The best part of the GTI is that real performance can be hand with a simply a breath of the right foot.
Hatchbacks are the epitome of a utilitarian design. They maximize interior volume of a vehicle, which allows for passengers and/or cargo to flow in and out of them. Somewhere along the line, someone said: “Why not make it useful AND fun?” Low and behold in the summer of 1976, Volkswagen gave birth to the grand dad of all hot hatchbacks: the Golf GTI – now often lovingly referred to by Golf enthusiasts as the ‘Mark I’. Since then, Volkswagen has been constantly evolving the Golf GTI to its own beat and cultivating a massive fanbase. Fast forward to today and we’re at the twilight of the current iteration (Mark 7). Our tester here is the 2017 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn, with the DSG transmission..
Unlike its competition like the Elantra GT Sport (reviewed here) and the Ford Focus ST (reviewed here) which opt for a flowing, bulbous shape, the GTI wears a staunchier boxy body that shows off its evolved lineage with modern aerodynamics. Dressed in a Night Blue paint job, one might mistake the color for a grey on first glance. Look longer at it and the blue starts to come through.
This ‘more than meets the eye’ theme continues throughout the car as it doesn’t seem to really differentiate itself physically on first glance from the standard Golf (reviewed here) with the exception of a subtle GTI badge both on the front and back of the vehicle. Look closely though, and you’ll notice splashes of red on the brake calipers and the front grille underline.
Get into the cabin and the wonderfully supportive, eight-way adjustable plaid bucket seats hug your body firmly yet politely (compared to some other hatches which seem to get borderline grabby). Oddly enough, whilst most adjustments on the seat are manual, recline is powered. The flat bottomed steering wheel that greets your hands offers both tilt and telescope functions. When coupled with the great seats, the GTI offers folks of all heights at least a decent, if not great, driving position. Caressing your outside arm is a sturdy wall of black with a tastefully placed illuminated red stripe that runs the length of the door sill.
Tucked into the console off to your right is the 6.5” infotainment system which is equipped with built-in navigation updated via a SD card tucked away in the glove box. In my week with it however, I found the navigation slightly slow to react and clunky. More importantly, whilst the screen itself is clear enough and handsomely nestled into the console body, it requires a considerable shift in focus from your normal driving vision to actively read it.
Volkswagen tries to solve this issue by means of a small LCD screen nestled between the tachometer and speedometer which gives you the next-turn information. When you add the slow-to-respond behaviour and smallish screen, I found it distracting at best. Thankfully, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both on board and integrate well. For the mechanical geeks amongst the populace, the system also has on-board diagnostics built into the screen to presumably read engine fault codes as well as monitor basic systems.
Look up and a gaping moonroof sits above your head, politely far enough from your head. Whilst being called “panoramic”, it doesn’t stretch all the way to the rear passenger seats which is unfortunate and confusing. Push the start button and the 210 horsepower engine rumbles to life to signify its presence before slinking back behind the veil of silence that cocoons the cabin. Once you slip the ‘DSG’ (Direct Shift Gearbox) shifter into Drive and take off, the car pulls off with a sense of urgency. All 258 lb-ft. of torque is available at a measly 1,600 RPM all the way to 4,200 RPM.
Getting onto the highway reveals a delightful yet subdued sense of agility as the GTI tackled on-ramps quite handily, yet does so without any overexaggerated fuss. Understeer will subtly tap you on the shoulder as you approach the car’s limits, but for most part is absent. The car immediately wakes up and roars through the silence of the cabin and easily gets to speed quite readily. Whilst no official Volkwagen published numbers are to be had, my own testing estimates the 0-100 km/h time to be just under six seconds. A hot hatch indeed.
Adding to the hotness is the incredibly quick-shifting. It is responsive, fast and makes for a fun time shifting yourself. As a plus, it will blip throttle on downshifts whilst making a bark from the exhaust. The only gripe I have is that the wheel-mounted paddles are very small. This means as you are midway through a tight corner at speed and need to shift up, you might wind up desperately searching for the paddles. The gear selector itself also offers the ability to manually shift, as well.
Back off the gas and it quickly becomes civilized again, allowing you to go back to listening to your tunes through the Fender audio system. Rear passenger room is quite adequate and comfortable enough for my 5’10 self to sit behind my normal driving position. Trunk space, as mentioned earlier, is at a supremely cavernous 645L with the rear seats up. Losing the rear seating nets you up to 1490L of cargo-hauling goodness.
City crawling further reveals the GTI’s Swiss Army knife versatility. With a relatively small frame and a variable steering rack, the GTI swivels quite nicely within parking lots and tight alleys. Its excellent sightlines coupled with proximity sensors and a rear-view camera allows for drivers to parallel park easily among the city confines. Cracks in the pavement and potholes are firmly acknowledged but soaked up just enough not to rattle passengers. A luxurious ride this is not, but it is close enough.
The best part of the GTI is that whilst performance can be hand with a breath of the right foot, it doesn’t come with an immense gas bill either. Volkswagen states a fuel economy of 9.6 L/100km city and 7.2L/10km highway. In my week with it, I garnered a combined average of 7.5L/100km with roughly 40% of it on city roads. Premium gasoline is recommended, but not required – the GTI earns all of its ratings on regular 87-octane.
However, all good things come at a cost, and this tester clocked in at a whopping $37,705 before freight and PDI. This is easily $6,000-8,000 more than its nearest competition such as the new Hyundai Elantra GT Sport. German efficiency, polish and power can be had, but with this sticker price one must seriously consider the other offerings on the market which have come a long way to vy for the hot hatch market. If the complete package is what you’re looking for and you are willing to pay the hefty premium for the hot hatch that started it all then the GTI will likely bring plenty of smiles.