The Volkswagen Golf GTI IS the icon that started the hot hatchback craze. The subcompact hatch is offered as a front-drive 4-door only. It's differentiated from lesser Golf models by upgraded suspension and brakes, more powerful engine and additional go-fast goodies. It's not the highest performing vehicle in the Golf lineup though, that honor belongs to the Golf R. Competitors to the GTI are few and include the Honda Civic Type R, Subaru WRX and soon-to-be-available Hyundai Veloster N.
The Golf GTI rides a 103.6-inch wheelbase and is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 220 horsepower -- up 10 for 2018. Transmission offerings include a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. A limited-slip front differential is available.
Models include the S, SE and Autobahn. The S starts at $26,415, the SE at $30,470 and the Autobahn lists for $35,070. Being a price leader, the S isn't available with the limited-slip differential, hi-performance audio system of some safety and tech features. Autobahn adds Fender audio system, 8-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control and driver-adjustable shock absorbers.
With a curb weight of just 3100
pounds, the GTI's 2.0-liter turbo has more than enough oomph when called
upon. There is ample torque at the low end and good mid-range power.
The engine makes more noise than power at the top end, so there's little
need to shift at redline. When prodded, the GTI can accelerate from 0
to 60 MPH in a tick over 6 seconds. That's more than quick enough for
most drivers. The manual transmission is a joy to shift and the
automatic snaps off crisp shifts in hard acceleration and downshifts
promptly when called upon for more power.
Autobahn comes standard with a limited-slip front differential that's also available on the SE. Not that it is necessary, but the LSD does an excellent job of apportioning power to the front wheel with the best grip. It's worth stepping up to the SE just to get the LSD from an overall drivability standpoint and also from the added traction it adds on slippery pavement.
EPA numbers are 25/33 MPG for the manual and 24/32 MPG for the automatic. The numbers for the automatic seem fairly accurate, but it's easy to best the manual numbers -- provided you don't race around all the time. In 300 miles of mixed suburban commuting and gentle highway driving, the Golf GTI manual averaged close to 40 MGP overall. Another added bonus, the GTI runs fine on regular-grade gasoline.
Offering perhaps the best ride/handling combination of any sporty coupe, the Volkswagen Golf GTI offers a compliant ride that's never harsh and tenacious road-holding grip. And where the standard suspension on the S and SE is good, the available adjustable suspension on the Autobahn offers the best possible combination of impact absorption and stiffness. Adding to the mix is a delightfully weighted steering that's accurate and dead true on the highway. Brakes seem to have good stopping power but the pedal has a slightly mushy feeling.
Interior noise levels are impressively
low -- especially for a hot hatch. The engine rarely intrudes in normal
acceleration or highway cruising. Wind noise is low and the tires never
thrum or growl.
Don't expect flash or gimmicks inside, as the Golf GTI is all business. Drivers face a traditional twin-dial setup and there's a large touchscreen topping the center console. Climate and audio controls are straight forward and the GTI offers standard Apple Car Play and Android Auto integration. Materials are impressive, as is build quality. Overall, the ambiance is somber, but clearly a cut above others in the class and more than appropriate for the premium price point.
The front seats are very firm and highly bolstered, again par for the GTI's mission. There's abundant head and leg room and the doors open wide to make getting in and out a snap. Thanks to the longish wheelbase, the rear seats are also quite accommodating. Again, cushions could use a bit more passing, but full-size adults will fit with the front seats moved only slightly forward.
Being a hatchback adds to the Golf GTI's versatility. Cargo space behind the rear seats is 22.8 cubic feet. That's larger than a typical midsize sedan. Fold the rear seats and cargo space zooms to nearly 53 cubic feet, positively cavernous and more than some subcompact crossovers. Interior storage is just fair with a few open and covered bins throughout. One plus is a large glove box.
There is no debate that the Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of the more expensive subcompacts. But it's performance and premium-cut materials help justify that price tag. Even more impressive is the level of overall refinement. The GTI is quiet, comfortable and impeccably finished. Competitors are few, but the GTI still sets the overall standard for the class.