2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI – First Impressions

This First Impression is from a short stint behind the wheel of the car in question. It’s less comprehensive than a full test drive/review. To get up to speed on the launch of the Volkswagen Golf Mark 8 in Singapore read our local launch story with pricing, spec details and more

SINGAPORE — Given the choice between the new Golf 1.5 eTSI and the GTI for an hour, what would you have done? Exactly. So I snatched the GTI’s key from chief editor Derryn and sprinted to the fiery red demo unit, dead keen to drive a car itself renowned for sprinting. You can check out Derryn’s first impression of the regular Golf, the 1.5 eTSI, here.

Not being able to risk having Derryn catch up with me demanding the key back, I didn’t have time to stop and take in the new GTI’s appearance. But there’s actually a lot for the eye to admire.

The slender lamps flank a slim grille (with that characteristic red stripe running across it) and at night there’s apparently a light bar that links the headlights. The grille itself is so tiny that the car takes in cooling air through the bumper’s big central scoop instead, and there’s the angular C-shaped inserts that give the car such a wide, well-planted stance. It’s all a little subtle, but it certainly looks good, and if you want some of the GTI’s visual flair without the expense or performance, the 1.5 eTSI R-Line is the Golf for you.

As different as the new Golf looks from its predecessor, its interior looks like it jumped ahead a decade.

Out go physical switches and in their place are touch-sensitive, interactive buttons. Digital displays dominate the dash, with a 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro in front of the driver and an 8.25-inch touchscreen system at the same level, to make it feel continuous.

First impressions? If you’re used to VW’s controls, you’re going to have to do some re-learning. Although the GTI has touch-sensitive controls for the climate control and entertainment volume, most things are buried in menus now and after an hour I still hadn’t figured things out properly.

It all looks good and slick, but having physical buttons was definitely an easier way to go.

Wanna see what the Golf GTI’s cabin is like? Bad news — you have to sit through our walkthrough vid!

The front seats are a beaut and the perforated leather that covers them both looks and feels lovely, while the steering wheel is a nice thing to start every drive with. What’s less impressive is how the cabin has taken a dip in quality. Hard plastics are everywhere now, and when you open the glovebox it feels noticeably cheaper inside than before.

Look under the bonnet and you’ll see more cost-saving — a bonnet stand instead of gas struts, bits of metal still covered in primer, and even a plain engine cover. VW has been pouring billions into developing electric cars, and it shows here.

No complaints about the way the Golf GTI drives, however. A quick go reveals that the basics are still in place: the engine is rorty and offers a hearty turn of speed, and if rocketing out of a tight corner in this doesn’t make you smile, you probably need to ease up on the Botox.

The weather decided to make the roads greasy when I drove the GTI, but it’s still the kind of car you can just bomb into corners in, and as long as you’re not seriously overdoing things, the chassis will get you through. But what makes the GTI work is that there’s a suppleness to the ride quality. The car’s ability to take bumps in its stride is probably why you want to keep getting back behind the wheel. 

That’s certainly how I felt when I returned the key. Chief ed Derryn takes the GTI over the weekend for a more comprehensive drive, so check back here soon. No wonder he was so calm when I nicked the key off him.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 TSI

Engine 1984cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power245hp at 5000rpm
Torque370Nm at 1600rpm 
Gearbox7-speed dual-clutch 
0-100km/h6.4 seconds
Top Speed250km/h
Fuel Efficiency6.5L/100km 
VES Band B / Neutral
AgentVolkswagen Singapore 
PriceS$205,900 with COE

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about the author

Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 26 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.