What is it like on the inside?
Yes, you get tartan. Let’s get that right out of the way first. As standard, the GTI Mk8’s bolstered seats are resplendent in the traditional plaid of Haus GTI, albeit a fairly monochrome one. And yes, in the manual, there’s be a dimpled, golf ball-aping gearknob. Phew.
Those kitsch throwback touches are welcome in the Mk8, because this interior is that rarest of all qualities for a Golf: controversial. And a bit of a pain in the backside.
VW is heavily pushing it as ‘all-digital.’ UK-bound GTIs house a pair of large digital instrument displays: one behind the steering wheel (with schportier graphics) and a main 10-inch infotainment touchscreen atop the air vents, housing the nav, smartphone interactivity and more menus than that bottom drawer in your kitchen.
The light ‘switches’ are now a glossy touch-sensitive panel. So are the shortcut keys for the car’s safety systems and climate menu. To adjust the on-board temperature or media volume, you’re forced to use touch-sensitive gutters which are awkward during the day and downright invisible at night, because Volkswagen didn’t bother to illuminate them.
So, it’s a minimalist place to be. The touchscreen is snappy to respond, and if you like to fiddle with settings, you’ll appreciate the configurable widgets and multiple flavours of ambient lighting. However, everyday tasks like ordering the blower to point warm air at cold feet or activating the optional heated seats are needlessly fraught at speed. Why has VW gone to all the trouble of making the new GTI slide more in ESC Sport mode, and yet buried that menu six – yes, six presses deep – in the bloody monitor? Good job the ride’s so composed.
Still, the GTI-specific bits are done well. The one-piece fabric seats are fab: comfy long-distance and offering a supportive hug. Alloy pedals: check. The instrument screen offers a variety of red-flecked readouts and can show off your boost pressure or how many Gs you’re pulling. Before you start the engine, the starter button pulses red, like a heartbeat. Sounds naff, but if Lamborghini or Alfa Romeo did that we’d come over all dewy-eyed and harp on about ‘soul’.
The new steering wheel feels purposeful in your grasp, though you might grumble about the sculpted thumbhooks being a tad thick. It’s fussy too – we counted 19 buttons on the wheel's spokes, all of which are glossy plastic too, with haptic touch-sensitive feedback. They’re dreadful. Setting the cruise control or cycling though radio stations is now a right old chore. Please VW, bin this Apple-wannabe nonsense and put some proper buttons back in the GTI.
Tech-wise, there’s standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, you can have a wireless phone charging pad, but like an increasing proportion of new cars, there’s only USB-C support, so most current devices will need an adaptor cable for charging and data transfer.
And of course, this is a Golf five door, so there’s good oddment storage, decent rear seat room (though, it has to be said, not quite as much as the related Seat Leon or Audi A3). The boot offers 360 litres of stowage in a usefully oblong shape. It’s a Golf after all – it’s supposed to do the boring workaday stuff well.