paddles on the steering wheel. Gear changing will be more seamless and quicker on the uptake as there’s no clutch to worry about.
A cool aside: the Mk8 carries on the GTI tradition of the golf ball gear shift. It’s not totally obvious at first glance, but once it’s in your hand and you’re changing gear, you’ll be able to feel the small divots in the shifter that mimic the pattern of a golf ball. It’s a light touch, but one that’ll make you smile.
Designed with the Aftermarket in Mind
Styling for the Mk8 shares a slim, sleek profile reminiscent of the Mk7, but the similarities end there. What’s immediately different is the face of the new GTI. Fog lights are seamlessly built into the honeycomb-patterned front grille, along with a new light bar that runs the full width of the hood. While the new design certainly gives the car a more concentrated look, it’s still recognizable as a Golf. It’s sleek and refined, something VW design excels at these days.
VW also teamed up with Oettinger, a German aftermarket body kit company, to offer some factory styling upgrades for the Mk8. The significance of the partnership with Oettinger will not go unnoticed by die-hard GTI fans. The Friedrichsdorf based company has been tuning VWs for over 70 years. They’ve built some highly sought-after adaptations of early GTIs, and for VW to team with them for the Mk8 shows how much Oettinger has done to boost VW’s brand.
Oettinger body kits can be ordered from and be installed by a VW dealer. It may seem strange to think that a company would willingly partake in the altering of one of its vehicles, but VW knows its GTI buyers well. They know that, sooner or later, you’re gonna want a rear spoiler and sequential turn signals. That’s just the way it is. And VW is happy to share in the enthusiasm.
One final thing to mention is what VW is doing on the tech front. All VWs are arriving with a new suite of onboard tech, and the GTI has not been left out. One of the things you’ll first notice is the digital cockpit. It’s a completely digital dashboard. In the GTI, the front honeycomb grille is mimicked on the digital gauges, with the GTI label standing proudly in the middle. The digital interface is configurable, allowing for real-time performance stats and even a g-force meter.
Don’t think it’s all gimmicks––on the safety front, you have IQ.Drive. This driver-assist suite provides enhanced digital safety features that include adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, and lane keep assist. All this helps provide peace of mind and lower insurance burdens. So, you can have a fun car that’ll keep you safe, and you won’t have to pay out the nose for it.
Americans Still Like Golf
We haven’t lost all of the fun driving cars to the SUV craze. In fact, some SUVs are taking a note out of the GTI book and getting more sporty. So while the rest of the auto world moves in a different direction, we can rejoice in the knowledge that we can still buy a manual transmission hot hatch that’ll zip around bends and keep a smile on our faces for years to come.