Ace of Base: 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI S
Ages ago, the GTI was a trim level of the Golf, bringing the heat to a funky little hatchback and virtually creating a segment. Now, there are actually three different flavors of GTI: S, SE, and Autobahn.
Given the vast gulf in price of the three, and my love for affordable yet fun wheels, your humble author naturally thinks the base model leads the way.
Wolfsburg dug around in its offices and backrooms a few years ago, finding a few extra ponies for the GTI. It now produces 220 horsepower out of its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four along with 258 lb-ft of torque, so long as you feed it a diet of premium unleaded. A tasty six-speed standard is, well, standard at the reasonable sticker price of $26,415.
Snazzy LED lamps jazz up the front and rear of the S, belying its cheapest-of-the-trio stature. Inside, Bluetooth and (finally) a USB port appears, as does a backup camera. It does have the smaller infotainment screen, though. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped and the heated front seats are covered in natty Clark Plaid.
This feature alone is one of the many reasons why I prefer the GTI to the R, as the R – while an absolute rocket of a machine – continually comes across as taking itself far too seriously. Driving one is like having a really hot date … but you know they’re just not that into you. The GTI doesn’t feel like that at all.
The S gets what VW calls a Cross Differential System, an electronic substitute for a mechanical limited-slip differential. It monitors data from sensors for each wheel and, by gently applying the brake to the inside wheel during a turn, can help reduce understeer. It’s no substitute for a true mechanical diff, but it’s a heckuva lot better than plowing straight ahead into the weeds.
An expected alphabet soup of safety assistants are on board the S, including ESC, HBA, ASR, EDL, EBA, HBA, ABS, WTF, and LOL. Save the last two, they all apparently work together to keep drivers out of the ditch by working the brakes and keeping things shiny side up. Barring all that, there are enough airbags to briefly turn the interior into a marshmallow.
Much to this author’s delight, a full septet of colors are available at no charge, include the bizarre but beautiful Great Falls Green shown above. Night Blue Metallic is also tasty, but this is one car in which I would pass on a red shade. Here, it neatly cancels out the GTI’s signature red grille trim. Contrasting colors are better, full stop. Every 2018 VW, except for the e-Golf, also gets a new sorry-about-those-diesels warranty that extends comprehensive coverage to six years or 72,000 miles.
The SE and Autobahn trims of the GTI are a $4,055 and $8,655 walks from the S respectively, no small amount of change. While it is true the more expensive trims have a better set of brakes and diff, I can’t help but notice the amount of performance kit one could buy and install for those amounts at my local VW speed shop.
This is one case in which I’ll gladly say yes to the S.
Not every base model has aced it. The ones which have? They help make our automotive landscape a lot better. Any others you’d like to see in our series? Let us know in the comments. Naturally, feel free to eviscerate our selections.
The model above is shown with American options and is priced in Freedom Dollars. As always, your dealer will probably sell for less.
Mike on Mar 02, 2018
Was shopping leftover 2017 GTIs and found an amazing deal... in Atlanta. Went to the local dealer and asked if they could compete, or even just come down to negate the cost to transport the car or go retrieve it, and was told if I could get such a great deal in Atlanta then go buy it. Somebody else will buy this car for what we're asking. Alright then. So that's what I did. Should be here next week. VW dealers. Ammirite?
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