Everything you need to know
It may be due for replacement soon, but the Volkswagen Golf GTI is still one of the top hot hatchbacks you can buy.
1976 feels like such a long time ago, doesn’t it? To think this was a time before the phenomenon of Star Wars was unleashed; an era that had yet to witness the awe-inspiring site of a Space Shuttle launching from Cape Canaveral. One thing that was unleashed upon the globe in 1976, though, was the Volkswagen Golf GTI. It may look diminutive now, with its 115-hp and 110mph top speed, but the peppy little car from West Germany kickstarted the mass popularity of performance hatchback. Fast forward 40 years, and we still have a Volkswagen Golf GTI. Admittedly, this one’s far different to the original, but – just like its 1,785lbs predecessor – it’s a mightily impressive machine.
If any car can pull off tartan cloth seat trim, it’s the VW Golf GTI
The Volkswagen Golf GTI still has a nicely assembled interior with enough flourishes.
One of the normal Volkswagen Golf’s main selling points is its well-built interior, so it’s perhaps no surprise to learn the Volkswagen Golf GTI also scores well in this area. Though you could argue it’s perhaps starting to feel its age a little bit in the face of more modern competition, the Volkswagen Golf GTI still has a nicely assembled interior with enough flourishes to differentiate it from the standard Golf hatch. The materials used throughout are all of a high standard, and the overall fit-and-finish is standard Volkswagen fare (i.e. very good). For sure, the cabin probably isn’t that exciting when you consider the Golf GTI is supposed to be racier and more desirable than the standard Golf hatch, but the flourishes like the ‘golf ball’ gear shift knob, the ‘GTI’ badging and (on models with cloth seats) the tartan trim all help differentiate the GTI from its stader stablemate.
Who Buys Volkswagen Golf GTI?Calculations are based on data from KKF, NHTSA and Department of Motor Vehicles using CarBuzz's proprietary algorithm.
93% men vs 7% women
Volkswagen Golf GTI Owners vs. US Average
African American -30%
Perhaps the crowning glory of the Volkswagen Golf GTI when it comes to usability, though, is its trunk space.
Being a Golf, the GTI is also quite practical. Overall head and leg room is pretty good, and we’re especially satisfied with the various sizeable storage spots around the cabin. Perhaps the crowning glory of the Volkswagen Golf GTI when it comes to usability, though, is its trunk space. With 22.8 cubic feet of space available with the rear seat backs in place, and 52.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down, the Golf GTI is handily commodious by class standards (a Focus ST, for instance, pips the Golf by 1 cubic foot with the rear seats up, but loses out by 8 cubic feet with the seats down). Plus, the trunk opening is usefully broad, and there’s only a slight trunk lip to contend with when carrying larger and more cumbersome items in and out. Basically, the VW Golf didn’t sacrifice any of its practicality traits in its conversion to a hot hatch.
Really good to drive. Though perhaps a bit too good
The Golf GTI is an extremely approachable car to drive quickly.
As handy as interior volume is, the main reason to look at a GTI instead of stay put with the regular Golf is that the sporty version should be much more fun to drive. Therefore, whilst we do generally reference handling and dynamics when we discuss more mainstream cars, a far greater emphasis will be placed on the Golf GTI when it comes to behind-the-wheel enjoyment. Thankfully, the Volkswagen Golf GTI doesn’t disappoint in this area. Via a combination of various features like grippy tires, the responsive and feelsome steering, the meaty brakes and a well-judged suspension setup that keeps the car level during the bends, the Golf GTI is an extremely approachable car to drive quickly. If you’re fairly new to hot hatchbacks, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is an exceptional car in which to quickly learn the basics in.
Noise insulation levels are very good and the ride quality is also very well composed in spite of the firmer suspension setup.
