THE BALANCED HOT HATCH
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Stefan Ogbac
As one of the original hot hatches, the Volkswagen Golf GTI combines practicality and excellent driving dynamics. For 2018, the entire Golf lineup gets a significant refresh, and the spunky GTI gets a much-needed infusion of tech. Sadly, we don’t get the power increase found in Euro-spec GTIS, nor does it get the Digital Cockpit option. Does that mean our GTI is less fun? Oh gosh, no.
The 2.0-liter turbo-four carries over with 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque and comes paired to a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch auto. At the track, the manual-equipped GTI was the slower of our two testers, but both are sixsecond 0–60 cars. Save the manuals, indeed.
Road test editor Chris Walton liked that the dual-clutch shifted smoothly; in manual mode, auto upshifts happen at redline. The SE and Autobahn packages (like ours) include a limited-slip differential to help put the power down efficiently. But tricking the safety nannies is necessary to get a solid acceleration run from the stick shift. That said, there’s no reason to rev the GTI near redline; there’s not much grunt up there.
Braking performance was inconsistent due to both GTIS wearing all-season Pirelli Cinturato P7 rubber. Walton noted that both GTIS had a firm pedal with good bite; however, the allseason tires squealed too much, and the rear end had a tendency to get light.
On the canyon roads around Los Angeles, the GTI displayed agile handling and playful steering, but it was slightly numb at times. The GTI feels most at home on high-speed sweepers, though the stock Pirellis allow the chassis to overwhelm the tires.
But we live and die by our commutes. Despite the performance-minded suspension setup, the car’s ride is comfortable even in its most aggressive setting. It dispatches bumps easily and keeps road imperfections out of the passenger cabin even with the standard 18-inch alloy wheels.
The standard six-speed manual offers smooth, precise throws and clearly defined gates. The clutch is friendly, and it’s easy to find where it catches. If you are fed up with rowing the gears in slow-and-go traffic, the dualclutch automatic has lightning-quick shifts, though there’s a delay between stomping the accelerator and the transmission reacting— especially from a standstill.
Being a hatch, the GTI is like a crossover in disguise. There’s a two-level load floor in the cargo area, and the standard 60/40 split-folding rear seats (with ski pass-through) provide almost as much cargo space as the last-gen Tiguan.
So what’s new? Volkswagen’s redesigned infotainment system, which features userfriendly interfaces, quick responses, clear graphics, and a logical layout. However, the use of touch-sensitive buttons forces you to take your eyes off the road. Luckily, the voice command system is intuitive when programming music, making phone calls, and asking for navigation. Apple Carplay or Android Auto integration is a snap. One shortcoming: only one USB port.
Stripped-down base models seem budgetfriendly, but options quickly drive up the price. It doesn’t cost much more to get a decently equipped Subaru WRX STI or VW’S own Golf R. Perhaps most telling, the Civic Type R is less expensive—provided you can find a dealer willing to sell it to you at sticker price.