The 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI is as satisfying as popping bubble wrap or finding $20 in your jeans pocket: it’s as comforting as a warm cup of cocoa on a cold evening or putting your feet up in front of a roaring log fire. Since 1976, Volkswagen has given us a practical 5 door hatch with a sporting pedigree that has given much more expensive and exotic cars a run for their money. The original one had just 110 hp but it was light and nimble and was very easy to drive. 0-60 was dispatched in 8.1 seconds which was quicker than a Jaguar XJ-S of the same time. Volkswagen had a winner.
Fast forward to today and I finally got my hands on a 2018 Golf GTI with a manual transmission, the way it should be. Don’t get me wrong the DSG is incredibly quick and you’ll never shift faster in the manual, but there’s something sublime in the way the stick shift works with this engine. The US doesn’t have the more powerful version of this engine yet but VW has simplified its offering by discarding the Performance Pack and given all versions the 220 hp, 258-lb-ft 2.0 turbo 4.
The 3 flavors are S, SE and Autobahn, the last 2 come with SE and Autobahn models come with a bunch of driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, and blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert.
The SE and Autobahn models now come standard with the previously optional upgraded brakes taken from the Golf R and that fantastic limited-slip differential which make you forget you are driving a front wheel drive car. With some chirping from the front tires we launched the GTI from 0-60 in 6.0 seconds dead, a tad slower than it’s DSG brother but still quick. Besides this car is way better on the move.
How Does It Drive?
The 6-speed manual gearbox makes the GTI even more pleasurable to drive than the optional DSG, despite slightly slower progress because there is a human involved. The clutch action is light and precise if a little long in travel and the shifter moves accurately and fluidly meaning missed shifts are rare. The standard hill hold system works well but due to the long clutch pedal travel it takes a bit to get used to it.
On the road the GTI is like a fine wine, it just gets better and better. Turn is crisp when the road starts getting twisty and you can rely on the GTI’s terrific front-end grip and good body control to get you round with no drama. There is some roll but the GTI’s steering is beautifully accurate and weights up nicely so you always know what the front tires are doing, it’s all very confidence inspiring. I spent most of the time in Sport mode, of course, which is firm but not too harsh like a Civic Si or Focus ST.
The GTI’s engine feels strong even from low revs, thanks to lots of torque from as low as 1,500 revs, making it very flexible for everyday use. On twisty mountain roads you can snick between 3rd and 4th gears and always have power on tap. It really is unnecessary to push this engine past 5,000 rpm. The best thing about the Golf GTI is that when you don’t want to blast across mountains at great speed you can waft along at legal speed in 6th but can still drop to 5th and pass slower vehicles. Add to this the practicality of a hatch with 53.7 ft³ with seats down, meaning you can speed over to granny’s house, pick up her dresser and sell it at the nearest car boot sale.
This GTI Autobahn comes with Volkswagen’s latest MIB II infotainment suite, with an 8.0-inch glass touchscreen that’s flush-mounted in the center console. The interface is easy to read and navigate, and I wish audi would adopt a similar system. Sadly base GTI S makes do with an older, smaller, 6.5-inch interface with physical buttons on either side. Front seats were powered in my tester and were very comfortable providing a perfect driving position.
Materials and fit and finish are of a high quality, soft plastics are used everywhere and apart from a couple of minor squeaks from our hard driven tester, no complaints.
All the GTI models are a pretty compelling proposition for the hot hatch buyer, but the base S model is the best bang for your buck and it comes with those who must have plaid covered seats. Starting at $26,415 it’s a absolute bargain and retains that classic GTI formula including golf ball manual shifter handle and a manual handbrake. That said the loaded Autobahn is equally nice with that aforementioned limited slip diff, but whichever you choose it’s still the best all round hot hatch on the planet. Oh I almost forgot………a 6 year, 72K bumper to bumper warranty. What are you waiting for?
2018 Golf GTI Manual Numbers
|PRICE AS TESTED||$35,920|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|POWER||220-hp @ 4,700 rpm
|TORQUE||258-lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
|CURB WEIGHT||3,197 lb|
|0-60 MPH||6.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.7 sec @ 98.6 mph|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||25/33/28 mpg|
|OUR OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY||22 mpg|
|PROS||Silky smooth transmission, torque aplenty|