IT’S A BEST BUY BECAUSE:
No car can match the GTI’s compelling blend of affordability, daily-driver practicality, enthusiast-satisfying performance, and all-around refinement.
Top-end models get a bit pricey for a compact car, and the automated-manual transmission’s responsiveness can be sluggish in stop-and-go driving.
The line-topping GTI Autobahn trim level comes standard with an exclusive feature that’s rare among sporty cars in its price class: an adaptive suspension damping system.
WHAT IS IT?
The Golf GTI is Volkswagen’s long-running “hot-hatch” performance compact. It’s essentially a hopped-up version of the mainstream VW Golf hatchback. The GTI is offered as a 4-door hatchback in base-level S, mid-line SE, or top-grade Autobahn trim levels. The lone engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 220 horsepower and can be mated to either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automated manual that includes steering-wheel paddles for manual shifting. For 2018, SE models add forward collision warning and mitigation and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert as standard features. Autobahns also come standard with the above equipment, and can be equipped with a Driver Assistance Package that includes front and rear park assist, automatic high-beam control, and lane-departure warning.
The Golf GTI lineup is pared down a bit for 2018; the Sport trim level and two-door body style are dropped. All GTIs now make 220 horsepower; the base S model used to be rated at 210. Infotainment systems are updated across the line; other minor updates include LED headlights and taillights and a new wheel design. S models with the automatic transmission have a fuel-saving engine start/stop feature. SE models get upgraded brakes and a limited-slip differential.
The 2018 EPA fuel-economy numbers for the Golf GTI were not available as of this writing. For 2017, the EPA estimated fuel economy at 24 mpg city/34 mpg highway with the manual transmission and 24/32 with the automated manual. In Consumer Guide® testing, a manual-
transmission S model averaged 26.9 mpg in 55-percent city driving, and a manual-transmission SE averaged 22.1 mpg in 75-percent city driving. Premium-grade gas is recommended (and necessary to achieve VW’s official horsepower and torque figures), but the engine will also run on regular.
VALUE IN CLASS
The Golf GTI has long been a benchmark among sporty compact cars; it offers near premium-compact build quality and serious driving-enthusiast appeal. Plus, its hatchback body provides passenger comfort and cargo versatility that few sporty cars can match. Base prices are reasonable, but climb quickly as you move up the model roster. Still, even with somewhat lofty prices, you get what you pay for. The GTI is simply one of the most well-rounded, practical performance vehicles that money can buy.