2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review

The GTI begs to be driven hard and proves that Volkswagen still has some drivers on staff.
author
by Dan Frio
Edmunds Editor

Edmunds expert review

One drive in a 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI and you'll understand why this model has become something of an icon since its American debut in 1983. Like the standard Golf on which it is based, the Golf GTI offers plenty of practicality and interior materials that feel as if they were pulled from a more expensive German car.

But where the Golf emphasizes fuel economy and a competitive price, the GTI ratchets up the excitement with a punchy engine, a quick-shifting automatic transmission and stylish upholstery. As befits a performance car, the GTI sits a little lower and rides a little stiffer than the regular Golf, which degrades ride quality somewhat. The payoff, however, is heroic stability and grip in turns.

The GTI isn't the only choice among the so-called hot hatches; Ford, Mini and Subaru also make convincing alternatives. The GTI isn't even VW's top-performing hatch. For that, there's the much more hardcore (and expensive) Golf R. But for drivers who prize fun and practicality, the GTI checks all the right boxes.



What's new for 2018

For 2018, the VW Golf GTI pares down trim levels to three choices. All get the formerly optional 10-horsepower increase, so every 2018 GTI now puts out 220 hp. The two top trims also offer new standard features, including LED headlights, driver safety aids, upgraded performance brakes and larger touchscreen displays.

We recommend

It tips the scales at more than $31,000, but the SE with a manual transmission is worth it for several features not available on the base model. They include upgraded brakes, LED headlights, a sunroof, driver assistance features (forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring), a larger touchscreen, and the option to upgrade to leather upholstery.



Trim levels & features

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI is a four-door hatchback that seats five. It's available in three trim levels: S, SE and Autobahn. The S comes well-equipped for a base model (automatic headlights, heated front seats, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto), but lacks some more common features and conveniences. The SE fills in the gaps with amenities such as a sunroof, driver aids and upgraded entertainment. The Autobahn doesn't equip the GTI for life on the famous German superhighway, but it does make life notably more comfortable for the driver with leather upholstery, a premium sound system, and even a self-parking system.

All GTI models are front-wheel-drive and use a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (220 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque) paired with a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

For a base trim, the S comes with some nice features, including 18-inch alloy wheels, high-performance tires, LED foglights, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, cloth upholstery, heated front seats, ambient interior lighting, and a 60/40-split folding rear seats with a center pass-through. Technology features include a 6.5-inch touchscreen display, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, and an eight-speaker sound system.

Moving up to the SE, our recommended trim, adds upgraded brakes (same as those on the Golf R), a limited-slip differential, LED headlights, a sunroof, keyless entry, push-button ignition, an 8-inch touchscreen display, an eight-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio, and VW Car-Net Security and Service connected services. It also gets driver assistance features that include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Leather upholstery is the only option for SE models. It is, in fact, the only option available for the whole 2018 GTI lineup.

Finally, the Autobahn trim adds an adaptive suspension, automatic high beams, a power-adjustable driver seat, a navigation system, and a subwoofer-enhanced Fender sound system. The Autobahn also showcases Volkswagen's most current driver assistance and safety features, including adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, front and rear parking sensors with Maneuver Braking (automatically applies the brakes if a collision with nearby objects while parking seems likely), a self-parking system (Park Assist), and a lane departure warning/lane keeping assist system.



Trim tested

Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2015 Volkswagen GTI (turbo 2.0L inline-4 | 6-speed dual-clutch automatic | FWD).

NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the current Golf GTI has received some revisions, including new infotainment systems, the addition of driver assistance features, and more standard horsepower for 2018. Our findings remain broadly applicable to this year's Golf GTI, however.

Edmunds Scorecard

Overall

Interior

4.5 / 5

Roominess4.5 / 5

Driving

You could drive the GTI every day and have no clue about its performance potential because it's so easy and normal-feeling. Get it on the right road, though, and it's a stunner, with agile handling and invigorating mannerisms. Its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is always smooth, always eager.

Acceleration

With the Performance Pack's 220 hp and launch control, the GTI gets to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. Lightning-fast shifts come from the dual-clutch transmission either via paddles or in automatic modes.

Braking5.0

Thanks to summer tires, the GTI stops from 60 mph in only 109 feet. The real coup for the GTI is the superb, firm and easy-to-control brake feel.