If there’s anything to complain about, it’s that the Volkswagen Golf GTI may be a bit too good at what it does. For sure, there’s objectively little if anything to find fault with, but the Volkswagen is so controlled and composed; so willing to just do whatever you want it to do without any hiccups or hesitation, that the GTI just misses out on those last ounces of involvement that a Ford Focus ST and Subaru WRX have. Still, push comes to shove, it’s not exactly a major criticism. The Golf GTI is still a fun car to drive, and we’d much rather a car of this ilk be too good. A hot hatch that’s difficult to drive is quite the oxymoron, don’t you think? Better still, that relatively straightforward attitude does allow the Golf GTI to be a rather sedate and sensible car when you’re net extracting all of the performance it has on offer. Noise insulation levels are very good (though, obviously, not enough to drown out the rorty exhaust note), and the ride quality is also very well composed in spite of the firmer suspension setup. For sure, a standard Golf hatch will be the more comfortable car but, considering the sporting intent of this edgier hot hatch, the GTI is cosseting enough.
A proper corker of an engine
The Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine may seem a bit weak in comparison with rivals.
On paper, the 210-hp output of the Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine may seem a bit weak in comparison with rivals. The Ford Focus ST and Subaru WRX each have 250-hp to play with, for instance, an even a Fiesta ST has an output knocking on the 200-hp door. However, as that old proverb may or may not go: it’s not what you’ve got; it’s how you use it that matters. Though the power figures may not be that exciting on paper, the linear power delivery and broad spread of torque does mean the turbo-four is a flexible little engine that’s just at home trundling about at lower revs as it is steaming towards the rev limiter. It may lack the outright punch of its rivals, but the Volkswagen Golf GTI has more than enough poke to keep things interesting.
Better still, the Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter unit is also quite efficient, with claims of 24mpg in the city.
Better still, the Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter unit is also quite efficient, with claims of 24mpg in the city and 34mpg on the highway being very good indeed for a car that can crack the 0-60mph sprint in 6.5 seconds. Of course, it’ll be impossible to achieve said figures when you’re working the engine hard, but at least it’s reassuring to know the Golf GTI is fairly frugal for a hot hatch. Of the two transmission options available (a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic), we’d advise you stick with the manual. Not only will it save you from $1,100, the manual is (in our eyes, at least) a much better fit for the Golf GTI’s character. Plus, we don’t think the automatic changes as swiftly or as cleanly as it should in a performance-focused car like this, with a slight delay between shifts regardless of whether you swap cogs yourself or let the transmission do all the hard work for you.
Stick with the lower trims if you crave that tartan cloth
You can argue the spec levels are perhaps a little bit lacking.
If there’s one thing to be slightly miffed about when it comes to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, it’s that you can argue the spec levels are perhaps a little bit lacking. Though 18inch alloy wheels, single-zone climate control, heated front seats, touchscreen interface and the reversing camera that are standard equipment on the $25,595 base-spec ‘S’ GTI are fine, it’s a shame that you have to spend extra on other trims in order to get built-in navigation, keyless entry, power-adjustable seats or even a locking differential that helps to distribute the power more evenly between the two front driven wheels.
The Sport-spec is the highest you can go in the Golf GTI range whilst still having access to the extremely cool and surprisingly supportive tartan-patterned cloth seats.
For a majority of buyers, we reckon the ‘Sport’ trim will do just fine. Though it is modestly pricier, at $27,995, it does come with a 10-hp power boost to 220-hp and has the aforementioned locking diff fitted. Given we feel it makes the Volkswagen Golf GTI that bit more engaging to drive, we feel the ‘Sport’ trim is worth the upgrade. Plus, as every other trim has leather upholstery, the Sport-spec is the highest you can go in the Golf GTI range whilst still having access to the extremely cool and surprisingly supportive tartan-patterned cloth seats. That’s not to say the SE and flagship Autobahn trims don’t have their appealing attributes. Along with the leather seats, a Fender audio system, with the Autobahn including all of those with built-in navigation and dual-zone climate control. Considering the SE and Autobahn ranges start off at $30,890 and $34,095 respectively, we don’t really think you’re getting enough gear for your money.