What's New for 2013
For 2013, the GTI outfitted with the Convenience and Sunroof package gets different wheels, but otherwise the lineup carries over unchanged.
Putting the 2013 Volkswagen GTI up on a spreadsheet against its competitors makes the venerable German hot hatch a tough sell. After all, it gets bested by its rivals in acceleration, braking and handling tests. Even its cargo volume is just midpack. All of which cause some hesitation when you consider that a well-loaded VW GTI crests the $30,000 mark.
But there's more to the GTI than numbers. Its compliant suspension soaks up bumpy city roads without sacrificing a tight, sporty character. The interior is uncommonly upscale with premium materials, classy and restrained design, supportive front seats, roomy rear quarters and a quiet, well-damped cabin with the ambience of an entry-level luxury car.
Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 200 horsepower. That's as much as 60 hp less than the hot-hatch competition. Yet the GTI's mill still makes for a spirited drive, delivering useful power down low for swift passing maneuvers and quick bursts of acceleration. It also sounds cool, with a pleasant exhaust rumble. The turbo inline-4 pairs with a six-speed manual transmission for purists or a dual-clutch automated manual transmission to ease the pain of congested commutes.
However, there are better choices if speed and handling are your main priorities. The Mazdaspeed 3 and Subaru WRX both outgun the GTI in a straight line, while the Mini Cooper S bends more nimbly around corners. We also highly suggest considering the new Ford Focus ST as it combines impressive power with GTI-levels of refinement. But overall, the 2013 VW GTI is still more than the sum of its numbers, as it can dutifully carry you through the work week, then put a grin on your face as you find the quicker, curvier roads out of town for the weekend.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Volkswagen GTI is a high-performance version of the Golf hatchback available in both two- and four-door body styles. An even higher-performance Golf -- the Golf R -- is also offered. It's reviewed separately.
There are two main trim levels: base and Autobahn. The base GTI's standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear roof spoiler, foglights, heated outside mirrors, heated washer nozzles, full power accessories, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, a trip computer, air-conditioning, heated front sport seats, plaid cloth upholstery, split-folding rear seats with a center pass-through, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, auxiliary audio jack and iPod integration.
The base GTI can be fitted with the Convenience and Sunroof package, which adds different 18-inch wheels, a sunroof, multifunction steering wheel controls, a touchscreen interface for the stereo and an in-dash CD changer. The GTI with Sunroof and Navigation adds adaptive xenon headlights, LED running lights and a touchscreen navigation system.
The range-topping GTI Autobahn includes the preceding features, plus unique 18-inch wheels, partial-leather seating, keyless ignition/entry and a premium sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2013 Volkswagen GTI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. In California-emissions states, a cleaner partial-zero-emissions-vehicle (PZEV) variant of this engine is also available.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (called DSG) is optional. The DSG operates like a standard automatic but it can be shifted manually via the shift lever on the center console or the shift paddles on the steering wheel.
In Edmunds testing, a GTI with a manual transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Competitors are at least a half-second faster. According to EPA estimates, the GTI returns 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined when equipped with the DSG. The manual transmission achieves slightly less at 21/31/25 mpg.
Standard safety equipment for the 2013 Volkswagen GTI includes antilock brakes, stability control and traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the GTI earned a top rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In Edmunds performance testing, braking from 60 to zero mph required 129 feet. That's longer than average for a small car with all-season tires and a full car length longer than the summer-tire-equipped Mazdaspeed 3's impressively short 115-foot halt.
Interior Design and Special Features
Among sporty hatchbacks, the 2013 GTI ranks at the top for interior quality. The retro-style plaid seat fabric on the base trim won't suit everyone, but the cabin reflects a cool and sophisticated design, featuring upscale Audi-esque trim and switchgear throughout. The Ford Focus might come close, but otherwise you won't find better materials in the segment. There are a couple downsides, including a lack of useful interior storage and the small screen of the navigation system that hampers displayed information and overall usefulness.
The front seats are sporty and supportive, whether cruising or driving hard. If you regularly carry passengers, the four-door GTI is a safe bet, but accessing the surprisingly roomy rear seats is also pretty painless even in the two-door. Behind the rear seats, the cargo area holds up to 15.2 cubic feet -- nearly three times that of the Mini Cooper S, but less than a Focus or Mazda 3 hatchback. Once the rear seat is folded down, 46 cubic feet of cargo capacity is at your disposal.
The 2013 Volkswagen GTI won't give you the quickest quarter-mile or lap time compared to rival hatchbacks. But the GTI delivers one of the best overall driving experiences in the class. The turbocharged engine is lively and unloads plenty of useful low-end torque. The cabin is quiet, and the compliant suspension neutralizes broken pavement.
Around corners, the GTI is fun up to a point. But there's no question that cars like the Focus ST, Mazdaspeed 3 and Cooper S are livelier, more nimble and possessive of higher handling limits. Still, most drivers will find the GTI strikes an impressive balance between performance, comfort and daily thrills.