A week or so ago, I drove to M1 Concours in Pontiac, MI to drive the Mk8 GTI on the facility’s road course and on an autocross course they put together for the event. I drove both the manual and DCT versions of the new car back to back with some MK7s.
Before we get cracking on this, I should mention that the new cars had Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R tires on the front wheels and stock Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires on the rear. VW told us that a previous group had worn tires that were on the front wheels out at a previous event and when they went to replace them, Tire Rack was fresh out of the stock tire so they went with the autocross/trackday tire instead. I checked the Tire Rack website when I got home and based on the evidence, the explanation seemed more or less plausible.
I also e-mailed VW PR guy Mark Gillies, who is a much, much better driver than I am. He confirmed what I’d been told by VW PR onsite, and also said he’d done a lot of laps in both the new car and the old one, and that while the hotter tire may have helped some in the autocross, the new car is more neutral, and faster than the outgoing car.
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Indeed, the new car was considerably faster than the MK7 on both the autocross and the track, which you’d expect, but I don’t know the tires we tested well enough to say how much of the difference was tires vs the revised...everything else. So, I’m not going to dwell on the comparison stuff, even though that’s more or less what the event was about. I’ll tell you what I thought of the GTI on big track-y tires.
The MK8 is built on a modified version of the MK7's MBQ architecture and gets a modified version of the MK7s 2-liter four. Good news on both fronts. You get more power here, 241HP and, much like the Golf R I drove last spring, a host of mechanical and electronic changes to improve your lap times.
The GTI has a stiffer and marginally lighter front subframe, made from aluminum instead of the MK7's steel. It’s got a 5% higher spring rate at the front and a 15% spring rate at the back where the suspension has been reconfigured.
There’s also an electronically controlled limited slip setup that can intervene to maintain traction, meting out power depending on the surface and drive mode via a clutch. Speaking of drive modes, there are many drive modes—including a traction-control-all-the-way-off mode.
Launching the new car hard from a stop produces more acceleration and less wheel spin. Pin it coming out of a corner and it just goes. No body movement, no slipping from the tires. There is a ton of brake, more than I could really use at M1.
All of this combines for a sharper, more precise-feeling car overall. It’s flatter in corners and more eager to rotate. The MK7 feels pliant and infinitely chuckable, a great road car that offers a fun and approachable track experience. The MK8 feels more like a car for someone who owns multiple helmets.
The shifter isn’t notably different from MK7 to MK8, though I strongly prefer the shift knob in the MK7—an aluminum and soft touch plastic thing that approaches perfection. The Mk8s feels a little more plasticky and a lot less satisfying.
Styling is better in person than it is in photos, but seeing it from the front, next to the MK7...I think I’ll make the transition to preferring the new car, but I’ll need a little time to get acclimated to those headlights. In profile, it’s an improvement and, from the rear, it’s gorgeous, though I may relocate the GTI badge from the center to the right side. The exterior lighting is really excellent, with a lot of interesting, modern detailing.
I didn’t really spend a ton of time playing with the big-cabin spanning screen situation but it’s the same one as the one you get in the Golf R and it’s shocking to see a screen that size in a Golf variant. Oh, and there are plaid seats.
The Carroll family GTI is on Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, as the factory Pirelli all-seasons were awful. In Euroland, you can spec Michelin Cup 2s, a very serious tire. I imagine that a lot of people who want to get the absolute most out of their MK8 GTI will find themselves perusing Tire Rack at some point.
While I didn’t get a perfect 1:1 with the outgoing car—a car that I love dearly—I did learn that with some tires, the new car is kind of a monster. On a short track like M-1, among average drivers driving just about anything, if you’re not hanging, it’s your fault.