2018 Volkswagen GTI
The Volkswagen GTI has been the quintessential hot hatch since the first-generation model was introduced in Europe in 1975. The seventh-gen model follows the path blazed by its predecessors by combining the versatility of a hatchback with a punchy engine, a buttoned-down chassis and an air of refinement that one expects to find in a German car.
The latest GTI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder TSI engine tuned to generate 210 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 258 lb-ft. of torque from just 1,500 rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a short-throw six-speed manual transmission, but buyers can order a quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch DSG unit at an extra cost.
In spite of its performance credentials, the GTI returns 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway when equipped with the six-speed manual. Opting for the DSG model lowers highway mpg to 33.
It takes a well-trained eye to tell the GTI apart from the standard Golf. Those in the know will notice the front end features honeycomb inserts in the radiator grille, a deep bumper with a large air dam and an elegant strip of red trim that runs through both headlights and across the grille.
The low-key treatment continues out back with a small roof-mounted spoiler and dual chromed exhaust tips. GTI emblems on both ends and 18-inch alloy wheels mounted on all-season tires wrap up the look.
The GTI shares its well-built and distinctively Teutonic dashboard with the Golf but it gains exclusive features like Volkswagen's signature "tartan” upholstery and a golf ball-shaped shift knob (only available on cars equipped with a six-speed manual).
Other upgrades over the GTI's family-focused sibling include a black headliner, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminum-look pedals, sport seats for the front passengers and a GTI-specific instrument cluster that consists of two easy-to-read analog gauges and a configurable thin-film transistor (TFT) screen.
The base GTI comes with a 6.5-inch touch screen. More expensive trim levels benefit from a nicer eight-inch unit.
The GTI offers 22.8 cubic feet of trunk space with five passengers on board. That figure goes up to 52.7 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded flat.
Standard and optional equipment
Volkswagen offers the GTI in three trim levels: S, SE, and Autobahn.
S models come standard with the aforementioned 6.5-inch touch screen, Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera, Sirius XM Satellite radio, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, ambient lighting, LED fog lights and heated front seats. Notably, the S is the only trim available as a two-door.
Volkswagen eliminated the GTI's options when it restructured the trim levels. It offers several accessories including satin silver mirror caps, different alloy wheel designs, and rubber floor mats.
All GTIs regardless of trim level come standard with six airbags, electronic stability control and an Automatic Post-Collision Braking system that applies the brakes after a collision in order to reduce kinetic energy and lower the risk of additional impacts.
Performance-focused alternatives to the GTI include the Honda Civic Si and the Subaru WRX.