Around the world, the Volkswagen GTI has been the go-to hatchback for enthusiasts that look for versatility and fun behind the wheel without breaking the bank. Competitors have tried to knock Volkswagen from their perch but none have succeeded in this task over the last several years. Anticipation for the all new model will hit the market next year, so we jumped behind the wheel of the last of its kind, a 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn, before it rides off into the sunset.
As the GTI doesn’t deviate from the formula of clean lines and an aggressive fascia, most buyers will be more than pleased with the current model. This week’s tester is lit up with LED lighting all around that enhances its upscale pedigree. Red accents are conservatively used on the exterior. While the GTI looks modern and mature, the competition has attempted to appeal to the “boy racer” enthusiast with ungainly spoilers and unnecessary fake vents. GTI owners can attend a corporate business meeting without feeling awkward or out of place.
Inside the GTI, owners will encounter high quality materials throughout, typical Volkswagen. There is nothing daring that will make jaws drop once they step inside; the interior is clean in design and completely functional. Everything is easily within reach to the driver and easy to use. In accordance with GTI enthusiast rules, our 2020 model year tester was equipped with plaid, however for 2021, only leather is available. The seats look great and support the driver brilliantly. It’s a shame that the piano black trim on the console is a magnet for fingerprints.
From a technology standpoint our tester lacks a digital gauge cluster which seems to be all the rage nowadays, however it’s still refreshing to see analog gauges in place. The GTI gauges look elegant down to the fonts, color and overall organization of the cluster. The infotainment touchscreen looks good but does look a bit dated at this point. Inputs aren’t the quickest in the segment but still manageable, especially with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment.
Cargo space and access is where the GTI shines. Useful cubbies are everywhere, easy to access and the rear seats fold flat to provide 1,521 litres of cargo space, up from 493-litres with the seats in place. Load height in the rear is close to perfect and easily accessible with the wide hatch opening. Loading two sets of wheels and tires was extremely easy and the car still had room to spare. Leg and head room are ample for my six-foot-three height in both the front and rear. Fitting four adults won’t be an issue in the GTI.
Performance has always been key to the GTI’s success; a 2.0-liter turbocharged four propels this hot hatch from 0-100km/h in just 5.5 seconds. It’s rated for 228 horsepower at 4,700RPM and 258 lb-ft. of torque at 1,500RPM. Our tester was optioned with the superb seven-speed dual-clutch DSG that provides quick and smooth shifts. With torque available down low, torque steer usually rears its ugly head. Thanks to the limited slip differential brought in to assist, this is never a concern. Powering out of corners is normally never this easy in a front-wheel-drive car.
Driving the GTI a daily basis, it’s easy to drive normally like a “standard” Golf. But when tempted, it reminds continuously that there’s more than enough performance under the hood to give some sports cars fits of rage. We do wish there was a bit more bite to the exhaust but that can easily be rectified on the aftermarket. The ride is firm but nowhere near as harsh as the Veloster N and handling is better than expected. Quick lane changes and on-ramps deliver a level of confidence, and the dampers keep things composed on unpaved roads.
Conclusively, while other manufacturers’ small turbo fours sound and behave like 1980s blenders, Volkswagen’s small turbo is the epitome of buttery smoothness with easily accessible power across the power band. Owners will be pleasantly surprised with the fuel economy, as well. They rate the GTI with at 9.7L/100km city and 7.5L/100km highway. During our daily commute of mostly city driving, we achieved a fantastic 8.4L/100km while only taking regular grade fuel in its 50L tank.
Standard safety and convenience features on the 2021 GTI include a rear-view camera, brake assist, blind spot monitor, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, rear park assist and adaptive cruise control. The GTI also has a five-star NHTSA overall safety rating so all occupants inside are well protected in case of an accident. Pricing starts at $35,995 for the Autobahn, the only trim available. The DSG comes in at $37,395, and no additional options are available.
The overall package of the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI is the perfect example of what a hot hatch should be. Sure you can choose the obnoxious Veloster N or the much more expensive and boy racer Civic Type R, however the GTI has always been that hatchback that combines everything important to a car enthusiast. Its balanced personality is what makes it continue to be a bestseller – now bring on the next generation!