Used 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review

Are you searching for a quick and sporty compact hatchback that's also comfortable enough to drive every day? Check out the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI. We think it has the performance chops you expect, plus a refined demeanor that fully justifies the car's price. Read on to see why the GTI is a winner in its class.




what's new

For 2016, the Volkswagen GTI gets a major upgrade in cabin technology. An all-new infotainment system provides a standard 6.5-inch touchscreen interface, rearview camera, universal USB input and, for compatible phones, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. VW has also added new features to the optional Driver Assistance package, including adaptive cruise control, an emergency brake assist feature, lane departure warnings, blind spot monitoring and automated parallel parking.

vehicle overview

You never really outgrow a car like the Volkswagen Golf GTI. An incredibly versatile machine, the GTI has all the space and comfort of any other VW Golf, but thanks to its well-executed performance enhancements, it's also terrific fun to drive. This all-in-one, hot-but-humble hatchback formula elevated the original GTI to icon status, and it carries through to the 2016 Golf GTI.

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of the best choices if you're looking for a fun and practical car that won't break the bank.

Last year's full redesign produced a noticeably more entertaining Volkswagen Golf GTI. Although not radically different in personality from recent forbears, the current model has more responsive steering and brakes that make it far more capable and enjoyable on roads with tight turns. Accelerating out of those turns is easier than ever, too, thanks to a strong turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that makes this VW one of the quickest cars in its class.

One of the few weak links in the 2015 model was the outdated audio-navigation interface, and for 2016, that's where Volkswagen has turned its attention, giving every 2016 GTI an all-new technology interface. Although the touchscreen is still modest in size (just 6.5 inches), the new system supports voice-to-text messaging and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. Better yet, VW's outdated MDI cable has finally given way to a real USB input. Meanwhile, the optional Driver Assistance package has been stocked with additional driver aids, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings and a brake assist feature for the frontal collision warning system.

Shoppers who place a high value on technology will undoubtedly be glad they waited a year to buy a Golf GTI. Combine the tech upgrades with a top-quality interior and a stellar driving experience and this VW really is tough to beat. Still, depending on your priorities, you might want to look at the alternatives in this price range. For rowdier performance and handling, the Ford Focus ST sets the standard, even if its acceleration times are a few tenths of a second slower. It's less expensive, too, and offers Recaro seats as a factory option. We're also fond of the smaller but highly customizable Mini Cooper S, which is still plenty fun to drive and now available in a four-door body style. The Subaru WRX is a good option if you want all-wheel drive, and if your budget is large, you could even think about the more exclusive Golf R.

Any of these cars would be enjoyable to own, but if you're looking for a hot hatch that's as practical as it is engaging, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI comes highly recommended.




trim levels & features

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI is offered in two- and four-door hatchback body styles, and both versions seat five. There are three trim levels: S, SE and Autobahn. All-season tires are standard across the board, and summer performance tires are a no-cost option.

Standard features for the base GTI S two-door include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED foglights, a rear spoiler, heated mirrors, cruise control, air-conditioning, a cooled glovebox, plaid cloth upholstery, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, rear 60/40-split folding rear seats with a center pass-through, a 6.5-inch touchscreen technology interface, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, smartphone integration (via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay), a rearview camera, VW Car-Net telematics, HD radio, satellite radio and an eight-speaker audio system with a USB port, an auxiliary input and a CD player. Four-door versions of the GTI S also receive power-reclining front seats.

Available on all GTIs, the optional Performance package includes an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip front differential, larger front and rear brakes and an additional 10 horsepower.

Stepping up to the GTI SE trim adds a sunroof, automatic headlights and wipers, keyless ignition and entry, leather upholstery and a Fender premium audio system. The range-topping GTI Autobahn trim tops off the features list with a navigation system, a 10-way power driver seat (with two-way power lumbar) and dual-zone automatic climate control.

Any GTI can be optioned with the Lighting package, which upgrades you to adaptive bi-xenon headlights and LED running lights. Optional on SE and Autobahn models equipped with the Performance package is Dynamic Chassis Control, which provides driver-adjustable adaptive shock absorbers and a larger rear stabilizer bar. Available on any SE or Autobahn model, the Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a frontal collision warning system with emergency brake assist, lane departure warnings, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, automated parallel parking and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.



performance & mpg

The front-wheel-drive 2016 VW Golf GTI uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 210 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. The optional Performance package increases output to 220 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automated manual (VW's DSG) is optional.

