The GTI is now entering its 12th consecutive year as a winner of our 10 Best Cars award (along with the rest of its Golf family), and it’s as good as ever. The GTI is a practical car with real performance credibility at a price that would make plenty of dynamically inferior cars blush. But despite already having an ace in the hole, Volkswagen keeps upping the ante. This year, that meant a minor horsepower bump across the GTI’s lineup, a limited-slip differential and stronger brakes for the GTI’s two upper trim levels, standard adaptive dampers for the topmost Autobahn trim, and wider availability of active safety technology. We’ve been smitten with the GTI for years, and with Volkswagen’s commitment to the continued refinement of this little hot hatch, we expect the bloom to stay on this rose for the foreseeable future.
What’s New for 2018?
The GTI sees a smattering of changes for 2018. Of most interest to enthusiasts will be the 10-hp bump that brings every GTI to 220 horsepower (on premium fuel) and the stronger brakes and limited-slip front differential that are standard on the upper-level SE and Autobahn models. The Autobahn also has standard adaptive dampers. Last year’s Sport model has been discontinued, and for 2018 its upgrades are available more widely across lineup: the GTI can now come in S, SE, or Autobahn trim. Every GTI now has standard LED daytime running lights and taillights, SE and Autobahn trims receive a full-LED headlight array, and every model has a larger infotainment screen compared with last year. Volkswagen has added more active safety technology, including pedestrian detection, and has made existing features standard outside the top trim level. Buyers who choose the entry-level S model will still have limited access to active safety tech. The 2018 GTI carries Volkswagen’s new, longer warranty, which offers six years or 72,000 miles of limited and powertrain coverage and is fully transferable to a subsequent owner.
What Was New for 2017?
For 2017, Volkswagen added a Sport trim level slotted between the base S and mid-level SE trims. That new model had a 10-hp bump compared with the base GTI and benefits from the same limited-slip front differential and performance brakes that grace the racy Golf R. Other changes included limited performance enhancements on all but the base model and upgraded feature content in the top-level Autobahn trim.
Trims and Options We Chose for 2017
The base GTI required you to turn a key to start the engine, which is so 2010, so we chose the mid-level SE model, which added some luxury features and, once the 2018 model goes on sale, will have the Golf R’s limited-slip front differential and stronger brakes.
There aren’t any option packages available for SE models. We’d stick with the easygoing six-speed manual transmission, but Volkswagen’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic is just as good, if not quite as engaging. That autobox also added $1100 to the SE’s $28,815 asking price. Standard features in our chosen model included:
• Leather seating surfaces
• Keyless entry with push-button start
• Eight-speaker Fender premium audio system