- What’s best: The GTI remains one of the best-handling front-drivers in the biz. One of the best-sounding, too.
- What’s Worst: Cramped back seat; skip the auto ‘box
- What’s Interesting: DJ-style sliders for your audio equalizer. Funky.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI has one of the most fervent followings in today’s automotive landscape, especially in the hot hatch world. They sell in droves, and are loved to the point there’s an entire GTI festival in Austria every year that has GTI aficionados – yes, these exist – flocking to Central Europe faster than you can learn to spell (or pronounce) “Wörthersee”.
It’s all well-earned, of course. Back in ’75 when the GTI was first born (it was called “Rabbit GTI” over here), few manufacturers had the cajones to call their hatchbacks “sporty” in any way. The Renault Clio, Peugeot 205 and Honda Civic Si were all beaten to the punch by a mile, and VW has been refining, refining, refining the formula to produce what you see here: the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn Edition. I’ll let you catch your breath.
What that “Autobahn” designation gets you is all-new 18” wheels (very nice), Fender audio, Adaptive LED headlights and a power sunroof. It’s an upgrade that will cost you $5,300 over the base GTI (MSRP: $30,595) but holy moly if those wheels and LED lights add massive flare to what is otherwise a pretty tame styling package. It’s handsome, to be sure, but I know I would have liked the option to select from at least a handful of the around 8 trillion colours you can choose for the GTI’s Golf R sibling. I would have settled for 1 million to choose from. At least you can get red…
Then again, that’s always been one of the GTI’s calling cards, hasn’t it? The ultimate Q-hatch, the sleeper that no BMW or Audi driver would expect to blow their socks off. The tame colours sure do play into that mantra, don’t they?
Also new for 2018 is the infotainment system, whose new 8.0” display is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The way you adjust equalizer settings through digital sliders provides a nice easter egg to the proceedings. You’d think all this high-techery would be at-odds with the traditional tartan interior, but it all flows together nicely.
Of course, all that proletariat chariot in drag stuff goes away as soon as you depress the throttle pedal. For 2018, all GTIs now get the extra 10 hp previously afforded by the performance pack (for a total of 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, made at a lowly 1,500 rpm), and they get Golf R brakes, too, as well as an electronic limited slip diff. Just when you thought the GTI couldn’t handle any better…
R You Ready for Honda’s Outrageous Hatch?
Indeed, you’ll have a hard time sneaking by anyone with that exhaust. All burble and blat, it sounds distinctly like five-cylinder Audis of old, and that’s a very good thing. There is very little in the performance world that better displays in static what a car can do like a proper exhaust note, and VW has nailed it here.
They’ve nailed it like you’ll be nailing every corner entry, apex and exit whether you’re on the track or on your favorite bendy b-road. The chunky flat-bottomed wheel (not sure how necessary that is as there’s plenty of room for your thighs, but it looks oh-so-cool) is your ticket to immediate turn-in and seemingly infinite adjustability as every input is received loud and clear by the front axle when you’re really on it. The eLSD, meanwhile, hauls you out of corners with gumption and those new Golf R-sourced anchors will help get you back on-line in a jiff. Yet somehow, when you’re just cruising the highway (Autobahn?), it’s not nervous. The steering could use a little more feel, sure, but that’s a complaint that I can level at many cars in this day of electronic power steering so I’m probably just going to step off that soapbox and kick it to the curb for good. The bottom line with the GTI is that on almost all performance accounts, it delivers.
As you can see from the stats package below, our car was fitted with the six-speed dual-clutch ‘box, which comes at a $1,400 premium. Much as I’m willing to accept that even a fun lil’ hatch like this still ticks the right handling boxes even with EPAS, I simply can’t say the same for an auto gearbox.
It’s not that it’s not good; VW’s DSG, in fact, is one of the best auto ‘boxes out there when it comes to shift speeds and the different shift modes it offers. It’s just that in a car as linear, and pure and fun as this, the auto just saps too much from the experience. No matter how good it is it can’t replicate the feeling of oneness you get through a gear lever and clutch pedal. Sure, I appreciate having to do less work when in traffic but it’s not enough. Not for this manual transmission fanboy.
You’ll want to save yourself the $1,400 grand, because the premium it costs to upgrade from a standard GTI to the Autobahn version is well worth it and easier to swallow if you go with the stick shift. It’s the ultimate GTI. It really is.
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI
BODY STYLE: Compact five-door hatchback
DRIVE METHOD: Front-mounted motor, front-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 2.0L turbocharged inline-4; Power: 220hp; Torque: 258 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic (standard six-speed manual)
CARGO CAPACITY: 490 litres (rear seats up) 1,520 litres (rear seats folded)
FUEL ECONOMY (EST): 9.7/7.0 L/100 km city/highway
PRICING: $30,595 (GTI), $35,895 (GTI Autobahn)
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