By on February 27, 2020

Volkswagen gave the 2021 Golf GTI some uninterrupted time in the spotlight by debuting it ahead of the Geneva International Motor Show. While VW kept plenty of details under wraps, the important items were on display. Pay close attention, as this may be one of the few Golf models we receive in the United States and Canada.

Around these parts, the take rate for VW’s performance hatchbacks (GTI and Golf R) is far greater than that of the economy model, and it seems the manufacturer finally took notice. The manufacturer has yet to confirm anything at this point, but all signs point to GTI becoming the base trim inside the U.S.

In Euro-spec form, that means 245 horsepower and 273 pound-feet coming out of a predictable 2.0-liter turbo. That’s a sizable bump over last year’s 228 hp and 258 lb-ft and, assuming the GTI hasn’t packed on the pounds for the 2021 model year, it should yield noticeable performance gains. 

Additional help in that department will come via a McPherson front axle and multi-link rear suspension that’s further aided by VW’s new adaptive chassis control system. The manufacturer said the rig adjust dampers on the fly, accounting for road conditions, steering input, acceleration, and braking. It’s also supposed to make the car more versatile by providing additional distance between sport and comfort driving modes. Naturally, the GTI remains front-wheel drive and can have its motor mated to either a standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission.

The exterior remains familiar to the base Mk8 Golf that debuted last October, adding optional integrated fog lamps in an … interesting … honeycomb pattern and a standard light bar just below the hood. It also looks more aggressive overall, with a large (partially fake) grille sitting just above two small chin spoilers. VW is also continuing its tradition of offering the GTI with oddball wheels. This time around they’re five-spoke jobs spiraling out from the center hub. While your author feels the car would be well served by some replacement wheels and a black paint job (to help mask the front bumper), nothing seems like a deal breaker until you get inside.

Volkswagen has done a stellar job in terms of the cabin’s visual aesthetics — including the obligatory plaid seats and red accenting. But they’ve forgotten the buttons. All new GTI models are said to come with a new 10-inch infotainment system that juts off from the (also digital) gauge cluster. The positioning seems good, as does the lengthy list of color combinations and ambient lighting themes. As with the standard Golf, we’re not seeing any physical controls for the HVAC system, seat warmers, the radio (where’s that volume knob?) or really much of anything else. Unless VW has mastered haptic feedback and designed the perfect touch-screen infotainment system, this is might become a sore spot come review time — and since we’ve been down this road before with Honda, there’s really no excuse.

More information isn’t far away, with Volkswagen promising additional details on the Euro-spec Golf GTI once the Geneva Motor Show kicks off on March 5th.

[Images: Volkswagen]

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18 Comments on “Pre-release Party: Volkswagen Debuts Mk8 GTI Ahead of Geneva...”

  • avatar

    Long time Golf owner here, from MK2 to MK7.
    Missed out only on the MK4 and MK6 years.
    Sadly this looks like a Civic mash in the front, the back is OK and those mags are terrible!
    VW is loosing touch with the basics that made them popular.
    Ciao VW.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “instead of Geneva”

    Fixed that for you. VW may be thinking there won’t be a Geneva show this year.

  • avatar

    6MT retained!!!!
    Can’t take anything for granted anymore, so that’s a boon.

    Not sure about GTI dependent on semi active dampers. But perhaps I’m just too old for thinking the GTI is supposed to be the sporty German car for those not planning on dumping it before the warranty runs out…

  • avatar

    My Mk I GTI was the superb commuter/autocross car. Light on its feet, quick simple snappy controls, not the fastest in a straight line, but with thoughtful weight transfers a blast to drive around repeating corners. Perfect for finding holes in traffic. But it was a painful car to drive from Clumbs to Tragic City, definitely not a grand tourer.

    This thing looks like a grand tourer, but a slug when it comes to the cones. And, where’s the stick?

    Like everything else offered a fat and dumbed-down population – the GTI looks like the technology load has made it fat and dumbed down.

    • 0 avatar

      Part of the issue is that the Polo and the Up aren’t sold in the US. I recently stumbled across James May’s not-particularly-recent review of the Up GTI. He found it to be much more fun than the then-current Golf GTI, much as many people preferred the FiST to the FoST.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Interior is depressingly dark in unique German way.

  • avatar

    Former MK VI GTI owner. Exterior styling doesn’t bother me. Looks very much like the prior two generations. Hate the wheels on the red car. Like the ones on the white and black cars. Interior looks modern and high tech. Thrilled they’re still offering a manual. Adjustible suspension will be nice but the GTI has been known for its compliant ride so I don’t know how much of an overall plus that’ll be. 245 HP is not a sizeable bump, it’s a minor bump that might knock off a few tenths from the 1/4 mile time.

    Overall – Not too bad, but I don’t think I’d buy this over a Veloster N if the price is similar.

  • avatar

    Mother of All Dead Pedals? (no judgement, just an observation)

    I’m still getting used to the Rolling-Stones-Tongue (or happy dog) steering wheel.

  • avatar

    I don’t always want my domino to be 5/5.

  • avatar

    MK7 GTI owner here. I really hope that the MK8 front design language looks better in person than in photos, because the melty-mouth front end just isn’t doing it for me. The tail looks fantastic, but the front is just…frumpy.

    The second knock is… buttons. I know I sound like an old fogey by saying it, but physical knobs and buttons in cars are much safer to use.

    I’ll be interested to see the market response to the new GTI. So far, looks like a swing and a miss on the design, but I’ll reserve complete judgment until we get a chance to drive the thing.

    • 0 avatar

      Your old foginess is appreciated. Your complaint is rooted in good common sense, but common sense ain’t exactly the coin of the realm these days. Screen-only controls are a win-win for the manufacturer because they don’t have to pay for buttons *and* 80-percent-plus of the buyers will agree with the marketing spin that it’s an improvement.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Weird…I thought you had to have these blunt-nosed front ends in order to conform to European “pedestrian protection” regulations, how were they able to do a sloped front on this one?

  • avatar

    First, it does not look that good, second, with all of it’s glory, a 2.0T Accord will put it to shame in every stop light….

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