The 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI is the archetypal hot hatchback. Europeans are extremely good at building this type of car. Those narrow, twisting roads of the Old World make particular demands of cars and their drivers. Such challenges also provide their own kind of fun, like the thrills of driving on mountain roads this side of the Atlantic.
There are hotter hatches out there (the Volkswagen Golf R and the Honda Civic Type-R, for example), but the GTI offers the perfect amount of power for public highways. It’s a comprehensive package that also features agility, comfort, practicality, class and affordability. It’s pretty much the ideal car.
The GTI rides 0.6 of an 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, so that makes it feel more eager and direct. There are several details like these, all amounting to improvements on a highly successful car (the regular Golf) to create one that can justifiably be called an icon. See the 2019 Golf GTI models near you
What’s New for 2019?
Engine output bumps up from 220 to 228 horsepower (torque stays the same), some driver-assistance features are now available as options in the entry-level S trim, and a limited-run Rabbit Edition slots between the S and SE trims, resulting in extra standard-equipment and option eligibility for the SE. The 2019 GTI also receives the stronger brakes and mechanical limited-slip differential from the Golf R (replacing the brake-based simulation).
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.
$28,490 to $36,890
Propulsion comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 228 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 in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined with the manual transmission, or 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined with the DSG. At the time of this review’s writing, the EPA did not have figures for the 2019 GTI, but these numbers from 2018 shouldn’t be far off, despite the little hike of 8 hp.
Standard Features & Options
The 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI is a 4-door compact hatchback. The trim levels are S, Rabbit Edition, SE and Autobahn. The DSG transmission is an extra $1,100.
The S ($28,490) gets the ball rolling with 18-in alloy wheels, limited-slip differential, LED fog lights/daytime running lights/taillights, a 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, a leather-wrapped/tilt-telescopic steering wheel, ambient cabin lighting, 60/40-split folding rear seats with a central pass-through, a trip computer, a 6.5-in touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, a 6-speaker audio system, a USB port, a 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.
The Rabbit Edition ($29,790) has LED headlights and keyless entry/ignition, plus the S trim’s optional driver aids as standard, as well as a few distinctive cosmetic touches inside and out.
SE ($32,690) adds a powered tilt-and-slide sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, leather seating surfaces and an 8-in touchscreen. It also becomes eligible for the DCC adaptive suspension and Fender-branded audio-system upgrade.
Autobahn ($36,890) brings navigation, a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat (with power lumbar adjustment) and dual-zone automatic climate control, a self-dimming rearview mirror, DCC adaptive damping (which includes adjustable shock absorbers and a larger rear anti-roll bar), a Fender audio system, navigation, front and rear parking sensors, lane-keep assist, automated parallel and perpendicular parking, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control and active blind spot monitoring.
Behind the rear seats is 22.8 cu ft. of cargo space. Fold them down for a cavernous 52.7 cu ft.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock 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 (or severity) 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 the headroom.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Honda Civic Si — It comes as a sedan or a coupe (no hatchback Si version is planned for the United States). But the Civic provides an excellent platform for sportier thrills.
2019 Subaru WRX — It comes in sedan form only. All-wheel drive is standard, which is useful in bad weather as well as through corners. It has a lower-rent interior, though, and lacks special styling.
Used BMW 3 Series — It doesn’t have quite the same level of practicality, but the always-desirable 3 Series sedan compensates with a great balance between a sporty ride and premium equipment.
The Autobahn version is pricey but comes with virtually everything the GTI has to offer. It’s good to see the basic S receive some more standard equipment, but we still think the SE is a good middle-ground choice. Find a Volkswagen GTI for sale