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2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review: The Best to Date... Until Gen 8 Comes Along

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The reign of the Volkswagen Golf is coming to an end. The Wolfsburg-based automaker has decided to discontinue its beloved compact car after the 2021 model year, leaving the Jetta all by its lonesome in North America. Fans of pocket-sized performance can breathe a sigh of relief, however, since the GTI and R versions will continue on when the eighth generation of the German compact hits our continent in the fall.

And while we haven't had a chance to put either of these dynamic variants to the test yet, there's no doubt they'll be superior to the model we’ve had since 2015. But, as we await the new editions of those models, I got to drive, one last time, the most polished Golf ever produced – at least, until the succession arrives!

Here’s a portrait of the best Golf GTI to date.

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2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, front
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, front

A timeless silhouette
Like many Volkswagen models, the Golf VII has a design pretty much universally loved or at least accepted by the brand's regulars. The Golf GTI, while more aggressive in some ways, is cut from the same mould. Throughout, the GTI still has those little details that make it so endearing. The bumper, for example, is adorned with that thin red stripe - like most GTIs in history - and the lower portion, where the fog lights are crossed by black plastic fins, adds to the character of the Wolfsburg creation.

The profile is very classic, even if you do have that extra little badge on the front fenders - a detail it shares with the Jetta GLI - while the red painted brake calipers are hard to miss through those 18-inch wheels. As for the rear end of this German pocket rocket, it shows off dual chrome exhaust pipes and a small spoiler over the rear window. That's what a GTI is: a few visual tricks and that's it!

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, profile
Photo: Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, profile
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, interior
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, interior

No arguing with this interior
True to the brand's reputation, the Golf GTI is all about function, but actually the design of the dashboard is pretty impressive nonetheless. All of the everyday controls are grouped to the right of the driver, except for that knob for the headlights and fog lights on the left side. The multi-function steering wheel - I can't stress this enough - is as pleasant to hold as ever, and the multiple buttons on either side of the VW logo are relatively easy to use. Behind the steering wheel are a pair of analog dials and a small two-colour central display.

While you can find fault with the size of the two knobs for the audio system, the rest of the controls are super easy to use on a daily basis. And then there's that golf-ball-shaped knob, probably the pièce de résistance of this likable black, red and silver interior. Take note, the front row seats are more enveloping than in the popular Golf. For those of you who love the model’s traditional plaid seats, know that the 2021 model is exclusively available in the Autobahn trim, which comes out of the factory with leather buckets.

As for the rest, the Golf GTI has the same attributes as the Golf. Which means it’s every bit as practical as the car from which it is derived.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, front wheel
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, front wheel

A little devil
That means that a Volkswagen Golf GTI can play the role of a family car very well, as long as you don't have to transport any really big objects. But be that as it may, the GTI is first and foremost a car to have fun in, a super-agile, sporty, fast and even delinquent little devil when the situation allows it.

And VW gets its ABCs right: the driving position is perfect, the beautifully molded steering wheel delivers just enough information to the person holding it, and the gear shifter, while not the most precise in the industry, is downright fun to use, so much so in fact that sometimes you go overboard with the downshifts.

Then there are the drive modes that enhance the powertrain's response, plus the magic of electronics that even amplify the sound of the exhaust through the car's speakers. When you’re accelerating, braking and cornering, the GTI doesn't flinch, despite its front-wheel drive configuration.

But what really amazes me when I get out of this little German devil is how comfortable it is on a daily basis. Ok, it’s no Mercedes S-Class, but for a car with 18-inch wheels and a sport suspension, the GTI is much less harsh on the body than some of the other sports cars in its group, such as the Honda Civic Type R, which has to deal with 20-inch wheels and makes you feel the defects of the road under you much more intensely.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, three-quarters rear
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, three-quarters rear

The last word
The wait for the next generation is coming to an end, but for those who want a compact car designed and built to make you smile every time you hit the road, the 7th-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI is hard to beat. And if you don't like the price point or the limited choices offered with this 2021 edition, there's always the option of looking on the used market for an older GTI.

We like

The driving pleasure
The general comfort
The build quality

We like less

Only one version available in 2021 (Autobahn)
Reliability can be dodgy

The competition

Honda Civic Si / Type R
Hyundai Elantra N-Line
Hyundai Veloster N
Kia Forte GT / Forte 5 GT
Mazda3 GT / Turbo
MINI Cooper S / JCW
Subaru WRX / WRX STI
Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, badging
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI, badging

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Photos:V.Aubé
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI pictures