Steering

Quick and not too heavy, the GTI's steering, like the brakes, is proof that VW still has some drivers on its staff. It has a sporty feel when you pick up the pace, yet it doesn't remind you about it in daily driving.

Handling

A true hot hatch, the GTI begs to be driven hard and rewards the driver with good grip, slight tail-slide, and predictable inputs. It's a total blast with no undue influence of engine power on the steering and awesome traction from the limited-slip front differential.

Drivability

There's one ding on the GTI's drivability: a slight low-speed jerkiness from the dual-clutch transmission, but that's common to dual-clutches. Still, this is a phenomenally easy car to drive and live with.

Comfort

A stiff ride is expected in this category, but the GTI puts a toe over the line with a rough, busy ride. The comfortable seats and quiet cabin help make up for it to a large extent.

Seat comfort

Though we had leather upholstery and not the base GTI's cool tartan cloth, the seats were still grippy, well-bolstered and breathable. The manual adjustments can be awkward, however.

Ride comfort

The blame could lie with the sporty summer tires on our test car or the nonadjustable suspension, but the GTI exhibited a rough, busy ride over most surfaces we encountered.

Noise & vibration

Despite the GTI's stiff-legged ride, the cabin is quiet for the class. Minimal tire noise, a pleasant engine sound and only a hint of audible impact harshness. No noticeable wind noise.

Climate control

Three dials with grippy, tactile rings control temperature, fan speed and vent locations. A small handful of buttons control other functions, such as recirculation, the defroster and seat heaters. All HVAC controls should be this simple.

Interior4.5

The GTI is the grown-up of the hot-hatch segment and that really shows on the interior. It's clean and easy to use with excellent materials for the segment. A winner.

Ease of use

Designed for the driver, the GTI's controls are all a short reach away from the steering wheel, in smart locations and clearly labeled.

Getting in/getting out

The wide and tall doors combine with moderately high seats to make it an easy car to get in and out of, especially for its size.

Driving position

This generation GTI is much improved on its predecessors in allowing drivers of all sizes, but especially shorter drivers, to get comfortable and reach the pedals without sitting on top of the steering wheel. Power adjustments make even quicker work of finding a suitable position.

Roominess4.5

It's not until you get out of the GTI that you realize how small it actually is. The cabin feels large, and the tilt-and-telescoping action of the steering wheel allows tall drivers to get comfortable, too.

Visibility

The GTI's rearview camera is handy but entirely unnecessary. This car has great sightlines all around and a high seating position for a terrific view outward.

Quality

In traditional German fashion, the GTI's interior feels sturdy and looks utilitarian. We observed no squeaks or rattles from our tester, and the switches operated with a satisfying tactile feel.

Utility

By virtue of its hatchback design, utility is one of the GTI's top priorities. There aren't many daily cargo needs that the GTI can't handle with 16.5 cubic feet of luggage space behind the second row, 52.7 cubic feet with the seats folded, and a center pass-through for those moments in between.

Small-item storage

The long but narrow door pockets can handle smaller water bottles and a typical assortment of phones, devices, charging accessories, even paper maps — if anyone still uses them.

Cargo space

There's 16.5 cubic feet of luggage space behind the rear seats. Removing the parcel shelf/cargo cover increases that to 22.8 cubic feet. The rear seats don't fold completely flat but still yield almost 53 cubic feet of max cargo space — impressive and useful no matter how you slice it.

Child safety seat accommodation

LATCH anchors are easy to find and access, although larger rear-facing convertible car seats force the front seats far forward, possibly too much for passenger comfort. A single seat in the middle position is one solution, although the car seat is prone to rub against the front seat fabric.

Technology

The 2018 GTI gets a larger touchscreen display with improved graphics, viewing angles and response times. A full suite of available driver assistance features makes the GTI a full-fledged adult's car.

Audio & navigation

Larger 8-inch displays replace 6.5-inch displays in SE and Autobahn trims. Navigation is available only on Autobahn. Fender-branded audio system isn't especially exceptional but offers a subwoofer. The sound system in the SE and Autobahn can even play back FLAC files, a favorite audiophile format.

Smartphone integration

Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink are key additions, available throughout the lineup.

Driver aids

The 2018 GTI builds on existing driver aids. SE trim offers basic but useful features (blind-spot monitoring, auto emergency braking). The Autobahn offers a full menu: adaptive cruise control, lane departure/lane keeping assist, even a self-parking system. Unfortunately, the base model offers none.

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.