The Golf is the car that started the “hot hatch” trend of fun-to-drive, peppy, great-handling hatchbacks. Based on my road test, the latest version may be the best. For 2018, the GTI is powered by a 220-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Trim levels include the S, SE and Autobahn version, and a six-speed manual transmission or Volkswagen’s direct shift gearbox automatic transmission. My road test was in the SE trim with a manual transmission.
The GTI sits a bit lower than the standard Golf, which improves the handling without harming the overall ride. The steering – which is specific to the GTI models – is quicker than a standard Golf but still very smooth, precise and nicely weighted at all speeds. Performance from the 220-horsepower engine is very good and perfectly matched to the six-speed manual. This may be one of the easiest to drive manual transmission vehicles that I have driven. Volkswagen also did a nice job with the exhaust tone: The GTI sounds great as you accelerate without being offensively loud. The brakes are as good as the performance from the rest of the car. My test car also had the latest in safety technology, including forward-collision warning, autonomous braking, pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, backup camera and LED headlights.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive with plenty of adjustments for drivers of all sizes; even those over 6 feet tall will find plenty of head and legroom. The controls are well laid out and seem to get better with age. The touch screen works well but also has knobs for major radio functions. The controls are now more driver-focused than in previous Golf models. The comfortable rear seats can fold for additional storage, totaling almost 58 cubic feet of cargo space, making this hatchback very useful for weekend errands. In fact, with the seats folded, the GTI can carry a full-sized bicycle.
There may be more powerful and better handling hatchbacks available, but the Golf GTI has one of the best overall combinations of style, performance, comfort and economy.
What do you think about the Volkswagen Golf? Would you drive a VW after the recent emissions scandal? Share your thoughts in the comments section.