|Positives: The perfect balance of practicality and fun, nimble handling characteristics, near-perfect level of power for urban fun, responsive dual clutch transmission, roomy interior, easy infotainment and ergonomics.|
|Negatives: Some small-ish controls, a lot of plastic inside, wheels welcome curb rash.|
|Bottom Line: The last year of the 7th-generation GTI shows both the legendary genes that made the GTI a hot hatch performance stalwart and a bit of age. VW may have created the perfect balance of practicality and driving thrills, but the Golf GTI needs to move to the next step now that great offerings from other manufacturers have arrived.|
The GTI gets a boost in the horsepower department. It's noticeable but not dramatic, but it didn't really need the upgrades since it was already almost perfectly potent. Frankly, its front tires are about maxed out when it comes to putting down the power. The GTI is so well balanced, composed, and agile that we can't imagine it getting better.
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, we still prefer the manual. Our DSG automatic transmission trimmed model hits 60 mph in just under six seconds, and throttle response and shifting are quick.
Braking: Brakes are strong and the pedal has linear progression with great feel. Stopping distances are a bit longer than the GTI SE because it weighs 100 pounds more.
Steering: The GTI has great steering that's light but has great feedback. Turn in is almost immediate and on-center, too.
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 habits.
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.
The GTI is youthful in its appearance. It's sporty without being flashy and handsome in a conservative way. The only things that stand out are the big alloy rims. The rest remains muted but attractively so.
Front: The GTI gets racier styling than the base Golf thanks to its red strip at the base of the grille that extends into the headlights, and the black fork-like strakes on the foglight housings.
Rear: The thin LED taillights are handsome, and the back end is well-balanced. Twin round pipes are a nice touch that nod to more classic styling than the current slew of ellipsoid 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: The GTI's interior is handsome but conservative with its dark coloring. Red trim bits up the styling, but nothing's overdone. The flat-bottom steering wheel is excellent, but we don't like the plethora of piano black trim everywhere.
The GTI's front row occupants will feel comfortable thanks to good seats and an airy feel. It gets a little tight in back, but average adults can still get back there. Overall, it's a very practical interior that's well suited for most folks.
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.
The GTI gets scored higher this year (compared to 2018) thanks to better scoring from the IIHS with some qualifications. Nothing's changed about how the GTI is designed, though. Overall, it's a very safe car, and the Autobahn trim gets the full bevy of available safety measures for the model.
IIHS Rating: Now, the IIHS gives the GTI for 2019 the Top Safety Pick rating, as opposed to 2018 when it missed it. The caveat is that you have to get it with the upgraded headlights and optional front crash prevention, hence the score bump from us. It misses the top award due to "acceptable" in the passenger small overlap crash test.
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.
The Golf family is big on usable space, and the GTI swallows gear with the rear seats folded down. Despite a smaller back seat that some competitors, the hatchback setup makes for great cargo hauling.
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: There's a very usable 17.4 cubic feet behind the second row thanks to a flat floor and wide opening and 53.7 with the seats folded.
When you drive a GTI the way it was meant to be driven, you don't get stellar numbers. That being said, the GTI is both potent and decently efficient. We got better numbers with the DCT than we did with the manual transmission.
Observed: 25.2 mpg
Distance Driven: 88 miles
The upgraded Fender audio system is standard on the GTI Autobahn, and it's a very good premium system. It has solid and bass and good clarity.