The redesigned Golf GTI ratchets up the performance over the outgoing version with more power and sharper handling, while preserving the civility that has long made Volkswagen’s sporty hatchback a polished daily driver. Unfortunately, the new infotainment system is a usability nightmare, making it complicated for the driver to perform even common audio and climate tasks.
The GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine now produces 241 horsepower, a 13-hp increase over the previous model. It pulls strongly no matter what gear you’re in, accompanied by a baritone engine note. The standard six-speed manual transmission is nearly perfect, with such a light and precise feel that sometimes you find yourself shifting gears just for the heck of it. The optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission barely dilutes the driving thrills. The GTI is plenty quick, needing only 6.4 seconds to scoot from 0 to 60 mph with our tested manual model. Fuel economy is decent, too, managing 28 mpg overall on regular fuel.
With its quick, communicative steering and tied-down suspension, the front-wheel-drive GTI gobbles up corners with enthusiasm and poise—it feels like the driver is connected to the pavement. It also proved capable and enjoyable when pushed to its limits around our test track, exhibiting tenacious grip and a balanced, forgiving behavior. Some ride quality was sacrificed in the name of handling, but it doesn’t beat you up like in the much-stiffer Honda Civic Si, a direct competitor.