It's been about 35 years since the Volkswagen GTI introduced Americans to the concept of the "hot hatchback." It's a popular phrase that describes a car that offers utility, practicality and good old-fashioned driving fun in equal measures. Today's Volkswagen Golf GTI (Golf is now part of its name) continues that tradition, and all it takes is a quick drive to see why this German icon has remained an American favorite.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI offers many of the same attributes that have made the Golf one of the planet's most popular cars. Its roomy, if conservatively styled, cabin is finished with high-quality materials, and that gives it a distinctly upmarket feel. But the Golf GTI has its own personality, with a responsive turbo engine, an optional quick-shifting, dual-clutch automatic transmission, and a chassis that trades some ride quality in exchange for quicker reflexes. There are plenty of luxury options for the Golf GTI, including an adjustable suspension, that elevate the car above the youth-market hot hatch offerings from other manufacturers. All in all, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is an exceptionally appealing package.
Current Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen builds the Golf GTI as a four-door hatchback (the two-door has been discontinued) in four trim levels: S, Sport, SE and Autobahn. All are nicely equipped by small-hatch standards, though we prefer the Sport for its 10 extra horsepower, limited-slip differential (which helps the car grip the road as it fires out of the corners) and bigger brakes. The SE adds more comfort features and optional safety and driver aids. The top-of-the-line Autobahn is the only way to get an adjustable suspension, which softens the GTI's ride for day-to-day driving and stiffens it for serious curvy-road action.
The Golf GTI's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 210 horsepower in the base S model and 220 hp in all other versions, though torque for both versions stands at 258 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic, which Volkswagen calls DSG. We clocked a DSG-equipped Golf GTI to 60 mph in a quick 6.1 seconds. The EPA gives the Volkswagen Golf GTI a 28 mpg combined rating with a manual transmission and 27 mpg with the automatic.
Out on the open road, the Volkswagen Golf GTI lives up to its promises with quick acceleration and responsive steering. Not all sporty cars are as much fun to drive as they ought to be, but the GTI races through the curves with boundless enthusiasm. If such enthusiastic bounding is part of your plans, you'll want to buy the Sport trim or better to get the limited-slip differential. Front-wheel-drive cars tend to spin their inside front wheels when exiting corners quickly, but the GTI's limited-slip diff helps you put the power down more effectively.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI's charms go well beyond its road manners. We think the Golf GTI's interior sets the standard for the class, with a straightforward control layout, attractive red stitching and grippy sport seats. The standard touchscreen stereo is Apple CarPlay- and Android Auto-compatible. Passenger space is excellent for a car this size, and the 22.8-cubic-foot cargo bay (expandable to 52.7 cubes with the seats folded) makes the Golf GTI as practical as it is enjoyable.
Used Volkswagen Golf GTI Models
The Volkswagen Golf GTI made its debut for 2015. Technically it was the seventh generation of the GTI, though it was the first to incorporate the Golf moniker in its name. (Previous versions, officially labeled as the Volkswagen GTI, are reviewed separately.)
For 2016, Volkswagen upgraded the Golf GTI's infotainment system and added adaptive cruise control, emergency braking assistance, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and semi-automated parking to the optional Driver Assistance package. Volkswagen officially dropped the two-door version for the 2017 model year, though a few were made early in the production run. Other changes included a new Sport trim and additional standard features for some trim levels.
Read the most recent 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Volkswagen Golf GTI page.