2018 Volkswagen GTI is a proven winner

By Peter Hubbard


(June 13, 2018) Volkswagen has been cranking out its popular Golf models for some 40-plus years – and in that time it’s steadily moved up the sales chart to become the second most popular vehicle ever produced, with worldwide sales of over 30 million units — second only to the venerable Ford F-Series pickup truck, which leads all comers with sales topping 40 million.

In addition, VW helped pioneer the inexpensive, economical “pocket-rocket,” segment with the launch of the GTI model in 1976.

The new 2018 version tested here is now the second year of the 8th generation GTI.  And thanks to a boatload up upgrades and new 21st Century technology, the latest iteration is probably the best GTI that VW has ever offered.  While I haven’t driven all eight, I have driven at least four previous variants — and grin widely every time I  recall the adventures we had.

After a fun-filled week behind the wheel of the 2018 VW Golf GTI 2.0T SE, it’s clear VW has taken everything they’ve learned over the past four decades, and used that knowledge to craft a truly enjoyable little “go-faster-mobile.”

If you ever stumbled across a traveling carnival as a kid, and had the wonderful experience of riding a scary roller coaster or driving go-karts, the new 2018 GTI is sure to transport you back to those memories of childhood glee. 

Sure, it was a bit scary at first, but you hung on for dear life, and felt those wonderful goose bumps rising over every inch of your skin.  That’s kind of how it feels when driving curvy and hilly roads in the GIT, or when careening around that freeway U-turn lane at 40 mph with the tires squealing with delight, as you accelerate through with a jagged smile on your face — and a fine sense of accomplishment.  


Motivating this light and tossable little pocket rocket is a 220-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Ours came mated to a buttery-smooth 6-speed manual, but an optional 6-speed DSG automatic is also available.

The Golf TSI models use a 1.8-liter turbo engine available with a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. For those preferring an even more thrilling joy ride, Volkswagen has unleashed an even quicker 292-horsepower 2.0-liter Golf R that comes with all-wheel drive and either a 6-speed manual or an available 7-speed DSG automatic. Unleaded regular is recommended on the 1.8-liter TSI, while premium fuel is suggested for the 2.0-liter GTI and R models. 

For those wanting simply point A-to-B, grocery-getter capability, VW provides S and SE trim levels. The little hatchbacks have prices starting around $21,000 with a manual transmission and a 170-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine under the hood, rated at an impressive 25 mpg city, and 36 mpg highway.

Both get new, larger 6.5-inch infotainment touch screens and refreshed front and rear styling that includes LED daytime running lights. All are now backed by VW’s new 6-year/72,000-mile limited warranty — one of the longest in the industry.

Volkswagen also offers three “specialty” models, including the Golf SportWagen, an all-wheel-drive Alltrack wagon, and the all-electric version dubbed the e-Golf, which employs an electric motor with an estimated range of 125 miles. It can recharge in about six hours on a 240-volt outlet and is compatible with DC fast-charging stations.


The 2018 VW Golf is clearly one of the most attractive cars in the compact class. While its shape is not all that different than the original Golf models that replaced the VW Rabbit over 40 years ago, these new Golf models are sleeker, with a more tailored look. 

They feature crisp character lines, a steeper hood and a narrow horizontal grille flanked by handsome headlight clusters. The car sits lower to the ground and has a nice wide track, giving it the kind of muscular, purposeful look you want in a car that offer more than the average level or performance. 

The GTI comes with its own distinctive grille, bumper and side skirts, plus a rear spoiler and chrome-tipped exhaust pipes. Out test unit featured White Silver metallic paint outside and rides on beefy 18-inch rubber and styled alloy wheels. 


The overall interior design is upscale and maybe a bit understated with high-quality materials, soft-touch surfaces. The cabin has generous shoulder room in both rows. Cargo volume is 16.5 cubic feet below the parcel shelf and 22.8 cubic feet to the roof. The rear seat has a 60/40-split rear-folding back, expanding the load space to 52.7 cubic feet when lowered.

Our 2018 Golf GTI was chocked full of new convenience, safety and technology features. There are 6-way adjustable cloth buckets standard, with sporty red stitched accents and heating elements to warm those cold fall and winter mornings. Our unit had the optional leather seats. Enthusiasts must move up to the Golf R to get leather seats. Facing the driver is a multi-function 3-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel.  In the footwell is a stainless steel pedal cluster, and the door-sill scuff plates and nicely illuminated. 

The console features an 8-inch touch screen that houses the VW’s infotainment system that includes AM/FM/HD and satellite radio, USB inputs CD player.  It also which helps control navigation, the Fender 8-speaker premium audio system and the rearview camera display. Speaking of the Golf R, is comes with VW's DCC adaptive-damping system which can tailor the car’s driving modes to Comfort, Normal or Race settings.

In the safety arena, the Golf GTI comes with side-curtain airbags in addition to those in the dash panel and seat side bolsters. A stronger set of brakes in the GTI’s  ABS system is augmented with all kinds of active safety features, including Anti-Slip Regulation, Engine Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Control and Electronic Differential Locks.

 It also comes with an Intelligent Crash Response System, a key element of the car’s Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking control unit.  It also features blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert.  

While front-seat passengers will find the cabin snug and friendly, the main drawback — common to virtually all small hatchbacks — is a rear seating area with precious little leg room. So don’t plan on carting four adults any distance, and expect much in the way of comfort for those in back.


The VW
GTI has long been one of my favorite compacts, offering a delightful blend of style and performance. And this latest version is the quietest and most refined yet.  The GTI is not just sporty, it’s almost scary quick.  Throttle responsive is immediate and pleasing, with the potent little turbocharged engines providing excellent acceleration — and no hint of turbo lag. 

The suspension is also first-rate. It handles better than most compacts and works well to smooth out rough and curvy roads.

While we enjoyed moving through the gears of our 6-speed manual, buyers who choose the excellent DSG dual-clutch automatic can be shifted manually via steering-wheel paddle shifters.

Visibility is above average thanks to the VW Golf’s large windows and thin pillars. Supportive and well-shaped, the driver’s seat is height adjustable, and a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel comes standard. 


The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the VW Golf S model is around $22,000 including destination charges, which is competitive against comparably equipped Kia Forte, Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza.

The sporty GTI starts at just over $27,000 and tops out around $37,000 for the DSG-equipped Autobahn.  Our test unit carried an MSRP of $30,470.  The only option charge was for the leather interior package, priced at $695. Freight charges brought the total up to an affordable $32,015.

The Golf R starts around $40,500. The e-Golf begins right around $32,000 before incentives and is available in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C.


The Volkswagen Golf GTI has long been an enthusiast favorite.  To give you an idea of HOW long it’s enjoyed that status, just know that it’s managed to make Car & Driver magazine’s coveted “10 Best” list for the last 12 years in a row.  And as noted earlier, it’s been pleasing budget-conscious hot shoes, worldwide, for over four decades now. 

So if you’re looking for an affordable, stylish, fuel-efficient, tech-laden and fun-to-drive compact, the GTI checks ALL the boxes. It also boasts high safety ratings, class-leading fit-and-finish and the kind of European flair you might expect from a German car company. No doubt about it — it’s a proven winner.