The Volkswagen GTI is one of the best-known budget performance cars sold in America. For more than 30 years, Volkswagen has been taking its entry-level, economy car-based hatchback model and turning it into a GTI by adding a more powerful engine and brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, and special interior and exterior trim pieces. The result is a practical car that's also fun to drive and desirable.
The original Volkswagen Rabbit GTI stormed onto American shores for 1983 and has been frequently credited for creating the niche-oriented "hot hatch" market segment. Though many of the original GTI's specs don't seem particularly great by modern standards (its 1.8-liter engine made just 90 horsepower, for instance), it was a lightweight and agile revelation for many consumers used to bulky and underperforming American sport coupes.
Since then, there have been six more generations of Golf- or Rabbit-based VW GTIs, and some have been more highly regarded than others. The latest couple of generations have been considered a return to form for the nameplate. Shoppers interested in a used GTI will likely want to do some research and test-drives in order to determine which version is best suited for them.
Current Volkswagen GTI
Redesigned for 2015, the current Volkswagen GTI is, as expected, a performance-oriented version of the Volkswagen Golf. As such, it is available in two- and four-door hatchback body styles. There are three trim levels: S, SE and Autobahn.
As with the revamped Golf, the GTI's modestly restyled and enlarged exterior hides a significant engineering overhaul made to lighten and improve it. It gets more power and a revised suspension, making it even more athletic around corners, while inside sees even better materials and a more visually appealing design with controls canted toward the driver.
Powering the latest GTI is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automated manual known as DSG is optional. An optional Performance package adds 10 more horses along with larger front and rear brakes and an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip front differential. The latter is a GTI first and helps the VW power out of turns. Another new option is an adaptive suspension system.
Standard feature highlights for the S include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED foglights, heated front seats, tartan cloth upholstery (a GTI tradition), a 5.8-inch touchscreen audio interface, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, iPod integration and VW Car-Net telematics. Stepping up to the SE trim adds a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, a rearview camera, leather upholstery and a premium audio system. The Autobahn boasts a navigation system, a power driver seat and dual-zone automatic climate control. Option highlights include front and rear parking sensors, a forward collision warning system, bi-xenon headlights, 18-inch wheels and the aforementioned Performance package and adaptive suspension system.
In reviews, we've noted that the GTI keeps its traditional strengths of refinement, practicality and quality, but boasts enhanced agility and performance. Energetic acceleration is accompanied by a great engine and exhaust soundtrack, while sharper handling and steering make the latest GTI a joy in the curves, all while instilling plenty of driver confidence. Gearchanges from the DSG automated manual transmission are usually quick and smooth. In heavy traffic, however, DSG occasionally stumbles, but it's rather minor in nature and overall the transmission is so good that purists may be tempted to forego a clutch pedal. Fortunately, the GTI's performance doesn't come at the expense of comfort. Besides the rather pleasant engine burble, the cabin remains fairly quiet and the suspension ably absorbs bumps and ruts.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Volkswagen GTI page.