2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn Review

The magic continues


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Excellent driving dynamics, remarkably good turbo 4 is responsive and strong, great 6-speed manual, mature but fun styling, great infotainment system.
Negatives: Controls are on the small side, back seats lack legroom, may impart an overly youthful reputation for the driver.
Bottom Line: The GTI continues to be one of the best performance bargains around. You get room, great looks, a scintillating driving experience, and a comfortable interior even if you don't want to pony up for the top trim Autobahn.
Ask anyone who knows anything about driving, and surely the VW GTI will emerge on their list of best driving consumer cars out there. And it's been doing it for decades, unlike those who have fallen by the wayside. The GTI has been built since the '70s and it's an icon in the automotive world. It's now its best iteration yet in the 7th generation of the model. The current version began its life in 2013, so it's due for a redesign soon. We drove the top trim Autobahn for a week to see if its greatness remains uninterrupted. Read on for full details.
 

Driving Experience

9.2

 

If you want to have a great time driving each and every day, the GTI will easily fit the bill. Well-powered, nimble, connected, and just plain fun, the GTI is one of our favorites.

Ride Quality: Firm but compliant. It's a great blend that means good road feel and good absorption of the bumps and gaps you'll encounter.

Acceleration: Though the optional dual-clutch is faster, the six-speed is our favorite for total driver engagement. 0-60 comes in six seconds flat. Not super fast but no slouch, either. It feels responsive all the time.

Braking: Brakes are strong and have good progression on the pedal. But since the Autobahn is heavier than the SE by over a hundred pounds, braking distances aren't great but are still quite good.

Steering: The GTI has great steering that's on the light side but has plenty of feedback. Turn in is very quick, almost immediate.

Handling: There's minimal body roll, and you can toss it into corners without much understeer.The Autobahn also benefits from standard three-mode adaptive dampers that adjust to driving.

Technology

8.4

 

The new system is better than before in terms of responsiveness and features, and our Autobahn benefitted from the bigger screen.

Infotainment System: It isn't the fancies system around, but it works very well. Proximity sensors know our hand is approaching and sends up the menu quickly. The graphics are easy to read and options aren't buried under layers.

Controls: There are normal physical knobs and buttons for audio, infotainment and climate controls, but they could be larger.

Styling

8.7

 

The GTI isn't the flashiest hot hatch around since the general shape of the Golf is conservative but still handsome. The GTI does add some flashy trim bits and aggressive wheels, so people will still notice.

Front: Other than the new Atlas SUV and the coming Arteon sedan, no one will accuse VW of making bold fascias. But we still like the sportiness of the GTI with its red strip at the base of the grille that extends into the headlights, and the racy strakes on the foglight housings.

Rear: The thin LED taillights are handsome, and we love the simple round VW logo hatch release, and the twin round pipes.

Profile: The lack of chrome is nice, and we like the clean shape with minimal creasing. Red appointments on the brake calipers and the fender badge are nice touches.

Cabin: We'd call the inside conservatively sporty with its dark atmosphere and red trim. Nothing's overstyled, and it looks good as a result.

Comfort

8.2

 

It's no family car, but there's plenty of space for two. We love the GTI as an urban sports car since it's daily usable and just enough for most folks who aren't looking to haul adults in all four positions.

Front Seats: The sport bucket seats are just about perfect with excellent support and cushioning.

Rear Seats: It's tight back there, but the seats are nicely contoured. The roof allows for good headroom even if the legroom is a bit short for adults.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The pleasant throatiness of the engine doesn't get intruded upon by errant cabin noises. This is a well-made car.

Visibility: The seating position is great, and visibility is very good. Only the rear view's C-pillar can obscure things a little.

Climate: Heated seats and dual-zone climate both work very well in chilly climes. We would like to see better physical climate controls.

Safety

6.8

 

Though the 2018 GTI doesn't nail the crash tests from the IIHS, it scores high with the feds, and it does have an excellent set of safety tech that comes standard on the Autobahn trim level.

IIHS Rating: It misses the top scores due to "acceptable" in the passenger small overlap crash test and and only "basic" front crash prevention technology.

NHTSA Rating: 5 stars, the top score from the federal government.

Standard Tech: Our tester came with a robust set including a rear view camera, Parking Steering Assistant, Park Distance Control, Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Control, and Adaptive Cruise Control.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

8.8

 

Though the second row seats aren't roomy, there's a lot of space for stuff in the GTI. It impressed us with capacious cargo room and a decent level of interior storage.

Storage Space: The center stack's cubby with its retractable door is great for small items, but it's not big enough for a large smartphone. At least the armest is good for that, and the door pockets are convenient.

Cargo Room: The amount of space here is almost shocking. It's got 17.4 cubic feet behind the second row and 53.7 with the seats folded, both bigger than the versatile Honda Fit.

Fuel Economy

7.7

 

We rarely see really great fuel efficiency since we tend to drive our sporty testers hard. That being said, the GTI still did very well. The turbo four isn't overly thirsty, but it remains an excellent engine.

Observed: 24.7 mpg

Distance Driven: 112.3 miles

Driving Factors: We did a lot of stop and go city driving, so our mileage was pretty good, considering.

Audio

8.9

 

The upgraded Fender audio system is standard on the GTI Autobahn, and it's a really great one that delivers strong volume without distortion and great bass and clarity. It's one of the best systems we've come across in a car like this.



Final Thoughts

Though we're big fans of rear-wheel drive sporty cars, the GTI Autobahn gives us ear-to-ear smiles every time we hop in. There's no noticeable torque steer, and the GTI manages power incredibly well, maximizing its FWD abilities. It's also seriously comfortable with a great interior and very compliant on the road thanks to its adaptive suspension. For 2019, the GTI will get 8 more horses, which will up the fun factor even more. This is one of the best driving cars for the money. You just have to be willing to look either younger than you are our totally out of place if you're over 40, which we are.
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