Earlier this year, I got chucked the keys to a 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI by the fine people at VW and rather than just zip around town in it, we hit the highways and byways of New England to have some fun in one of the most well touted small cars you can buy in America. We loaded our luggage and kids into the back, dumped the clutch out of the driveway and headed north to the state of Vermont. There were dirt roads, covered bridges, and many, many more miles driven. The bottom line is that this car was a trusty, comfortable, and fun to drive steed that everyone in the family enjoyed and it delivered performance, economy, and space that was nothing short of great.
Small cars have become more and more a part of the fabric of the American automotive landscape. The Golf GTI has been one of the most well known and entertaining members of that club for decades now and while there are certainly VW purists that think the modern version of the car is more heavy, most luxuriously soft, and not as hardcore as the original “hot hatch”, we can only judge the car for the experience we had with and I’m absolutely positive that anyone who actually enjoys a holistic driving experience will have fun in this car. The turbocharged four cylinder engine delivers a rated 220hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The number needed to fully appreciate this car’s fun side is the fact that the torque peak is delivered at 1,500 rpm. This means that the car has ample power to pull any of the 6-speeds in the transmission when the little engine is in that fat portion of the torque curve.
The six speed trans was really nice to shift. Smooth and not at all notch we never had one moment of indecision in terms of finding a gear during performance driving situations when we were either hammering up through the gears or using engine braking to slow us down for curves. The car’s brakes are very stout as well. The GTI in the Autobahn trim level we had it in uses the same brakes as the more powerful Golf R. We did not take the car onto a road course to get an idea of fade or deficiencies in that way but we can say that through spirited mountain driving they did not care whatsoever and provided loads of confidence in stopping the car whenever called upon.
Being that we took this car all over the wilds of Vermont and the car was rolling on its snow tires, we probably did not get 100% of the car’s handling prowess but if that’s the case we’re giddy for the chance to see what the car does on the right performance rubber. There was no ill-effect from driving on the winter tires and the fact that we spent some time on dirt roads exploring lesser seen part of the state means that we were kind of thankful to have them but the only time we knew it had winter tires on was when we actually looked at them. This is a very, very fun car to throw around in the corners and generally lean on. Not beat on, but just a car that you can ask for a little more and the thing will give it to you without complaining. It was an awesome road tripper.
Somehow that shape managed to comfortably fit four pretty decent sized humans in comfort. There’s a weirdly ample storage area behind the rear seat where all the luggage for the trip lived and my overgrown kids both piled in the back. My oldest son is basically the size of an small adult at this point and he was back there behind me with room to spare and I was not jammed up into the steering wheel. With the car full of passengers and hundreds of pounds of luggage, it still had plenty of zip and exhibited no extra roll in the corners or propensity to be lazy or inaccurate in its handling.
The car, as we drove it retails for about $35,000. There are cheaper models of the GTI that can be had for less than $30,000 but if we were walking into the dealer today this is the way we would option ours. The interior is greatly comfortable and it has all the right options that we would want from the good seats to the good infotainment system. Not that we’d be crying about not having it in a lesser optioned car, but once you experience the car in this way you wouldn’t want it any other.
Before the cries of “too expensive” rain down, look around at what people are paying for stuff that is less fun, less economical, less practical, and less cool and then get back to us. When porcine SUVs are rolling down the road at $100,000+ and provide the entertainment value of a French silent movie, cars like this are the things that keep us smiling and engaged in the driving experience.
The VW Golf GTI is BangShifty…whether you like it or not.
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