When the original VW GTI came out in the late 70’s, it basically created a genre of cars called the ‘hot hatch.’ Take a utilitarian and pedestrian hatchback, lower and stiffen the suspension and drop a more powerful engine in. Strip out anything unnecessary and you’re left with a cheap, lightweight rocketship. The auto industry exploded with copies and a new class of car was born. Through the fuel crisis of the 80’s, it was the best way to have fun without breaking the back at the pumps. The lightweight made for crisp and engaging handling, even with front-wheel drive. Over the years, each successive version of the GTI has gotten more powerful, but also heavier. Gone are the days of the ‘cheap’ hot-hatch, but boy are they still fun to drive!
This latest GTI incorporates all of VW’s latest tech into the package as well, giving you all the safety and convenience features you’d want. There’s still a base option, the GTI S with manual will only set you back $26k, and honestly that’s the one we’d choose. All the tech is nice, but it’s also nice to have a more pure experience and save $10k, because you can option one of these all the way up to $36k! That’s pushing up to the territory of the $42k Golf R, with AWD, more power and all the tech.
But this GTI is about more simplicity. Very few visual cues set it apart from a regular Golf, with red accents on the grille/headlights, slightly lower/wider stance and of course the GTI badges being the only identifier. The seats are heavily bolstered, and the base car comes with nice grippy fabric in a funky plaid design. The base one feels most like the original, and that’s a good thing because the original is still considered the standard. Nevermind that this one weighs 1000lbs more, it does come with a very torquey 220hp 2-Liter turbo engine that just pulls and pulls whenever you want. The manual transmission in our test car was fun, but the dual-clutch option is actually quicker and very fun to drive also. Normally I say pick the manual, but in this case – you can pick either.
Hatchbacks are incredibly versatile too, and that’s the real allure of a hot hatch. You have all the performance of a little sports car but the utility of a small crossover. In fact, this has more room in it than some of the smaller crossovers on the market these days. Fold the seats down and you can carry nearly whatever you want. Try that with a sports sedan! In fact, as a fan of wagons and hatchbacks, I wonder why anyone buys a sedan.
I really think VW should offer a true stripped version, down to the crank windows, as a tribute to the original. Shave a few hundred pounds off and really give the enthusiasts what they want. Having the option to outfit the car just the way you want it is great, but having a basic option would be a blast and I think it would sell well.
That being said, our test car was well equipped and it’s nice to have all the convenience features, smartphone connectivity and some safety features as well. We enjoyed tossing it around for a few days, and found ourselves taking the long way home and looking for some corners. It will easily spin the front tires if you turn the traction control off, and the steering is light, direct and stable on-center. It’s lively and will rotate on demand, a welcome trait for a front-wheel drive chassis.
The GTI is so refined and so good, that it almost belies the rough edges of the original. But it’s hard to complain about a refined and competent vehicle. Now that it’s been updated with all the latest tech, you can have the best of both worlds. But at over 3000lb, it’s no longer the lightweight street-fighter it used to be. C’mon VW, give us a stripped down 2800lb version so we can relive our youth! I bet you’ll sell more than a few of them.
Special thanks to Volkswagen Group of America for providing the 2018 VW Golf GTI for review.