Like a fine wine the Golf GTI just gets better with age and is undoubtedly the most practical and fun hot hatch for under $30K. Of course, there’s huge speculation regarding the upcoming world premier of the eighth gen Golf GTI at the Geneva Motor Show in March this next year. Rumors are predicting a bump in power to around 245 hp and a TCR version with 276 hp, we’ll have to wait and see what we get.
For 2020 the US soldiers on with the seventh gen version until 2021, but that’s no bad thing, it’s an excellent car. I make a point of driving one of these every year and this year is no different. My 2019 Golf GTI, Autobahn tester came with a Tornado Red exterior and a black leather interior and the best bit, 3 pedals and a 6 speed manual transmission. 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. New for this year is a mild bump in power to 228 hp @ 4,500 rpm and the same 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm as last year. The GTI will run on regular fuel but if you want to extract those eight additional horses you’ll need to splash out on premium.
The 3 flavors are S, SE and Autobahn, the last 2 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. There is also a special Rabbit Edition that comes in at $29,790 adding LED headlights, keyless access with push-button start, and an exclusive and cool Urano Grey and Cornflower Blue paint option.
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 its DSG brother but still quick. Besides this car is way better on the move. The Autobahn also gives you DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) allowing the driver to select different modes on cars with the standard sport suspension: “Normal,” “Sport,” and “Individual.” Normal and Sport have a different steering heft and throttle response, while Individual allows a driver to tailor the steering and throttle.
The Golf GTI has a lowered sport suspension, which is 0.6 inches lower than Golf TSI models. The front suspension includes a 24-millimeter anti-roll bar while the rear has a 20-millimeter version, 2 mm larger at the front and 1 mm thicker at the back compared with a regular Golf TSI model.
All 2019/2020 Golf GTI models come equipped with brakes shared with the Golf R—using 13.4-inch front and 12.2-inch rear vented discs—and the torque-sensing limited-slip differential, dubbed VAQ. This electronically-controlled differential works with the existing stability systems to help improve traction and performance.
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.
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.
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 chest of drawers 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 touch screen that’s flush-mounted in the center console. The interface is easy to read and navigate, and has a menu pop up that works great. The 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 $28,595 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. For my money, I can’t think of a new car under $30,000 I’d rather buy.
2019 Golf GTI 2.0T Numbers
BASE PRICE: $35,995
AS TESTED PRICE: $35,995
VEHICLE TYPE: Front-engine, FWD, 5 door hatchback
ENGINE: 2.0L Turbocharged I-4, DOHC, 4 valves
POWER: 228 hp @ 4,500 rpm
TORQUE: 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION; 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT; 3,062
CARGO VOLUME 52.7/22.8 cu ft
0-60: 6.0 secs
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON: 22/32/27 mpg
OUR OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY; 25.4 mpg
PROS; Fantastic fun, great engine, superb handling
CONS: Premium fuel to get the extra 8 hp