I want to get this out of the way right now: I’ve always had a soft spot for Volkswagens. There’s something about the way a German engine sounds and the styling of VWs that I’ve always enjoyed. So when I was given the keys to the 2018 Volkswagen GTI, I was more than ready to hop behind the wheel.
Based on a variation of VW’s storied Golf, the GTI was designed to give some more pep and performance to the German-built hatchback. The upgrade was first offered for the Golf in 1976 and has become a fixture of its lineup over the past 40 years.
In doing so, VW helped give rise to the “hot hatch” movement, an idea that came from pairing the functionality of a hatchback with superior performance. It’s no question the GTI benefitted from being one of the first so-called hot hatches to enter the market. It was a sales hit in the late ‘70s and it took other automakers years to catch up. By then, the GTI was synonymous with the combination of speed and practicality.
The 2018 model year continues the car’s long tradition of just being fun to drive. I was immediately enamored with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine capable of 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque when fed premium fuel.
Mine was equipped with the optional 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. I was a little bummed when I realized it wasn’t a stick shift, but the addition of paddle shifters more than made up for it.
From the second I started the engine, I knew I’d like the drive. The exhaust note was pure and, when the engine was revved, it had a touch of the European rally car sound for which I’d hoped. Taking off from a dead stop was a blast, though there was a bit of the expected turbo lag.
Once the engine starts to breathe, the GTI really starts to show off. It easily accelerates past the speed limit — I mean in theory, of course — and eats up the road. The steering is tight and responsive. I drove it up a mountain and I felt I held the car back rather than vice versa.
As is all the rage nowadays, the car can be put into different drive modes. I messed around with the Eco — boring, as expected — and Normal — fine — modes, which alter the steering and throttle response. But Sport mode is where most GTI drivers should leave their cars. It does affect the gas mileage, but flying down the freeway in fourth gear with the engine purring is enough to get the blood flowing in even the tamest of drivers.
The drive was made even better with the GTI’s stylish interior. If you would have told me about the Clark Plaid seat inserts beforehand, it would have ruined the surprise.
The entire cabin took cues from the seat pattern. The dominant color, by far, is black. However, the car has numerous silver and red accents that look well thought out and add a cohesiveness. The color scheme extended through the gauge cluster and infotainment system, which was a breeze to use.
Most people I took for a ride also appreciated the door trim, which has a streak of red ambient lighting.
The bucket seats put a big, supportive bow on the inside. They were bolstered excellently, though were not fully automatic or equipped with ventilators. Those are available on a higher trim level, but I really didn’t miss them.
Speaking of trim levels, the GTI offers three. I drove the lowest, S, which came with a good array of features for being the base; 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated seats and rain-sensing windshield wipers are standard.
he SE offers a panoramic sunroof, a push-button start and various safety features — such a blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, brake assist and parking sensors — and a larger touchscreen.
The top-of-the-line Autobahn trim offers all of the above in addition to an adaptive cruise control system, Fender audio, dual-zone climate control, power seats, various other safety features and an adaptive chassis control system.
The 2018 edition of the Volkswagen GTI is another chapter of a long-running and successful line. Even at the lowest trim level, it’s adequately equipped and very stylish. The turbocharged engine speaks — sometimes loudly — for itself. The hot hatch is supposed to be a pairing of performance and practicality and VW nailed it.
Given the model’s already large fanbase and the complete package offered, it’s safe to say VW has created another future classic.
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T S
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door hatchback, front-wheel drive
Base price: $26,415 Price as tested: $28,365
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo, 220 horsepower at 4,700 rpm, 258 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm. Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Wheelbase: 103.6 inches Overall length/width: 168 inches/70.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,062 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 24 city/32 highway/27 combined
Final assembly in: Puebla, Mexico