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Review: 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI

If you were tasked with conceptualising a compact sporty car 40 years ago, you had no choice but to look over in Volkswagen’s direction and study what they’d done with the GTI. Thirty years ago, the situation was the same. By the mid 90s however, the tides had changed somewhat.

2018 VW GTI

Volkswagen’s GTI was no longer the best at everything. A number of OEMs provided more power, more grip, bigger brakes, higher top speeds and other such important aspects in their compact performance offerings. And yet, despite these facts, no other car felt or feels as good, as sorted, as a VW GTI does.

The MKVII generation of the fabled GTI, or the latest one, continues the trend of being one of, if not the most well-rounded performance oriented compact car. To drive a Golf GTI is to experience the benchmark for the segment and no matter how many times I reviewed a GTI over the last 20 years, good times are always had.

Styling inside/out

The Golf, and subsequently, the GTI, are fresh from a facelift. The 7th generation car is a lovely evolution from the 6th which was a vast improvement over the 5th. Be that as it may, the GTI’s always been the more attractive member of the Golf family, with the exception of the Golf R, and the Sportwagen… Ok, then one of the more attractive…

The hot hatch features unique bumpers, grille and various other accents. There are few colours to select from but, with the exception of boring old Grey, all shades look great with the GTI’s red highlights.

The one thing you need to know, if you’re shopping for a GTI, is that the Autobahn version is a waste of money. The standard 17” wheels will work great as track or winter wheels. Shop aftermarket units with the difference.

The cabin is like your best sweater, or jacket. Everything falls into place and feels exactly right. The Clark/Tartan cloth seats are excellent while fit and finish, along with materials, are near Audi-like. Here again, although nice, the Fender audio system and dreadful sunroof are not necessary.

Comfort/space

The 2018 VW GTI is a dressed-up Golf in the sense that the sporty version loses nothing capability-wise. The car is a true 5-seater where three adults could take place on the rear bench. It would be a snug fit but the available head (despite the stupid sunroof), shoulder and legroom will do the job.

The front perches are impressive, as is the volume for all appendages. VW’s included a number of storage compartment although most are tight with the exception of the door bins. The trunk can still hold up to 645 litres of gear with the second-row bench in place.

Value/equipment

This is a simple point to address. For 2018, there are only two versions of the Volkswagen GTI. Long gone are the three-door versions, the two different outputs and a number of other options.

My tester was an Autobahn that, although on screen reads like the faster more powerful version, it is not. At $35,895, the $5,300 jump in price over the base car covers the 18″ alloys, adaptive and LED headlights, Fender audio, and the stupid sunroof. This list is a big no-no.

All GTIs get App-Connect (Android Auto, Apple Carplay, and Mirrorlink) and a lovely 8.0″ touchscreen with navigation and more. These are the important must-haves. I won’t go over the entire list of things I would do with the $5,300 but think 19” HRE or BBS wheels and tires and take a trip to Unitronic for a quick (10-15 minutes!!) Stage 1 performance software update with resulting power that handily bests the Golf R’s. Don’t tell anyone I suggested this…

Powertrain/handling

The Volkswagen GTI sports the latest version of the turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder EA888 engine. For 2018, only the 220-horsepower output is offered, beautifully matched to a fine dollop of 258 lb.-ft. of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard while a 6-speed dual-clutch unit is a worthwhile $1,400 option.

Volkswagen provides various drive modes with the GTI (and other models) and while Sport, Normal and ECO (really?) are available, Custom is the way to go. As such, throttle response, steering and the digitized ghastly pumped-in engine noises can be tuned to your liking. One way or another, it’s impossible not to fall in love with all that torque as of 1,500 rpm.

Once the GTI hooks up, the car moves at a very rapid clip. The DSG remains one of the best of its kind whether left alone or controlled via the steering wheel mounted paddles. All GTI’s features VW’s XDS (Cross Differential System) that manipulates the front wheels in order to send power where it can be best put to use. It is efficient as are the 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes. The pedal is seriously responsive and the power, surprising.

The 2018 GTI’s ride is as always cosseting, sporty and refined, and lowered compared to the Golf. The car’s true gentleman nature is what pleases the most. On malevolent roads, the car takes the brunt of the nasty stuff. On the highway, or the track, body roll is controlled, and the extra wheel travel makes for a far more forgiving chassis should things go awry.

The 2018 Volkswagen GTI may not be the fastest, most powerful or even sportiest of its kind (Honda Civic Si, Ford Focus ST, Subaru Impreza WRX) but it remains, to this day, the greatest all-round performer. Go test drive one and let me know your thoughts.

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