Nimble handling, turbo power and sporty ride are nearly forgotten in the auto world now that SUVs and crossovers rule the roads.
But Volkswagen has a long memory and it mastered handling years ago. With turbochargers added to VW’s economical 4-cylinder engines it now has power licked too.
Add to that a good ride, affordable pricing and good gas mileage and what you’re defining is VW’s Golf GTI. I drove its upscale Autobahn edition, and even that lists at a reasonable $35,965, including delivery.
This is one rockin’ little hatchback, not unlike VW’s perky Jetta sedan I tested earlier this year, but with a sportier attitude and more power. Mine was black with red accents — sharp but with a little flair, in a buttoned-down German techno-bot style. Oh, and it’s got a lot more rubber-burning power in the GTI than a standard Golf.
Power leaps from a 2.0-liter TSI I4 with a turbocharger. Horsepower is up 10 horses to 220, while torque is 258. That translates into wheel-chirping power pulling away from any stoplight and a quick trot up to highway speeds via its slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. If you’re the kind of driver that wants to feel totally in charge of your car, GTI is your fantasy car, unless you can afford something in the six-digit range.
There are five drive modes too, something you’d expect to find on pricier cars. This one offers Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Custom. Normal is fine, while Sport firms the wheel. Comfort was great in town where the roads are more moonlike in texture, with apologies to the moon.
The GTI comes with 18-inch R-rated tires to put that power down efficiently and those give it excellent grip in corners. This is a car to drive out to Holy Hill and feel like you’re cruising an F1 Grand Prix track. Steering is quick and the GTI clips off an apex as well as some German cars costing considerably more. Its four-wheel independent sport suspension with a bulked up rear stabilizer bar helps too.
Plus that gives this hatchback a much better ride than you’d suspect of a car nestled in a snug 103.6-inch wheelbase. VW has tuned the suspension well to keep it sporty, but soak up most of the bumps, eliminating the shockwave effect previous sport suspensions have delivered in VWs, and other European makes.
Add to all this some powerful vented front and rear disc brakes, and the Golf GTI is a performance horse of the first order. Oh, and those brake calipers are red with GTI emblazoned on them. Pizzazz? Yes, so take that Brembo!
The GTI feels light, and is, weighing in at just over 3,000 lbs., which adds to its fun factor.
VW doesn’t disappoint inside as it wraps its form-fitting sport seats in black leather and embroiders them with GTI on the seat backs, plus adds red stitching to accent the fun. The thick leather steering wheel also wears red stitching.
Otherwise there’s matte chrome on the steering wheel hub, dash and black gloss trim by the touchscreen, shifter and air vents. The look is modern and sharp.
The seats not only look great, but are among the most comfortable I’ve ridden in among cars costing less than $50 grand. The driver’s is a 12-way power unit, plus adds three-level heat for the both front seats. The hatch has four doors so you can slip a few adults in the back seat too. Folks up to 6-foot had no complaints riding in back.
VW’s dash is easily understood too and well laid out. The touchscreen is an 8-incher, while a 6-incher is standard on the base Golf hatch. More on that in a moment. But the touchscreen is easy to use and find stations on, plus this screen is contained in the center stack, no need to poke up 4-5 inches as most do now and potentially block a bit of your view. Drivers seem to matter to VW.
Then there’s the D-shaped steering wheel that looks sporty, and also gives the driver a bit more knee room. The wheel is a manual tilt/telescope number with a variety of buttons on the hub. Us short drivers, however, would like a little more space under that wheel, or a thinner steering column. I found myself bumping my knees on the steering column occasionally as I drove, but mostly when exiting the car’s deep bucket seats. Maybe it would be better if the driver’s seat powered back when the ignition was turned off.
While VW expects you to drive the Golf GTI like you’re re-enacting Smokey and the Bandit, there’s plenty of safety equipment here. Blind-spot warning, rear backup camera, stability control, parking sensors, forward collision warning and emergency braking, lane departure assist and warning, and a parking steering assistant system are standard here.
In fact, most everything you’d want is here at the base price of $36 grand. The test car only added some big floor mats and trunk carpet to add $235 to the price tag, and $80 for roadside assistance.
Final cost? Just $36,285, about the average price for a new car these days. But this car is far from average.
Gas mileage is a plus too. The performance-oriented GTI is rated 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 31.1 mpg in a fairly even mix of city and highway driving, and with a decidedly lead foot some of that time.
Now the GTI is what you’ll want if you desire excellent performance at a modest price, but Golf comes in all sorts of configuration, including a plain hatch with a still perky, but lower horsepower turbo, a wagon, an electric and even a horsier Golf R with 292 horsepower and AWD. Wouldn’t that be fun?
A base Golf hatch starts at $21,000 and works its way up from there. The GTI is available in S and SE trims, below the Autobahn. The S starts at $27,310 with the same 220-horse turbo and the SE lists at $31,365, each level adding more standard equipment.
All Golfs offer a new 6-year, 72,000-mile warranty too.
Golf, like the Jetta tested before it, is a joy to drive, and an economical one too.
FAST STATS: 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn
Hits: A rockin’ little hatchback with excellent turbo power and handling, good ride, and braking. Smooth 6-speed manual, sunroof, heated front seats that are super supportive. Large touchscreen, D-shaped wheel and dimpled ball shifter.
Misses: Knees brush the steering column and tight squeeze in and out despite flat-bottom steering wheel.
Made in: Puebla, Mexico
Engine: 2.0-liter, TSI turbo I4, 220 horsepower
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3,062 lbs.
Length: 168 in.
Wheelbase: 103.6 in.
Cargo: 17.4 cu. ft. (52.7 cu.ft. seats down)
MPG: 31.1 (tested)
Base Price: $35,965 (includes delivery)
Monster mats & heavy-duty trunk liner, $235
Roadside assistance, $85
Test vehicle: $36,285
Sources: VW, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage