Refreshed Volkswagen Golf Previews Next GTI

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Volkswagen is giving the Golf a makeover for its 50th birthday, adding an illuminated badge along with some novel LED headlight and taillamps. VW doesn’t like to make aggressive changes to the iconic hatchback, so the alterations made on the Mk8 Golf are fairly subtle. They’re also largely irrelevant because the only version of the model still sold on our market is the sporting GTI. 

While the new lighting does change the look of the model, it’s likely only the hardcore fan base that will take notice. That said, none of the exterior changes are bad and the car arguably gets a smidgen more attitude thanks to extremely minor changes made to the front fascia. The headlamps assist with the effect by becoming narrower, providing a slightly sinister bend. VW also said that the IQ.LIGHT LED matrix headlights are equipped with a new high-performance LED main beam that has a range of up to 500 meters at night. So there are some practical benefits accompanying the fancier light options and the car is likely low enough not to burn out the retinas of oncoming traffic. 

The inside changes are a little less inspiring. While the current GTI and Golf R have very handsome cabins, Volkswagen’s decision to engage in cost cutting and lean almost exclusively on touch controls has rubbed some drivers the wrong way. Rather than transitioning back to using more physical buttons and knobs on the Golf, VW has instead opted to throw in a larger screen.

For the GTI (and presumably Golf R, whenever that comes out) the manufacturer will fit the larger 12.9-inch display as standard equipment. Whereas the current hatchback has its screen semi-integrated into the dashboard, the new unit appears to stick out a little further. It’s also substantially taller, resulting in the top of the tablet actually riding above the dashboard. At first blush, it seems as though it would be invasive and will still require drivers to rely upon touch-based sliders and menu screens for routine activities.

However, the company has said that the new unit relies on the fourth-generation MIB4 modular infotainment system and has been simplified to make it easier to use. VW claims that touch-based volume and HVAC sliders (notoriously hard to use while a vehicle is in motion) have been “redesigned to be more ergonomic and are illuminated.”

A good deal of the press release is devoted to explaining how much better the new infotainment tablet happens to be, with VW noting that the updated menu screen has been divided into quadrants. There are two touch bars located at the top and bottom with “the imposing home screen” situated in the middle. 

From VW:

The top bar has a new direct access button on the far left that allows the driver to open the main menu with an overview of all apps with just one click. To the right of this is a stylised vehicle button for the new Car Control Center; it offers direct access to the most important vehicle functions. The main menu and Car Control Center are always accessible without having to close the active app. To the right of the Car Control Center there are further direct access functions that can be assigned individually—for example, with buttons for the driving modes, parking functions, assist systems and the media library.
The large home screen contains the content from the most important apps on freely assignable graphic tiles of different sizes. Classic apps such as the navigation system, radio and sound settings, as well as new functions such as the visualised instructions from the IDA voice assistant, are displayed in the tiles on the home screen.
The bottom bar contains permanent direct access to the air conditioning system and seat heating/ventilation as well as the home button, which the driver can use to return to the central home screen at any time.

Based on consumer satisfaction surveys, your author is under the impression that the Golf would have been better off reintroducing physical controls. But the cost of doing so was likely prohibitive, especially since this is just a mid-cycle refresh. It’s no coincidence that most manufacturers are leaning into touch screens despite their being broadly unpopular. They tend to be cheaper to install (and upgrade) than a roster of physical controls that have to be sourced from numerous suppliers. The industry is also dead-set on leveraging them as part of a concerted effort to profit off connectivity features and user data. 

Still, if the new system is easier to use than the old one, that’s a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, there’s also a host of VW owners that like the features made available through modern vehicle interfaces. We’re taking the good with the bad here and have no way of telling just how good or bad the new infotainment system actually is until some legitimate testing has been done. 

Outside of some optional carbon-fiber trim the rest of the GTI doesn’t appear to have seen any other significant changes. VW did say that the 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine will persist. But it’s getting an extra 15 horsepower in Europe, resulting in a total of 262 hp on the new model. Our version presently boasts 241 horsepower (at 6,500 rpm) and 273 pound-feet of peak torque (at 1,600 rpm). However, this has often been the case for the GTI due to U.S. specifications tending to be more conservative. Either way, odds are good we’ll see a similar bump in horsepower when the refreshed version arrives stateside.

Most of the big stuff seems to have been intended for the Golf models we don’t get. That’s probably fine for most, as the model is likely to remain one of the more livable hot hatchbacks on our market. But we don’t yet know exactly what changes will carry over to North America and any subsequent announcements about the Golf R.

[Images: Volkswagen]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 62 comments
  • Anonymous Anonymous on Jan 25, 2024

    I had a '22 GTI S for about 13 months.

    The flaky electronics were the final nail in my ownership, but the base of my hate for the car was the ridiculously bad user interface. I thought I would learn to use it after a while but it never became acceptable.

    Do a quick search on cargurus and you will find a ridiculously high count of low mileage Mk8 GTIs for sale, many with lemon law buybacks. Some folks lost 3 radiators to the car's terrible mounting system.

    On top of that my "S" didn't include voice control, and it didn't even have the sliders for the HVAC, so doing anything beyond turning on the hazards or defroster required the driver to take their eyes off the road for an unsafe amount of time.

    Replacing the steering wheel haptics with real buttons is a great idea, but nowhere near enough to fix the controls in this model.

  • Craiger Craiger on Jan 27, 2024

    Needs more GTI emblems.

  • Paul Alexander Pretty cool that WalMart, the driving force behind consumer products all being Made-In-China and the destruction of Main Street USA, is considered patriotic.
  • Vatchy I don't see the problem. 99% of people I see on the road don't use turn signals anyway.
  • Slavuta Mazda3 is a great car @$20K inflation money
  • Tassos Maybe Fisker and his buddy Bob Lutz will buy a couple and use them to be BURIED IN THEM.
  • Peter CHAdeMo charging ports. In 2024? I thought everyone quit using those a decade ago. Its almost like Nissan is intentionally trying to go broke.