2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review: Well-Rounded Hellion
We all have it—that handful of cars we simply adore, no ifs, ands, or buts. You hear a particular vehicle's name, and you get the warm-and-fuzzies, thinking about its growling engine, spectacular handling, or gorgeous styling. For me, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of those cars, and for the 2017 model year, it's as awesome as it's ever been.
When it comes to what I covet in a car, the GTI ticks off most of the boxes: it's small, it's a hatchback, it has an eager little engine, and depending on the trim, it has just enough cool styling to stand out from the crowd. It's no wonder the GTI is a perennial favourite in the extensive Golf family.
It's not perfect, but here's a rundown of what I like and what I don't like about VW's little hellion, of which there is very little true competition.
Effortlessly sporty. The GTI isn't just some gussied up Golf, with a few chrome bits and paddle shifters slapped on as an afterthought. With its standard sport suspension, six-speed transmission (in manual or six-speed Tiptronic available on all trims), and Cross Differential System that helps reduce the tendency to understeer, the GTI is no pretender. It takes mere moments behind the wheel to understand just how race-ready this vehicle is. It's not all track-bred bravado though ...
Damn good daily driver. If you want a vehicle that has all the accoutrements of a comfortable daily driver, the GTI can put away its racing hat without missing a beat. Seats—both front and back—are comfortable, the aforementioned six-speed auto makes stop-and-go traffic five days a week much more bearable than a manual, and the infotainment system is all sorts of excellent for the modern day techno-phile. For me, that's the ultimate test of a great vehicle: can it be more than a one-trick pony? In the case of the GTI, the answer is a resounding "yes."
Fuel-efficient, for those that care. I know, I know—it's silly to focus on something as bland as fuel efficiency when you're driving something so fun. Welp—just go ahead and call me a Dull Daniel, but if you can keep visits to the gas station to a minimum, wouldn't you want to? I averaged 9.0 litres per 100 kilometres, which was right about where I should be, considering VW gives city/highway numbers of 9.6/7.2 L/100 km. That's barely higher than my daily driver, which is a similarly sized, but far more staid, hatchback.
Lots of choice for lots of people, You'll find the same engine under the hood of every GTI, but beyond that, VW throws a lot of choice at you, depending on your lifestyle, the size of your bank account, and much more. There are three- and five-door variants, two transmissions, six exterior colours, and a few options packages. Hopefully you like those plaid seats though, because unless you opt for the top Performance trim and its black leather seats, plaid is what you'll be getting.
Intrusive safety systems. My five-door Autobahn test vehicle is equipped with the optional Driver Assistance Package, which adds adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking, lane assist, and park assist. Here's the thing: I'm actually totally cool with extra safety equipment, but if you're going to offer it in your vehicle, make sure things aren't beeping and booping every time I get even remotely close to another vehicle. "Safe" and "pleasant" shouldn't be mutually exclusive.
Price climbs quickly. Yes, technically the GTI has an MSRP that starts at a shade under $30,000, but each of the next two trims climb by about $4,000 each (and adding an extra two doors to the three-door Autobahn trim costs $900, FYI). By the time you get to the Performance trim, you're skimming $40,000 before taxes, options, etc. This is a pretty sophisticated vehicle, and I'm not saying the price is unfair; only that you should be well aware of it ahead of time.
Photos: Daniel Barron / Motor1 Canada