Whatever troubles VW is going through, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI is still the jewel in the company’s crown. This is the performance variant of VW’s excellent Golf compact hatchback, now in its seventh generation and really one of the most iconic modern European cars. It balances sprightly performance with agile handling while also bringing comfort and practicality into the mix. If the size works for you (and it’s surprisingly spacious), then this could be the perfect car. The GTI starts off with a two-door version costing $25,815 (including $820 destination charge).
2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI: New Car Review
What's New For 2016
This current generation debuted for the 2015 model year, so there are just a few equipment changes in the 2016 car. A rearview camera is now standard, along with an upgraded infotainment system, while higher trim levels also receive an updated suite of optional driver assistance features. Apple CarPlay is now available, which brings the iPhone’s easy-to-use operating system into the car’s touchscreen.
VW sets the GTI apart from the rest of the Golf range with a different lower front fascia, dedicated alloy wheel designs with 18-inch rims as standard, plus some red accents and those three little initials that mean so much on one side of the mesh-patterned grille. And a sports suspension means the GTI rides 0.6 inches lower than the regular Golf. Otherwise it’s the same handsome yet handy hatchback shape, with this generation looking a little more angular than the rounder previous model.
One recognizable aspect of GTI cars through the years has been a plaid-patterned seat cloth and that idea carries over to this generation, although leather is also available. The manual gear shift has dimples like a golf ball and there’s red ambient lighting to complement the red stitching. These things are kind of fun and help the interior convey something beyond the serious business of driving. But don’t worry, all the materials are of a sufficiently high quality that wouldn’t look out of place in a Mercedes-Benz. And the sporty looking flat-bottomed steering wheel would certainly seem at home in an AMG model.
In ascending degrees of plushness, the GTI comes in S, SE and Autobahn versions. The S comes with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with various function buttons, ambient lighting, LED fog lights and a Driving Mode selector. SE adds keyless access with push-button start/stop, leather seating surfaces, rain-sensing wipers, power sunroof and Fender-brand upgraded audio. Autobahn brings navigation as standard, automatic climate control and a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat.
Comfort & Cargo Capacity
The Germans tend to go for seats that might feel firm at first, but quickly impress with their shape and support. Long trips are a joy — you can stay alert throughout, but still not feel fatigued at the end. Naturally, all the other ergonomic factors are similarly well thought-out and executed. It’s easy to quickly feel at home in this cabin.
With the rear seats folded down, total cargo capacity is 52.7 cubic feet — one of the best figures in its class. Pull those seats up and the trunk area measured to the parcel shelf is a still-useful 16.5 cubic feet.
As well as six standard airbags and mandatory equipment like anti-locking brakes and traction control, every GTI comes with a post-collision braking feature. Imagine someone hits the GTI from behind, the brakes will be applied automatically to stop it hitting the vehicle in front (or at least lessen the impact). While we’re on the subject of anchors, a brake upgrade is available with larger discs.
The higher two trim levels (SE and Autobahn) offer the options of adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure assist, blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert, park distance control and park steering assist.
Just one engine powers the GTI, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder unit turbocharged to create 210 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. This drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. For those who prefer one less pedal, there’s the option of a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which adds $1,100 to the total.
Mileage is rated at 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway for the manual. The DSG is slightly thirstier to the tune of one mile per gallon on the highway. Hardly a deal-breaker.
The DSG system has a launch control for the optimum sprint from standstill to 60 mph. VW doesn’t publish any official times, but something in the region of 6.2 seconds is possible. Of course, any fool can be quick in a straight line — it’s the corners that really call for skills. In this respect, the GTI is incredibly flattering.
It has a cross-differential system that makes sure the front wheels are gripping as much as they can. It means the car feels agile and adept at transitioning from one direction to another. For those times when a more sedate approach is preferable, there’s a “Comfort” mode in the adaptive suspension.
Pros & Cons
Pros: Connectivity with VW Car-Net (which notifies emergency services if an airbag goes off) and wi-fi; remote vehicle access to lock/unlock doors, check on vehicle status, last place parked, etc.; Performance Package adds another 10 hp; standard Intelligent Crash Response system automatically shuts off fuel pump, unlocks doors and activates hazard warning lights; the 2015 model is an IIHS Top Safety Pick; as a whole, the 2016 Volkswagen GTI is an extremely attractive proposition.
Cons: Buying a version with every feature starts at $33,550 (including $820 destination charge); options can quickly bolster that final price.