Give it up for the GTI: This iconic hot hatch balances fun and function as few can do, and continues to win a spot on our 10Best Cars list for 2018. The standard powertrain is a 220-hp turbo 2.0-liter inline-four with a six-speed manual. A six-speed automatic costs extra, but it’s almost as much fun as the manual. Sportier trims have upgraded brakes and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential. The GTI’s classic plaid seats come standard, as do agile handling and hatchback practicality.
Our love for the Volkswagen GTI is genuine, longstanding, and well documented. Indeed, since VW’s little firecracker first arrived on our shores 35 years ago as a Rabbit hatchback with a bit more hop, we’ve found ourselves searching for new and creative ways to issue the same effusive praise. Over the years, the GTI has been featured in dozens of reviews and comparison tests, and it has landed on our 10Best Cars list 15 times, including the past 12 years straight. And this review will be no different—mostly.
the GTI remains as delightful as ever, with its minor styling and equipment changes having no ill effect on its dynamic brilliance. VW’s engineers and designers executed the GTI update with a deft touch, tweaking the front and rear styling, reworking the innards of the headlamps to accommodate new LED elements (standard on SE and Autobahn models), and updating the taillamp graphics to be more horizontal in appearance.
Meanwhile, VW dropped the Sport trim level and the available Performance package while making the latter’s electronic limited-slip differential and larger brake rotors from the Golf R standard on the mid-grade GTI SE and the range-topping GTI Autobahn. For 2018 the equipment rosters got longer, too, and the cheerful turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four under the hood of every GTI now makes the same 220 horsepower at 4700 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at a remarkably low 1500 revs.
The case for the GTI Autobahn model tested here now rests on the appeal of its standard three-mode adaptive dampers (now including a new Comfort mode), a small army of active-safety features (including forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking and pedestrian detection, parking assist, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beams), and numerous creature comforts. Those comforts include the largest standard infotainment screen of the GTI lot (8.0 inches) with navigation, adaptive cruise control, leather, a Fender-branded audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-way power driver’s seat, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.