THE BAL­ANCED HOT HATCH

Motor Trend (USA) - - Contents - Words Ste­fan Og­bac Pho­to­graphs Dar­ren Martin

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.

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