The hot hatch segment is always one of my favorites to write about. Automakers have become experts in shoving powerful engines into small packages that can give thrill rides rivaling roller coasters.
The Volkswagen GTI has been a pillar of this segment pretty much since the introduction of the MK1 Rabbit. The GTI isn’t the most powerful hot hatch from Volkswagen (that honor belongs to the Golf R) but it’s still good enough to provide loads of fun on your daily drive. There is a new GTI coming in 2022 with (dare I say) a questionable-looking front end so get these MK7 while you still can.
This generation GTI really set the bar high in all aspects. Let’s start with the design. This iteration is by far the best-looking out of all of them (and will likely to remain that way for some time). You’ve got the requisite red GTI badging on the side, rear and front grille along with bright red calipers and a red pin stripe that extends into the headlight housing. Dual exhaust tips and large alloy wheels tell the rest of the story and make the GTI hard to miss.
The interior is no different. In a homage to its ancestors, the GTI comes available with gorgeous plaid upholstery that’s an absolute must-have. Leather is available but it would be an abomination to choose it over the plaid. I’ve even seen Golf R owners voice displeasure and not having the option to put plaid seats in their cars. The red contrast stitching on the armrest, shifter boot and steering wheel give the cabin an all-around race feel.
The steering wheel is perfect, with all the controls properly placed. Climate controls are equally easy to manipulate because they are knobs and not buttons. Ergonomically, the GTI is about as good as it gets. My only gripes are that the little lights to indicate fan speed are quite dim and almost invisible during daylight hours and there is only a single USB port. The conveniently located push-button start next to the shifter and the presence of a manual crank handbrake are amazing. The practicality of having four doors is also welcome for people like me with several kids.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make life easy and the layout of the VW infotainment system is intuitive and easy to use. I was able to quickly set favorites, change system language, browse satellite radio and switch inputs without even having the think about it. A larger screen would be welcome and will be an addition to the next generation model for sure.
What makes the GTI a hot hatch is primarily what’s under the hood. The output of the 2.0-litre engine is 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque sent to the front wheels unlike the Golf R which is all-wheel drive. Surprisingly, the GTI has little to no torque steer and the power is readily available from a low RPM of just 1500. It’s just a remarkable package that provides so much fun that the $10,000 extra you might shell out for a Golf R should be seriously questioned. The test vehicle came equipped with the automatic DSG transmission but I highly recommend the manual option to the get full effect.
I’ve driven plenty of Golf Rs and the thrill I get from driving the GTI is just about as good. Don’t think that just because you didn’t get the R that this vehicle can’t give you the same fulfillment. Adaptive dampers are available as an option which can really help put the power down efficiently while cornering. I’ve read that the steering feel isn’t as good as it could be but I don’t share this opinion. There was plenty of road feel during any maneuver.
The base model GTI starts at $30,845 but remember it doesn’t come with the adaptive dampers. If you want them, you’ll need to upgrade to the $35,995 Autobahn trim but with transport and prep plus any other options you might add, you’re trending very close to Golf R territory. You’d want to stick to the base model if you can because it represents the best value per dollar in my opinion.
We’ll see what the 2022 model has to offer but for now the GTI remains a very fun car at a great price.