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2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2016

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI is pretty much the perfect car. It's big enough for most people's needs, quick enough to keep an enthusiast engaged, comfortable enough to keep kids and in-laws from complaining, and smart enough to be a status symbol -- and it even has some character. To merely call it a compact hatchback would be to understate what a great version of a great car the Golf GTI is.

The seventh-generation Golf debuted for the 2015 model year. With occasional forays into higher-performance models over the decades, including the R32 and Golf R, the GTI has usually been the most desirable version. This current model doesn't disappoint. Just as the regular Golf has become more sophisticated, with great-quality cabin materials to complement a well-tuned chassis and excellent, efficient engines, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI takes it all to a level that's still accessible and affordable yet also deserving of total respect.

What's New for 2016?

Even though it debuted last year, Volkswagen has already made some improvements. The GTI receives an all-new infotainment system that comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, plus compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. There's also a USB socket (about time, too) and a rearview camera as standard. The Driver Assistance package now brings an autonomous parallel-parking function, along with adaptive cruise control, emergency brake assist, lane-departure warning and a blind spot monitoring system.

What We Like

Smart looks; entertaining driving experience; high-class cabin; hatchback practicality

What We Don't

Direct-shift-gearbox (DSG) automatic transmission is a bit slow to respond in stop-and-go traffic

How Much?

$25,815-$30,955

Fuel Economy

Propulsion comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 210 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The GTI is front-wheel-drive only, and a 6-speed manual transmission is standard -- or there's the option of a 6-speed DSG automatic transmission. Strictly speaking, this is an automated manual, but it can shift gears itself or allow manual selection either by moving the lever or using steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel consumption at 25 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined with the manual transmission or 25 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined with the DSG.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI comes as a 2-door or 4-door hatchback. Trim levels are S, SE and Autobahn. All-season tires are standard; higher-performance summer tires are a no-cost option.

The 2-door S ($25,815) gets the ball rolling with 18-in alloy wheels, LED fog lights, a rear spoiler, heated side mirrors, cruise control, air conditioning, plaid cloth upholstery (a GTI specialty), heated front seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-telescopic steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seats with a central pass-through, a 6.5-in touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, a USB port, rearview camera, satellite radio and VW Car-Net telematics such as automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen-vehicle location and geo-fencing (so parents can establish limits for teen drivers). The 4-door S ($26,415) also has power-reclining front seats.

The SE ($28,845) adds a sunroof, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry with push-button ignition, leather upholstery and a Fender-branded audio-system upgrade.

The Autobahn ($30,955) trim is only available as a 4-door model and brings navigation, a 12-way power driver's seat with power lumbar adjustment and automatic dual-zone climate control.

The optional Performance package means an electronic limited-slip differential, beefier brakes in the front and rear, and an extra 10 hp. It's available throughout the GTI range. When an SE or Autobahn model is optioned with this bundle, it also gains dynamic chassis control, which includes adjustable shock absorbers and a larger rear anti-roll bar.

A Lighting package includes adaptive bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights.

The Driver Assistance package (available on SE or Autobahn trims) adds adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, front-collision warning with emergency brake assist, lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and automated parallel parking.

Behind the rear seats is 22.8 cu ft. of cargo space. Fold them down for a massive 52.7 cu ft., as good as this class gets.

Safety

Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes, automatic hill hold, stability/traction control, front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags and a driver's-side knee airbag.

Volkswagen also includes a post-collision braking feature as standard: After an impact, it automatically applies the brakes to reduce the chances of a secondary accident.

In government crash tests, the 2-door GTI earned the maximum five stars overall, with four stars in the front-impact test and five stars for side impacts.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the regular Golf its highest score of Good in the moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests. It also earned Good scores in the side-impact, roof-strength and whiplash-protection categories. This performance resulted in IIHS naming the Golf range a Top Safety Pick+.

Behind the Wheel

The GTI's strong engine and well-tuned chassis provide a confident ride with a fun factor that's easily accessible. Extra cornering talent comes from the Performance package's limited-slip front differential, which really helps transition quickly from one direction to another.

Otherwise, it's the usual high Golf standard of cabin materials, layout and refinement. The seats are well shaped and provide support to make long journeys less tiring. Rear passenger space is also good for a compact car, especially headroom, and clambering into the rear is still easy with the 2-door version.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Ford Focus ST -- While not quite the all-rounder the GTI is, the Ford Focus ST is still a ton of fun thanks to an exceptional front-drive chassis. Note that it's only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.

2016 Honda Civic Si -- The Civic is all new for 2016. The Si variant is due later in the year, and the basic bones of the regular Civic should provide an excellent platform for sportier thrills.

2016 Subaru WRX -- The WRX comes with all-wheel drive as standard, which is useful in bad weather and for gaining more traction through corners. It offers a lower-rent interior, though, and there's nothing special from a styling point of view.

Used BMW 3 Series -- It doesn't have quite the same level of practicality, but the always-desirable 3 Series compensates with a great balance between a sporty ride and premium equipment.

Autotrader's Advice

Don't even hesitate. Considering that most smartphones have a navigation app that's accessible through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, going for the Autobahn trim seems unnecessary. Spend that money on an SE version with the Performance pack instead. The choice of transmission is down to personal preference, but the DSG can be fun when using the paddles.

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Used 2016 Volkswagen GTI 4-Door
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Used 2016 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI: New Car Review - Autotrader