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2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI: New Car Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Volkswagen Golf GTI, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI is the king among tolerably hot compact hatchbacks. We say "tolerably hot" because there are some higher-temperature versions out there (the Golf R and Honda Civic Type-R, for example), but this is where a well-judged amount of power is perfectly suited to public roads. And the reason why the GTI sits at the top is because it’s such a comprehensive package that also includes agility, comfort, practicality, class and affordability. It’s pretty much the ideal car.

The GTI rides 0.6 inch lower than the run-of-the-mill Golf, so spring rates are a little stiffer, but not enough to be a deal-breaker. And anyway, the adaptive damping system in the top trim offers a range of settings. The GTI also has quicker steering than its regular counterpart, making it feel more eager and direct. There are several details like these, but they all add up to improvements on a highly successful car (the regular Golf) to create one that can justifiably be called an icon.

What’s New for 2018?

The short-lived Sport trim (introduced last year) is no more. The 10-horsepower bump in the previous Performance package becomes standard, so all GTI models now have 220 horsepower. And the upgraded brakes from that package are added to the top two trims, along with a larger touchscreen, adaptive LED headlights, and advanced driver aids that were previously optional. See the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI models for sale near you

What We Like

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

What We Don’t

DSG automatic transmission a bit slow to respond in stop-go traffic

How Much?

$27,265-$35,920

Fuel Economy

Propulsion comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The GTI is front-wheel-drive only and a 6-speed manual transmission is standard. The automatic option is a 6-speed DSG 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 (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 25 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with the manual transmission, or 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined with the DSG.

Standard Features & Options

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI comes as a 4-door hatchback. Trim levels are S, SE and Autobahn. The DSG transmission is an extra $1,100.

The S ($27,265) gets the ball rolling with 18-inch alloy wheels, electronic (brake-based) limited-slip feature, LED fog lights and daytime running lights, rear spoiler, heated side mirrors, heated front washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, air conditioning, plaid cloth upholstery (a GTI specialty), aluminum-look pedals, heated front seats with manual adjustment/power-recline, leather-wrapped tilt-telescopic steering wheel, ambient cabin lighting, 60/40-split folding rear seats with a central pass-through, trip computer, 6.5-in touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, USB port, rearview camera, satellite radio, and VW Car-Net telematics (automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing — so parents can establish limits for teen drivers). High-performance summer tires are optional.

SE ($31,320) adds a sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, electronically controlled torque-sensing limited-slip differential, keyless entry/ignition, stronger brakes from the Golf R, 8-in touchscreen, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision mitigation with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian detection. Leather seating surfaces are optional in the SE.

Autobahn ($35,920) brings navigation, a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat (with power lumbar adjustment) and dual-zone automatic climate control, self-dimming rearview mirror, DCC adaptive damping (which includes adjustable shock absorbers and a larger rear anti-roll bar), Fender-branded audio system upgrade, navigation, leather seating surfaces, front and rear parking sensors, lane-keep assistance, automated parallel and perpendicular parking, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision mitigation with autonomous emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

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 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 GTI its highest score of Good in all its major categories and named it 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. The limited-slip differential 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.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Ford Focus ST — Not quite the all-rounder the GTI is, but a ton of fun thanks to an exceptional front-drive chassis. Only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.

2018 Honda Civic Si — This is a sedan (no hatchback Si version is planned for the United States). But the Civic provides an excellent platform for sportier thrills.

2018 Subaru WRX — Comes with all-wheel drive as standard, which is useful in bad weather as well as gaining more traction through corners. Lower-rent interior, though, and 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 sporty ride and premium equipment.

Autotrader’s Advice

Try to make the budget stretch to at least an SE so some more safety features are in the picture. Even though the Autobahn is more expensive, it does have a lot of equipment for the price. We also like the 6-year/72,000-mile warranty.

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