Right then. The prototypes, test mules, teasers and spy shots are out of the way at last; we can finally get a first good look at the new range of sporty Golfs. Or rather we could last week, when PH travelled to Volkswagen's Wolfsburg HQ to lay eyes on the new cars. Not just the sacred GTI, but its GTE and GTD siblings as well, models which now more than ever have a significant part to play in VW's hot hatch hierarchy. There's plenty to digest, so let's dive right in.
We'll start with performance, seeing as that's why we're all here. A (unchanged and widely predicted) 245hp headline figure from the GTI is matched for the first time by the GTE, which previously only managed to muster 208hp from its hybrid set up. In the GTI's case, that comes with 273lb ft of torque from the familiar 2.0-litre, turbocharged EA888 evo4 four-pot, while the 200kg-heavier GTE manages a superior 295lb ft thanks to its electrified innards.
There, a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine and 85kW electric motor are joined by a new lithium-ion battery which, at 13kWh, is 50 per cent larger than the one used previously. This is enough for an all-electric range of 37 miles, with clever tech able to decide whether to take advantage of that cleaner-running ability from the get-go, use it to supplement performance while driving, or hold it in reserve for arrival into a low-emission urban environment at the end of the journey.
If that journey is a long one, then it'll be the GTD which you're after. Its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder TDI motor produces just 200hp, but matches the GTE's 295lb ft of twist. Not only does its powertrain feature the same 'twin dosing' system seen on the new Passat - which selectively injects AdBlue upstream of two separate SCR catalytic converters, reducing NOx emissions by up to 80 per cent - but it boasts a range of up to 1,000km (620 miles) on a single tank as well.
When it comes to transmissions, the GTI will come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and a new 'shift-by-wire' seven-speed DSG as an option. GTD buyers will have to make do with that seven-speed dual clutch alone, and GTE owners will receive a conventional six-speed automatic, its ratios being better tailored to hybrid efficiency.
Performance isn't all about powertrains, though, and that's where the new Mk8 cars really ought to come into their own. The Performance Pack of the previous generation is no more, the standard GTI now benefitting from the 15mm-lower sports suspension, improved brakes and locking diff that car came with. A new driving dynamics control system known as the Vehicle Dynamics Manager makes its debut, too. This controls various features including the diff and dampers, supposedly unlocking "significantly sharpened driving dynamics" as a result. Sounds vaguely promising.
Styling-wise, opinions on the Mk8 are obviously subjective; what's harder to debate is the increase in aerodynamic efficiency that the new design enables. Each of the three performance variants benefit from this overall itheir own. The GTI's dual exhausts aren't matched by the twin pipes exiting beside each other on the GTD, for example, or the lack of any visible tailpipe on the GTE. Alongside a new full-width lightbar (markets beyond the EU will also receive an illuminated badge, which doesn't pass regs here) the GTI's red detailing sets it apart from the blue of the GTE and the silver of the GTD.
Inside, those colour schemes are carried over, each car's upholstery displaying a different take on the famous GTI tartan. That's about the only thing that's traditional in the thoroughly modern cabin, however. A new multifunction leather sports steering wheel takes centre stage, in front of a 10.25-inch digital dash shared across the VW Group. In the GTE, this forms one half of the 'Innovision Cockpit' which also includes a 10-inch Discover Pro navigation system and is optional on the other two models. Should you not opt to tick that box, an 8.25-inch infotainment screen will take its place.
Aside from the screens the cabin is kept strikingly minimalist, with just a handful of buttons atop the transmission tunnel, alongside a small and subtle gear selector - no manual GTIs were present at our sneak peek - and to the side of the wheel. This shouldn't make it unattractive to old-school drivers, though, with the digital setup offering purist features like a central rev dial on demand.
Order books for the GTI are due to open in the summer, with the GTD potentially following slightly later. Deliveries of both will commence by the end of the year. Performance variants - including the R - currently account for around 40 per cent of UK Golf sales, meaning VW is sure to have plenty of interest on its hands. And that's before we get to the rumoured return of the Clubsport or the potential for a new 329hp Golf R... For now, though, the latest generation of the original volume hot hatch awaits its public debut at Geneva next week.