I’ll never say no to a Volkswagen GTI drive. It’s one of the few cars on the market I’d happily drive every day -- most of the other ones are trucks and SUVs. Is it the best small car on the market? If not, it’s damn close -- can’t think of a better one off the top of my head. The GTI is the car that started the hot hatch class, and the new one is a refined, quiet, smooth, quick car that goes about its business honestly. It’s fun to drive hard or not hard.
As expected, the interior quality looks and feels great, the checkered seats are outstanding, the clutch/gearbox relationship feels just right and there is just a ride/handling/communication-back-to-the-driver balance few cars match -- of any size.
Swing the tach to 3,500-plus rpm and the GTI gets right down the road with a nice little growl. Stirring the gearbox is a pleasure but isn’t really necessary thanks to the engine’s wide torque range.
Again, I’d happily drive this every day. It’s not just a great small car, nor is it just a great car for the money. It’s a great car, period, no caveats.
It’s going to be interesting to see how VW improves on the next one. A tall order.
OTHER VOICES: I’ve heard it said that driving the more powerful, more expensive all-wheel-drive Golf R only serves as a reminder of just how good the GTI is. That you don’t really need more car than what this quintessential front-wheel-drive hot hatch offers.
I think the Golf R does a fine job at doing what it does (though a hotter, wilder version would be welcome). And besides, the GTI isn’t just a winner in comparison to other segment offerings -- it’s a refreshingly straightforward, gimmick-free driver on its own (and I don’t consider the plaid seats or the golf ball-shaped shifter knob to be gimmicks, for the record). Focused and intuitive, it’s the kind of car you connect with and start flinging around within minutes of tucking yourself behind the wheel -- you just can’t help it. I’m always delighted to wind up in one for a few days.
What’s special about this particular ‘17 GTI build? As a “Sport”-trimmed car, it’s the cheapest way to get the performance package, which bumps output from 210 hp to 220 hp. That’s up substantially from the 200 hp the car got when it debuted, and we thought it had plenty of power back then; this is even better, though still never quite rabid. Plus, you get Golf R brakes, an electronically controlled limited slip differential and a few other cosmetic hop-ups.
Even with the higher output, though, this is probably the best-behaved hot hatch on the market. The adaptive suspension available on the range-topping Autobahn trim might tame things further, but this setup works fine for me. Yes, even over the potholes that are exceptionally bad in Detroit around this time of year. Others on staff may disagree.
Oh, and one more thing -- those stated fuel economy figures? Dead accurate in my case, even taking spirited driving into account: I returned 28.2 miles per gallon vs. a stated 28 mph combined estimate. They’re not taking any chances over at VW these days.
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