2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T 4-Door
The result has been more sales, with Volkswagen’s U.S. division delivering 6,307 more GTI’s in 2015 than the year prior, a difference of 36.3 percent with the final tally ringing in at 23,669 GTI’s sold last year compared to just 17,362 the year before, while 2014 improved from just 13,310 sales in 2013.
From a styling perspective the new GTI is clean and crisp, yet it shows off a bit more than we’re used to from Volkswagen. Particularly the three racy black strakes that poke out from its vertical fog lamp surrounds, appearing to somehow feed air to the brakes via some classic ’80s-era slant nose 911 design cues pulled from the past, these being cool albeit not required for cooling the nevertheless impressively large front rotors with sporty red painted “GTI” embossed calipers. Back up front, the upper grille is clean, narrow and wide in VW’s latest tradition, blending nicely into LED enhanced optional HID headlamps to each side. A thin red stripe stretches from side to side, also bleeding into those lighting clusters, the red matching the GTI insignia next to the passenger-side headlamp and those brake calipers just noted, the latter framed by an aggressive set of Connecticut-axe-head-shaped five-spoke alloys on 225/45R18s. A discrete rooftop spoiler hovers over the vertical rear glass, the C-pillars bending in classic Golf style and taillights following that kinked outline to dagger-sharp points as has been done for more than a decade. Those lenses are filled with beautifully detailed LEDs, while the lower bumper is nicely finished off with a matte-black diffuser integrating twin-chromed tailpipes. For GTI fans this car is nirvana, while most others give it the respect it deserves.
Inside, the GTI is finished similar to its predecessors, in that Volkswagen has added classic plaid seat inserts ensconced within black cloth bolsters with red stitching. These are some of the more sporting seats in the industry, not as aggressively bolstered as what you’d find in a Ford Focus RS or Subaru WRX, but supportive enough for most yet easy enough to live with.
The Golf’s usual high-quality soft touch synthetics cover the entire dash top down to the halfway point of the center stack, plus the front door uppers. If you haven’t driven a GTI since this newest MK7 version debuted, your passengers will be missing the higher quality soft touch rear door uppers of older models, while fabric now only wraps the front roof pillars, not the B and C pillars like in years past. Likewise, some of the switchgear is made from a less-dense plastic, although the new car’s styling is modernized and I must say some of the details, particularly the steering wheel and graphic interfaces, are better than ever. While I would’ve appreciated VW maintaining the GTI’s near-premium quality materials, I’d be totally willing to live with some of its downgrades to get its many upgrades.
The ideally shaped three-spoke sport steering wheel is wrapped in some of the highest quality leather available anywhere, while red stitching highlights the rim and gorgeous metallic detailing dresses up the spokes, as does some of the best steering wheel switchgear in the industry. This makes up for the hollow, cheaper feeling column stocks, plus some of the lighter weight and wiggly dials on the center stack, while a higher quality multi-information display with some added color brightens up the primary gauge package, and two new infotainment systems atop the center stack are both solid moves upmarket.
Either infotainment display includes Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, MirrorLink and more, resulting in one of the easier to use operating systems in autodom, plus the larger touchscreen included in my top-line tester featured proximity-sensing technology that enlarges and highlights key links when your hand gets close to the display. A great sounding Fender audio system with tweeters mounted in the A-pillars is another improvement from years past.
The GTI has always been a wonderful compact performance car, hence the legend it lives with. Even those born in the ’80s and ’90s know that it deserves their respect, especially considering many newer upstart models have come and gone. After all, where is the Mazdaspeed3? Sentra SE-R? Corolla GT-S? Any hopped-up Lancer (the Evo is even dead now)? How about an SRT-branded compact Dodge (or any compact Dodge after 2017-sad as the Alfa-based Dart is really a great little sport sedan)? We’ve got to pay homage to Mini for being Mini (especially in JCW-tune), Fiat for its brilliant little 500 Abarth, and Honda for staying true to its Civic Si all through the years and promising a much more powerful SR variant soon, while Ford deserves special tribute for its brilliant Fiesta and Focus ST models, the new Focus RS mind-bogglingly powerful, but VW makes the 296-hp AWD Golf R for such hyper-hatch duties, the GTI targeting saner performance fans who want to hold onto their licenses.
To that end the GTI is a wonderful highway cruiser, a car that’s so comfortable, quiet, stable, and fleet on its feet that you’ll soon appreciate that a larger vehicle is not necessary for covering vast roadways quickly. At the same time it’s one of the better cars you can buy for straightening otherwise curving backroads. This is where its legend was born, way back in the mid ’70s when the only true competitor was the iconic original Mini. Volkswagen offered similar performance and much more luxury when put up against that very minimalist ride, and due to its success many imitators followed.
