But it's not a perfect daily driver.
Hot hatches come and go in the US, but the Volkswagen Golf GTI remains a regular fixture. Like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, it has been hard to beat and has just kept on selling over the decades. The Golf GTI, however, now enters its eighth generation and carries over the Mk7's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, now making 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. It's an incremental upgrade (just an extra 13 hp and 15 lb-ft of torque) but evolution rather than revolution is the Golf GTI's magic ingredient. It remains a useful but fun-loving front-wheel-drive hot hatch, with its power managed through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. However, the Mk8 rolls on an updated version of Volkswagen's MQB platform and features revised suspension and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. The promise is an evolution of handling and dynamics wrapped in subtle yet stylish bodywork.
The Mk8 Golf GTI is a much more defined and svelte-looking car with its new lines, resculpted LED headlights, and new extruded LED daytime running lights. Things don't get ostentatious until you switch on the fog lights to find a checkered-flag design glowing up on the front corners.
Inside, there's a more modern design with the usual callbacks to the GTI's heritage. However, the golf ball styling on the shifter has been dialed back, but the iconic plaid inserts on the non-leather seats still look fantastic. There are some nice aesthetic touches inside the latest Golf GTI, but there's also some plain and cheap-looking plastic on view.
Golf, in general, has always managed to stay small but gives enough room for growing kids or a couple of shorter friends in the back. The same goes for cargo space, which is perfectly measured to be useful day-to-day and at the weekend.
Infotainment and cabin controls are where Volkswagen is letting down its cars right now. We get the feeling Volkswagen designed the user interface on a bench and signed off without installing it in a car for someone to drive around and live with for a while. At night, the already fiddly volume and heat controls aren't lit up, and almost everything else is controlled through the awkwardly layered menu system. The touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel are fine, but occasionally you will realize you inadvertently turned the steering wheel heating on in the middle of summer. Overall, interacting with the Golf GTI in the cabin becomes infuriating. Even the cupholders seem to be designed so a lid will pop off of one coffee cup if two are stored there.
The steering wheel itself is the interior's secret weapon, though. It's sized perfectly and ergonomically contoured well for the one and three o'clock hand positions. The dash gauges is well laid out, clear, pretty, and worthy of a GTI.
Our test model arrived with the manual transmission, and it's great if you're all about having a third pedal to play with. The upgrade is Volkswagen's fast seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, so there is absolutely no wrong choice unless you sit in a lot of traffic. The slight upgrade in power isn't the whole story, and while the GTI isn't the fastest hot hatch on the market, the power delivery is linear and plentiful for the car. While not overpowering, the Golf GTI certainly isn't underpowered. Around town, you have all the zip you need and plenty in reserve, and while the suspension is firm, it's far from punishing. Our tester was the Autobahn edition with adjustable suspension. It rides firmly enough to annoy an older body daily driving in Sport mode but takes the edge off lumps and bumps in Comfort mode just enough to be worthwhile.
You buy a GTI to whizz around back roads at every opportunity, though, so we dutifully did our job there - and relished it because the Mk8 Golf GTI is quick and well balanced. Torque steer is virtually non-existent due to the electronic differential's take on torque vectoring. The GTI turns in strong, but the magic comes when it hits mid-corner without pushing into understeer as torque is fed to the outer front wheel. The final result of the front diff is in keeping the power down to both wheels with perfect balance to eject the car from a corner with enthusiasm. The technology won't make up for a lack of technique going fast or hide errors like the Golf R's all-wheel-drive system, but it consistently helps the car go where it's pointed. Matched with balance in the chassis, the GTI is a joy to pilot on a winding road at any speed. With Sport mode engaged through the infotainment screen, the throttle mapping becomes noticeably more responsive. On models with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the algorithms change and it becomes more aggressive.
The Mk8 Golf GTI lives up to the name, and its starting price of $29,880 for a 2022 manual model is par for the course. Our Autobahn model with adjustable suspension and plenty of trimmings starts at an eyebrow-raising $38,330, which is a lot for a FWD hot hatch. The mid-range $34,630 SE trim is the sweet spot and, to us, is in the perfect spirit of the GTI line with enough features to make things comfortable and easy day to day but not over-complicated when it comes to driving fun.
The latest Golf GTI would be an easy recommendation as an accomplished and riotously fun hot hatch if it weren't for the fussy and occasionally baffling infotainment system. For some, that's going to be a dealbreaker, and we understand that. If you're all about Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, we suggest leaving it in Sport mode and the climate control on its Auto setting, in which case you'll likely be able to live with it. If not, well, Honda's next Civic Type R is coming, and Hyundai's Veloster N - which may not be around for much longer - is still an enjoyable handful. Neither is or will be a Golf GTI, though. It almost has a class of its own now.