In recent years, the dominant terms floating in and out of conversations within the automotive industry have been ‘electric’, ‘autonomous driving’ and ‘sport utility’. But manufacturers should take care not to neglect an old favourite among motorists: ‘driving pleasure’!
The price of a perma-smile while at the wheel needn’t be an exotic car; even affordable entry-level models can be had with a modicum of sportiness. Think Mazda’s CX-3, for example.
For a few more dollars, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is proof that a simple compact hatchback can become a highly pleasurable daily mode of transportation. And actually, it’s a bit of a VW trademark to offer sporty performance in an affordable car. In Europe they’re known as ‘hot hatches’; the North American translation is ‘sport compacts’.
However you want to label it, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the one that virtually launched the category of sport compacts, is back in 2018 with a few modifications that offer a window into future editions of the GTI, and of the Golf itself.
GTI owners are a faithful lot, and to keep them that way Volkswagen’s engineers have held on to the 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine with direct injection. The total output of 220 hp is not as explosive as what you get with the Ford Focus ST, for example, but more power is no guarantee of success.
The GTI’s recipe also stays relatively unchanged in terms of its configuration. The powertrain is still front-wheel drive. However, the addition last year of the XDS (electronic cross differential locking) system significantly improves handling when cornering at speed. In other words, under-steering is no issue.
We should also mention that our tester was equipped with a dual-clutch transmission, also known as a DSG, and that this transmission is simply wonderful for drivers who refuse to use a third pedal.
Same old interior, except...
This GTI is a Volkswagen, and by this I mean that the level of execution is just a little bit better than the competition. Materials are of good quality, the ergonomics are resolutely “Germanic” and the seating is very comfortable, just enveloping enough for sporty runs on winding roads.
I’m a fan of those seats with checked fabric (code name: Clark), and, as I mentioned, the seating position is ideal. The steering wheel, designed to encourage inspired driving, also serves as a model for others to follow, although I found that the paddle shifters could do with being a little larger!
Unfortunately, this short springtime test drive was bedeviled by an “insignificant” detail, one just above the occupants’ heads. The power sunroof on this Autobahn version emitted a repetitive cracking noise that could be masked only by cranking the audio system up to Spinal Tap levels. Not the recommended solution to the problem, to be sure! It’s the kind of annoying plastic-y sound that just might make me think twice about opting for the Autobahn edition.
At the wheel of a gem
The 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI is, in every sense, a mature sport compact. Quick during accelerations, the five-door VW eats up the kilometres without breaking a sweat. The suspension is firm when it’s needed, but supple enough to erase most of the road’s imperfections. The steering is fantastically precise, without being so heavy as to make driving a chore.
Some may find fault with the “artificial” sound of the engine, particularly at low RPM, but you get used to the music it produces fairly quickly. As expected, the 6-speed transmission is as efficient as ever in its different drive modes, whether you’re in automatic or manual mode. There’s still that slight hesitation when the light first turns green, but once under way the Golf GTI make you forget all about that in a hurry.
Just as it’s undeniably true that the Golf GTI makes itself highly seductive for drivers who want to have fun, it also know to appeal to motorists’ more reasonable side. A two-hour trek from Montreal to the beautiful region around Ottawa (and back) allowed me to appreciate the frugality of the GTI. With an average mostly-highway fuel consumption of around 7L/100 km, the pocket rocket wins points for fuel economy – and in 2018, those are very highly valued points!
The 2018 edition
Casual observers may not even notice, but the VW design team did bring some changes to the chassis this year. The Golf GTI still rests on the platform of the 7th-generation Golf, so you get that very-recognizable silhouette, but the car’s two ends have been slightly reworked.
The front end gets changes to the design of the openings in the bumpers, while the light clusters get a new design signature. The red-lettered GTI badge is of course present for duty on the right side of the front grille, as it has been since the model debuted back in the 70s. In back, the lights are also new, while redesigned 18-inch alloy wheels are introduced for the 2018 model-year.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is not exactly a bargain: it starts at $39,045, before counting taxes and delivery costs. Budget-minded consumers looking for a charge of adrenaline should rather look to the base model, which goes for around $30,000; but for that you get the manual gearbox, 17-inch wheels and no sunroof. Also worth noting is that drive assist systems are not to be found among the options offered on that car.
When it comes to vehicle models, the middle child is often the one with the best qualities to offer for the price. And as it happens, the Golf GTI holds the middle ground in between the regular Golf and the Type R. As a feel-good mode of daily transportation, the GTI is pretty darn hard to beat!