2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review
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
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.
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.
Noise & vibration
Ease of use
Getting in/getting out
Child safety seat accommodation
Audio & navigation
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.