The compact hatchback is a terrific choice for people who want all the benefits of a small car and a larger cargo area than the typical sedan provides. But what if you also want your hatchback to be fun to drive, too? For that, you should consider a "hot hatch," a small car that combines the strengths of a hatchback with a powerful engine and sporty demeanor. Although various hot hatches have come and gone over the decades, the Volkswagen GTI has truly stood the test of time and has earned an almost iconic status since its introduction to the American market in 1983.
Take a drive in a 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI, and you'll quickly realize why this car has been so popular. Like the Golf upon which it is based, the Golf GTI offers plenty of practicality and near-luxury cabin materials. But that's where these siblings split. The Golf is all about fuel efficiency and competitive pricing, and the GTI ups the ante with a punchy engine, a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission and stylish upholstery. The GTI rides much stiffer than the Golf, which degrades the car's ride quality some, but the payoff is heroic stability and grip around turns.
You can get the GTI with more features than the Golf, too. If you're the kind of person who wants (and is willing to pay for) a complete all-rounder, check out the loaded Autobahn trim. Its adjustable suspension dampers allow you to soften the GTI's ride for long-distance cruising or tighten things up on twisty backroads. You can further equip the Autobahn with an automated parking system and added safety features.
If the Golf GTI doesn't hit the right spot, however, you might consider several other hot hatches on the market instead. The Mini Hatchback comes in two- or four-door body styles, as well as a convertible if top-down adventuring is more your style. The 268-horsepower Subaru WRX is similar in price to the GTI, and it comes standard with weather-beating all-wheel drive. The 252-hp Ford Focus ST is another popular option and boasts a more comfortable ride. And if you have a need for speed that the GTI just won't satisfy, you'll want to think about the VW Golf R, Ford Focus RS or Subaru WRX STI. Overall though, the 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI ticks all the right boxes for those who prize fun and practicality.
Standard safety features for the 2017 VW Golf GTI include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a rearview camera. A post-crash braking system is also standard and automatically applies the brakes after an impact to reduce the likelihood of a secondary crash. Optional for the SE and standard on the Autobahn is the SE Driver Assistance package, which includes a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. The Autobahn Driver Assistance package adds front and rear parking sensors and lane departure warning.
VW's Car-Net emergency telematics system 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).
In Edmunds tests, a Golf GTI fitted with optional summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 108 feet, while one with summer tires and the Performance package (and its larger brakes) stopped in 105 feet. Both are short distances for an affordable performance car with summer tires.
In government crash testing, the GTI earned a full five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for front-impact safety and five stars for side-impact protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the Golf GTI earned the highest score of Good in the moderate-overlap and small-overlap front-impact tests. It also earned a Good rating in the side-impact, roof strength and seat/head restraint (whiplash protection) tests.
trim levels & features
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI is a four-door compact hatchback that seats five. There are four trim levels: S, Sport, SE and Autobahn. All-season tires are standard across the board, although summer performance tires are a no-cost option.
Standard features for the base GTI S include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED foglights, a rear spoiler, heated mirrors, a cooled glovebox, plaid cloth upholstery, a driver information display, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable and heated front seats with power recline, selectable driving modes, ambient interior lighting and rear 60/40-split folding rear seats with a center pass-through. Technology features include a 6.5-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio input, a USB port, HD and satellite radio and smartphone integration (VW's Car-Net App-Connect that features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink).
Stepping up to the Sport includes last year's Performance package (which gives the engine an additional 10 horsepower and adds an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip front differential and larger front and rear brakes), along with adaptive xenon headlights and keyless ignition and entry.
The SE builds upon the Sport's features with a sunroof, automatic headlights and wipers, leather upholstery and a Fender premium audio system.
The SE's Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control, a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The range-topping Autobahn includes everything above, plus adaptive suspension dampers, a larger rear stabilizer bar, a navigation system, a 10-way power driver seat (with two-way power lumbar) and dual-zone automatic climate control.
There's also a Driver Assistance package available for the Autobahn. It adds automatic high-beam headlight control, front and rear parking sensors, automated parallel parking, lane departure warning and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The front-wheel-drive 2017 VW Golf GTI uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 210 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. Sport, SE and Autobahn models come standard with last year's Performance package, which increases output to 220 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic (VW's DSG) is optional.
During Edmunds testing, a Golf GTI with the dual-clutch automatic transmission and Performance package went from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. That's more than a second quicker than a standard Golf and a bit quicker than the Ford Focus ST (6.4 seconds). The Subaru WRX leads the pack at 5.5 seconds.
EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 28 mpg combined (24 city/34 highway) with the manual transmission and 27 mpg combined (24 city/32 highway) with the dual-clutch automatic.
The 2017 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 GTIs are great fun to drive, it's worth upgrading to at least the Sport if you're planning to take on challenging roads or the occasional track day. The limited-slip differential on this trim (and above) 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 dual-clutch automatic 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. The GTI is more forgiving when equipped with the adaptive suspension dampers, but not enough so to justify the added expense if you weren't already planning to get the high-end Autobahn model. We have 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.
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI's interior is the standard-bearer for the sporty compact car class. Materials are well-grained and soft to the touch, and the overall design is distinctly European, comfortable and sporty. Bold red stitching throughout adds to the effect. The body-hugging seats are wonderfully supportive, and both upholstery options (leather or classic plaid cloth) feel expensive. Buttons and switches are placed close to the driver and offer intuitive, simple control.
Every 2017 GTI features a central 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment interface. 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). Two smartphones can be paired to Bluetooth at the same time, perfect for long-distance road trips when you have a couple friends who both have fun playing DJ. The touchscreen is small and doesn't have particularly sharp-looking graphics, but it gets the job done and is easy to use.
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 shoulder room, head- 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. Up to 22.8 cubic feet of cargo can be accommodated behind the rear seats, and folding the seats flat provides an impressive 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.