2024 Volkswagen GTI 380

There's so much to like about a stickshift GTI, but it's held back by so many little points of frustration that we're not sure how much we'll miss it
There's so much to like about a stickshift GTI, but it's held back by so many little points of frustration that we're not sure how much we'll miss it

by Nathan Leipsig | June 11, 2024


I’m not sure which is the chicken and the egg between Volkswagen themselves and their drivers, but VWs have always enjoyed higher-than-average take rates for manual gearboxes, bucking the industry-wide trend of paltry adoption rates for three-pedal cars. This is kind of ironic, as it was the Volkswagen GTI itself that first mortally wounded the manual transmission. And now, nearly two decades later, this 2024 Volkswagen GTI 380 is the nail on the coffin for the DIY gearbox at VW.

Automakers have been tinkering with more direct and responsive automatic transmissions for years. The 1990s saw the rise of “manumatic” automatics with manual shifting modes in BMWs and Porsches. On the exotic side, Ferrari began production of the first F1-style automated manual transmission in a regular production road car. It was colloquially known as the “flappy paddle” gearbox, named after its steering column-mounted shift levers, just like the Formula 1 cars that the technology came from.

Despite the swelling preponderance of manumatic-this, and automated-manual-that, there was a crucial detail that stopped all of them from ever gaining widespread appeal: none of them were very good. A Porsche with a “Tiptronic” was a lame duck, and a prancing horse with an F1 transmission might as well have had a broken leg. They were god-awful, existing exclusively as novelty, void of any tangible merit — like Jersey Shore, 3D TVs, or Trump’s presidency.

Volkswagen changed all of that with the Direktschaltgetriebe — translated to Direct Shift Gearbox and shortened to DSG, though you may know it as the dual-clutch automatic. This was a revelation, an absolute marvel of engineering, a true best-of-both-worlds between the ease of an automatic and engagement of a manual. In North America, the first car to offer the DSG was the fifth-gen GTI in 2006. The automotive press was almost bewildered; I could scarcely believe what I was reading as much as they couldn’t believe what they were saying. Not only was the dual-clutch automatic stellar, an achievement in blending witchcraft and machinery, but was — gasp! — maybe better than the manual. Not a cop-out or simply an olive branch for the uninitiated that can’t (or don’t want to) do the three-pedal boogie, it was legitimately fantastic. It was the new way forward.

This technology has since superseded manual transmissions in the realm of properly quick cars. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and particularly track-focused Porsches all use dual-clutch automatics exclusively. Even the traditional Americans use this non-traditional tech in their fastest cars, like the C8 Corvette and Mustang GT500. There’s no reason not to; dual-clutch automatics are just as direct and so much faster than the manuals they murdered.

Some 20 years after the MK5 GTI debuted, it’s time for its curtain call in the stickshift GTI, as commemorated by this special edition “380” model. Along with the third pedal, you get a roof, mirror caps, and wheels finished in gloss black, and other small design touches standard on every manual GTI this year. I don’t think the GTI’s six-speed shifter is anybody’s favorite, nor have they been in many, many moons. It’s light, with long throws typical of VW, narrow side-to-side travel, and tight gates. Its action is a little notchy and void of vibrations, courtesy of the cable connection to its gearbox. I personally don’t mind it, but I’m the minority around the office with that opinion. [It’s OK, everyone’s allowed to be wrong. —Ed.]

I’ll concede that next to a Civic Si, a GR Corolla, or even a WRX, the GTI’s stickshift experience leaves a lot to be desired. Clutch take-up is long; easy to pick up but hard to execute smoothly. It’s made harder by the engine mapping trying to help you start smoothly, but it’s not always consistent in doing so. Honestly, this feels like an unfair nitpick because every modern car — except for the MX-5 Miata or the CT4-V Blackwing — has a lifeless clutch and nanny software to cover it up. But where the GTI really falls flat for me is its hill-start assist. It holds the brakes for way too long and ends up leading to a stall, creating the exact situation it’s supposed to alleviate.

It’s extra disappointing because the rest of the GTI are fantastic, minus some software and baffling decisions I’ll get to in a bit. There’s so much terrific hardware on display here; VW’s ubiquitous 2.0L turbo-four is genius in its throaty tone, unimpeachable flexibility, and impressive shove that belies its 241-horsepower rating. That figure made all the more impressive by VW’s insistence that it’s achievable on cheap gas, and that it doesn’t benefit it all that much from the fancy stuff.

The chassis is brilliant, with decent feedback, impressive balance, and eager turn-in, though the “Sport” setting on the adaptive shocks is way too hard for real roads and unsettles the car. Similarly, stability control can’t be fully defeated, and you’re always being held back from fully exploring the GTI’s fine details. It can be dialed back, but the user interface is so hopelessly obtuse that it’s nearly impossible to do on the fly unless you take the time beforehand to futz with the shortcuts yourself.

On the subject of infotainment, I’m well aware this horse has already been pulverized into a fine mist, so I’ll keep it short: I didn’t like it. I came into this not having spent a ton of time with VW’s newest infotainment myself, but enough to form the contrarian opinion that, like MBUX, you probably just needs some time to get used to it. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, and I was wrong. The more of a chance I gave it, the more it frustrated me. It’s inconsistent, nonsensical, and even duplicitous. If the voice function doesn’t understand your command, it’ll say it can’t connect to the internet, even if it, you know, just did whatever you wanted a few seconds prior.

Barring that, the interior is a nice place to be with largely quality materials, though VW made the decision to finish the entire centre console in gloss black trim. It’s a haven for fingerprints, dust, dandruff, and micro-scratches, making this exceptionally fresh tester with only 151 kilometres on the clock look like it’s been around the block more than a few times. Still, visibility, passenger space, interior storage, and cargo space are exceptional in the GTI — and with the shiny bits freshly wiped down, it presents exceptionally well. For about five seconds.

It’s such a shame because there’s so much to like here. This is one of the cars that I came into with an existing positive bias; I wanted to love it. I think this 2024 Volkswagen GTI 380 is the best looking since the original, its chassis is outstanding, and its engine is a marvel of engineering that’s proven to be reliable. I like that, at least until now, VW has always offered a manual transmission with the GTI that wasn’t crippled by rev hang, even if it had its own occasionally awkward rhythm. I like that the GTI is comfortable, nearly silent, impressively frugal, and eminently practical. There’s so much going for it, but it’s held back by so many little points of frustration that I’m sad to say I’m not sure how much I’m going to miss the stick GTI. I wish it would just get out of its own way and be the fantastic fun daily I know it can be.


Vehicle Specs
Compact hatchback
Engine Size
2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower (at RPM)
241 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft.)
273 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
564/977 (seats up/down)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
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About Nathan Leipsig

Deputy Editor Nathan is a passionate enthusiast with a penchant for finding 80s and 90s European vehicles. He can typically be found messing about on his E28 5-series or on Kijiji looking for the next project. Current Toys: '23 Miata Club 6MT, '86 535i, '99 Beetle TDI 5MT