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Long-term review

VW Golf GTI Mk8 – long-term review

Published: 09 Jul 2021


  • SPEC

    GTI manual



  • BHP


  • 0-62


Screen burn: what’s wrong with the new VW Golf GTI’s tech?

Here we go then. Let’s have a think about this connected, buttonless, minimalist interior. 

And I’m going to begin, funnily enough, with an apology to Volkswagen. Because one of my jibes about the touchscreen that inhabits the latest Golf, ID.3 and even VW’s Caddy van is how difficult it is to turn the stability control off.

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I know. Completely irrelevant. Well, for a Caddy, an ID.3, and a normal Golf. But in the GTI, you might very well want to at least knock the electronic safety net down a peg or two. And VW thinks so too, because for the Golf GTI and Golf R there lives an ‘ESC Sport’ setting, which keeps the system online but hands it a beer and a sense of humour, so it doesn’t immediately leap into the middle of your Sunday morning B-road blat and poop your party. 

Having gone to the effort of creating this secret sauce, Volkswagen buried it six prods deep in the touchscreen. There’s no longer an ‘ESC Off’ button anywhere. 

To access the correct menu from the car’s home screen, you must voyage into Vehicle Settings, then swipe the animated car and tap into the ‘Brakes’ menu for gawd-knows-what reason. Here you’ll be presented with your options, and tap on ESC Sport. Laborious to write, even more annoying to actually achieve while driving. It’s enough to give even a student with a fibre broadband connection RSI of the wrist.

Anyway, having berated Volkswagen for this convoluted odyssey and bemoaned that the ESC menu can’t be tweaked from the Drive Mode settings where you toggle the throttle response and engine noise (as per a Hyundai i30N), I went and found the shortcut.

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From the home screen, simply swipe down from the top, as if you’re dragging down the messages and widgets menu on your phone. Hey presto: among shortcuts for the screen brightness and stop/start, there’s a one-stop shop for the ESC settings. So, it turns out you can just about get away with watering down the assistance just as you arrive on your favourite noodle of road. Or roundabout. How’s that for niche consumer advice?

That aside, there are still many fundamental issues with the touchscreen the Golf is now so dependent upon. 

Why does the nav app load into an inexplicable spiderweb of all your recent destinations’ grid co-ordinates, rather than, ooh, I dunno… a map? 

I can only presume whoever programmed this system had recently been cheated on and now polices the world’s relationships by broadcasting the last five places the car has been to whoever happens to be inside.

I detest that just activating the heated steering wheel – often accidentally because the haptic feedback button on the steering wheel is easy to press in error – swaps whatever you’ve chosen to put on the screen for a climate control menu. Why? 

And sorry-not-sorry to labour the point here, but thanks to the joy that is working at TopGear.com and testing lots of different cars, I can barely express how refreshing it is to jump into a Hyundai or BMW or Mazda or Ford or Mini or Porsche and be presented with buttons for my heated seats, ventilation, and driving modes. Cluttered? Dated? Try simple, tactile, and safe. 

VW Golf GTI screen fault update

I’ve also had a browse of the highly active Mk8 Golf social media communities and forum channels that the car provokes, and the phrase ‘update’ is rife. “Have you had yours? Which software version are you running?” I guess this is the 21st Century version of swapping tips on engine tuning.

One more thing. You will have noticed that all the photos of my screen display a horrifying smear of fingerprints. Given my annual consumption of hand gel is pretty healthy these days, I’m pretty confident my fingertips are squeaky-clean, thanks. 

But so much for VW’s minimalist dream. If there are any burgeoning car designers reading, take a good look. This is what touchscreens look like outside the studio, when they’re being used, in the real world. Eurgh. 

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