Thanks to a strong turbocharged engine, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of the quicker mainstream hatchbacks you can buy.

During Edmunds testing, a four-door Golf GTI with the DSG transmission and Performance package went from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. That's slightly quicker than average for a sporty compact car, and more than a second quicker than a standard Golf. A two-door GTI with the manual transmission (and no Performance package) reached 60 mph in 5.9 seconds.

The EPA's estimates for fuel economy are 28 mpg combined (25 city/34 highway) for the manual transmission and 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway) for the DSG.

safety

Standard safety features for the 2016 VW Golf GTI include antilock disc brakes, automatic hill-hold, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. A post-crash braking system is also standard and automatically applies the brakes after an impact to reduce the likelihood of a secondary crash. VW's Car-Net emergency telematics is standard with features that include automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing (which allows parents to set boundaries for teenage drivers). A rearview camera is standard, while front and rear parking sensors are part of the optional Driver Assistance package. Said package also includes a frontal collision warning system (with a brake support feature that helps slow the car down when an impact is imminent), lane departure warnings and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts.

In Edmunds tests, a Golf GTI fitted with optional summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 107 feet, which is a very good distance for an affordable performance car with summer tires.

In government crash testing, the two-door GTI earned a full five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for frontal-impact safety and five stars for side-impact protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the related 2016 VW Golf earned the highest score of "Good" in the moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests. It also earned a "Good" rating in the side-impact, roof-strength and seats/head restraints (whiplash protection) tests.

Driving

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI lives up to its hot hatch heritage with sharp handling and steering, brisk acceleration and a rather burly engine and exhaust note. These are all best exploited on a tight and twisting mountain road, where the GTI playfully bounds from curve to curve, while instilling plenty of driver confidence. Though all 2016 GTIs are great fun to drive, the Performance package version is worth considering if you're planning to take on challenging roads or the occasional track day. The limited-slip differential in this package helps pull the car's nose around the apex of a turn, resulting in quicker progress for more advanced drivers.

Either the slick-shifting manual or the well-executed DSG automated manual transmission is a good choice. Especially compared to traditional automatics, the DSG is quick and smooth, and its downshifts are perfectly rev-matched. However, we've found that DSG can be frustratingly slow to respond to gas pedal inputs when you want to accelerate quickly from a stop or when you're trundling along in heavy traffic.

Although it's comfortable enough on long drives, the GTI can ride harshly over imperfect pavement when equipped with the summer tires. Models with the optional adaptive suspension are more forgiving, but not enough so to justify the added expense if you weren't already planning to get a GTI with the Performance package. We've yet to drive a Volkswagen Golf GTI with the standard all-season tires, and it's possible that the less aggressive rubber would translate to a smoother ride.

Interior

You'll be smitten with the 2016 Volkswagen GTI's interior within 30 seconds of getting inside. It's just that good. Materials are well-grained and soft to the touch, and the overall design is distinctly European, comfortable and sporty, thanks to bold red stitching. Buttons and switches are placed close to the driver and offer intuitive, simple control.

Overall quality of the Golf GTI's interior materials is fantastic, with attractive red contrast stitching throughout.

Every 2016 GTI features a 6.5-inch touchscreen with all-new software behind it. Autobahn models also include navigation, but with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility across all trims, you really don't need a factory nav system anymore (provided you have a fairly new smartphone in hand). The touchscreen is still small compared to the 8-inch display in the Focus ST, but it's a huge upgrade over the lower-resolution display in last year's GTI. And wonder of wonders, a universal USB port is finally included.

Passenger space is excellent for this class. Front seats provide ample support and comfort, even during long-distance driving stints, and not at the sacrifice of rear seat passengers, who will have plenty of head-, shoulder  and legroom. Wide, tall doors combined with a moderately high seat make this an easy car to get in and out of, especially for its size. Even the two-door models have good rear-seat access. Up to 22.8 cubic feet of cargo can be accommodated behind the rear seats, while folding the seats flat provides a class-leading 52.7 cubic feet of space.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.