Volkswagen's venerable GTI hatchback has always been an iconic and almost quintessential part of the greater hot hatch segment. From its handsome styling, to its punchy lineup of engines, the GTI certainly has the blueprints to be the perfect performance value. But, could it also serve as a glimpse into an alternate future?
That was the very question that this author faced when our Tornado Red GTI Sport tester arrived to spend some time at our humble Michigan outpost. You see, I almost purchased a GTI several years ago when the current generation Mk7 model was first unveiled to the world back in 2012. But a spring start to pre-ordering, as well as increasingly dire circumstances for my prior vehicle, temporarily curbed those ambitions, and eventually led to the fall purchase of a 2013 Buick Verano Turbo.
This unique opportunity to glimpse at what could've been, allowed us to get better acquainted with some of the attributes that have made the GTI a smash hit for enthusiasts all around the world. It all starts with the exterior styling which still retains a high level of sophistication, while still being crisp and distinctively boxy. The front fascia has an aura of confidence, and it benefits from the subtle styling tweaks that Volkswagen designers made to help it look more refined and aggressive. The side profile is a bit more on the functional side, but this is true of many hatchbacks, and helps bring out the GTI's versatility. The rear fascia is admittedly bland when compared to rivals like the Ford Focus ST, but the dual exhaust tips do help spruce things up somewhat.
The interior of the GTI also follows the nip and tuck theme, and is still a very upscale place to spend time in. Our tester had the trademark plaid colored cloth seats, and while Volkswagen does offer optional leather thrones in some trims, we recommend avoiding them, especially for those looking for the full GTI experience. The seats also do a good job providing commendable levels of support and help keep occupants nestled in even during spirited driving. Interior ergonomics are also top notch with many buttons and controls positioned within easy reach of the driver. Head and leg room were also quite good, though the chunky rear pillars produced blind spots that occasionally had us wish for a blind spot monitoring system.
A key attribute for our tester was the all new Sport package. A new addition for the 2017 model year, the Sport trim takes many of the GTI's most desirable equipment, and blends them into one handy package. In addition to the bi-xenon headlights, keyless entry system, and the upgraded infotainment system, it also adds the Performance Package into the equation which allows the GTI to access its full potential. As a bonus, this trim is the least expensive way to get the Performance package, and that should please budget minded enthusiasts looking for maximum bang for their hard earned buck.
Power comes from the familiar 2.0 liter turbocharged TFSI four cylinder engine, and while it is starting to show its age, the engine is still a very spirited partner with 210 horsepower on tap for base GTIs. Performance Package equipped models like our tester get a 10 horsepower bump to 220 horsepower as well as a limited slip differential, and larger brakes. The engine's 258 lb-ft of torque is distinctly noticeable in lower gears, and the exhaust note is aggressive, but without being obnoxious in the process.
Our tester featured the standard six speed manual gearbox, and it did an excellent job delivering smooth shifts that retain the accuracy that past GTI's have been known for. The long clutch travel was annoying during traffic, but that minor quirk goes away once the GTI has room to stretch its legs out on the open road. Volkswagen does offer the DSG automatic as an $1100 extra, but while its faster 5.6 second 0 to 60 time is a bit sharper than the manual's 5.9 second sprint, it also defeats the purpose of the GTI, and robs the driver of the excellent tactile feedback that the manual possesses.
While the engine may get the bulk of the spotlight, the GTI's chassis as well as the MQB platform underneath, help sharpen the car's handling, and it is easy to develop a rhythm through corners thanks in part to its laser sharp suspension, as well as its light steering. The ride quality is a bit more compliant then other sport compact offerings, but it still does a good job imitating the ride quality found in many luxury sport sedans, which is remarkable especially for a small hatchback.
Pricing for the 2017 Volkswagen GTI starts at $25,595 for the base S model, with SE and Autobahn grade cars crossing the $30,000 threshold. Our Sport trim tester is the middle child in the family, and rang in at $28,815 thanks to the $820.00 destination fee. This pricing is right on par with other hot hatch entries, and while the Focus ST may bring more power to consumers, it simply lacks the polish and refinement that makes the GTI standout in the hot hatch crowd. Overall, the 2017 Volkswagen GTI is the perfect package, and look for it to continue to be a strong choice for performance car enthusiasts for years to come.