From a handling perspective this latest MK7 is the best GTI I’ve ever driven. It comes stock with a cross differential system VW dubs XDS, which enhances road-holding with a type of pre-emptive traction control utilizing ABS to reduce understeer in a similar way to how stability control limits oversteer. It’s brilliant when things get slippery, but noticeably adept in the dry too.
While I’d prefer a base six-speed manual for performance driving this dual-clutch automated six-speed DSG, with a precise set of steering wheel-mounted paddles, would make for a difficult decision if it came time to buy. Its response to shifts so quick and immediate, plus the result of VW’s new 220 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four so thoroughly assertive that it’s breathtaking off the line, when downshifting before a corner, or anywhere else, the wonderful growl emanating from the aforementioned twin pipes at its backend only heightening the adrenaline rush. That’s the most power ever offered in a GTI and unique to my tester’s special Performance package that gets a 10 horsepower bump over the regular 210-hp 2.0L TSI GTI mill, while torque remains the same at a robust 258 lb-ft. I’ve got a feeling this upgrade is very popular, while its very reasonable EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg city, 34 highway and 28 combined with the manual or 25, 33 and 28 for DSG is certainly friendlier on the wallet than most performance cars.
I should mention that VW offers the GTI in two body styles and three trim levels plus that Performance package just mentioned, the base 2.0T 2-Door available from just $24,995 plus freight and dealer fees and the 2.0T 4-Door starting at $25,595. The Performance package adds a very reasonable $1,495 to either body style, the 2-Door Performance starting at $26,490 and as-tested 4-Door Performance priced at $27,090. The three trim levels include S, SE and Autobahn, the latter trim reserved for 4-Door models only.
My tester was in base S 4-Door trim with the Performance package, while options included the $1,100 DSG gearbox and a $995 Lighting package that added auto on-off HID headlights with adaptive cornering capability, bringing my loaner very near the $30k threshold with an as-tested price of $28,190 before adding freight and dealer fees.
By the way, along with the increase in power the Performance package adds upgraded 340-mm front and 310-mm rear rotors plus those GTI-branded calipers mentioned earlier, as well as a VAQ locking front limited-slip differential, whereas my S-trimmed tester’s equipment list included VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control with Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual settings, brushed aluminum pedals, illuminated “GTI” scuff plates, ambient cabin lighting, auto climate control, LED fog lamps, heatable and power-adjustable side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, heatable washer nozzles, a leather-wrapped multifunction “GTI” sport steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, a color multi-information display, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, a reverse camera integrated within a large full-color infotainment display, eight-way adjustable front sport seats with heatable cushions, 60/40-split rear seats with a handy center pass-through, a variable-height cargo load floor, autonomous post-collision braking, all the usual active and passive safety equipment, plus much more.
Of course the trim levels mentioned earlier include yet more available features such as auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, proximity-sensing keyless access, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front and rear parking sensors, navigation, black Vienna leather upholstery with red accents and a 12-way powered driver’s seat, autonomous parking assist, autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, plus much more, and when all of these active safety features are added the GTI earns a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating, whereas all GTIs are good enough for a 5-star NHTSA crash test rating.
Even without all of those upscale features any GTI model feels more premium than the usual mainstream volume branded compact, and as noted earlier it’s a very livable day-to-day commuter. The GTI’s seats are some of the more comfortable sport buckets you’ll find in the compact class with good inherent back support plus superb lateral support due to those deep bolsters noted earlier, but not so much that larger bodies will feel cramped or otherwise uncomfortable. Additionally, the rear seating area has plenty of room for average-sized adults, plus the seats are also comfortable with good lower back support. Still, I appreciated the size of the cargo area most of all, especially when the rear seats are lowered. So configured it becomes a little SUV, with ample room for loading multiple bags of luggage, small pieces of furniture, sports equipment or what-have-you. By the numbers it offers up 17.4 cubic feet when the variable-height cargo floor is placed higher for a flat loading floor or 23.7 cubic feet when lowered, or alternatively 53.7 cubic feet of capacity becomes available when the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks are laid flat.
Yes, the 2016 Golf GTI continues to be one of the best all-rounders for those who really love to drive. A regular Golf will more than satisfy if performance is secondary to practicality, a Golf SportWagen even more so, but for those who tend to tackle the cloverleaf highway onramp at double-digit speeds on the way to the office, take the longer more circuitous route home after work, and get all excited when the words “road trip” are uttered, few cars can match the all-round goodness of a Golf GTI.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press