The GTI is a car steeped in years of history.
The 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI is an icon, known to be the father of the hot hatches. It has gone through seven generations of tuning and tweaking to ensure it continues to deliver the same type of thrilling experience we all fell in love with. The GTI’s history was not all glory, with some not so great years. It went through a rough puberty during the third and fourth generation losing its athleticism, putting on a couple of pounds.
The fifth generation was a welcome back to form and ever since, Volkswagen has gotten a good grasp of the winning formula and made evolutionary changes. We are now into the twilight of the seventh generation, a car that has been hailed as one of the best versions of the GTI. We grabbed a 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI to have a final taste before we welcome the eighth generation of the car, expected next year.
The GTI has never been a looker, but more of a tame hot hatch. It is only differentiated from the normal Golf through fine details. The GTI retains the iconic red stripe on its grill with a red GTI badge. This design detail really livens up the otherwise mundane look. The lower bumper is trimmed with a large angular fog light housing with horizontal slats, wide and aggressive. Other than that, the only other details specific to the GTI are more badges, twin exhaust tips and 18-inch wheels.
Volkswagen’s interiors are typically best in class with the most refinement and great fit and finish. The design is simple, ergonomic and classy. A combination of brushed aluminum, gloss black trim and red contrast stitching make the GTI look borderline luxury. However, over the years, while quality and design have not changed, the competition has caught up. The iconic plaid cloth adds a lot of character with a retro feel to the interior.
A pair of analog gauges in the cluster further date the interior of the GTI. Volkswagen’s digital cockpit is curiously not an option in the GTI but available on the Jetta GLI (reviewed here). Luckily the GTI has an excellent eight-inch touchscreen infotainment that brings the cockpit into modern standards. The display is crisp and response is class leading with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The optional Driver Assistance Package at $1,750 adds adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, braking assisting, light assist and park distance control. It’s important to note that these optional features are standard with most competitors, but it’s excellent to see that this dated model is still offered with the necessary active safety suite.
Historically, the GTI has always been the family hatch that you can have a ton of fun in, and the handling of this 2020 model is dreamy. The car is equipped with Dynamic Chassis Control, allowing the driver to choose between a few drive modes. Between Eco, Comfort, Normal and Sport, the GTI has an even wider range of driving characteristics. If the drive modes still don’t hit the spot, drivers can adjust steering, engine response, and steering response all individually.
The GTI now comes standard with a mechanical limited slip differential that adds loads of grip. The front end stays planted and pulls the car through corners. The handling is neutral with a lot of front end grip. Being front wheel driven does not hold the GTI back in any way. Without the Golf R’s all-wheel-drive system and its added weight, the GTI is playful and light on its feet. Ride comfort is not sacrificed with excellent compliance and road manners. This truly feels like a do it all car.
The GTI feels more powerful than the numbers suggest. The tried and true EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged direct injected engine produces 228 horsepower at 4,700RPM and 258 lb-ft. at just 1,500RPM. The torque allows the GTI to accelerate a lot harder than the numbers suggest. The LSD helps put the power down with minimal torque steer.
Our tester came equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, which is a key reason why this GTI feels so great. It allows the driver to have full control over this rev-happy and responsive power train. The shift action is positive and precise, and pedal positioning is excellent for heel and toe downshifts. Throttle response is excellent for crisp rev matching. The engine note sounds engineered to sound like a naturally aspirated engine with a deep, satisfying induction growl.
The GTI has quite a few competitors on the market now, such as the Honda Civic Si (reviewed here) or the Hyundai Veloster N. The GTI starts at $30,845 but our tester came in at $38,495. It’s not exactly a bargain but still excellent value. The Honda comes fully loaded at $30,400, but does not offer the same driving experience. The Veloster N is fully loaded at $35,049 with even more performance and aggressive handling that rivals the Civic Type R. The GTI is still the balanced option with enough performance for everyday driving.
The 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI continues to be a leader despite being in its final model year. The interior does feel a bit dated and the competition has caught up. But whenever you look at the big picture, the GTI does everything wonderfully; handling, refinement, and daily livability. If you are in the market for a fun and affordable daily driver, the GTI is still our top recommendation.