2018 Volkswagen GTI S Review - The One-car Solution

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2018 Volkswagen GTI S

2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, DOHC (220 hp @ 4700 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1700 rpm)
Six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive
25 city / 33 highway / 28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
27.4 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $27,265
As Tested: $27,265
Prices include $850 freight charge.
2018 volkswagen gti s review the one car solution

Depending on how pedantic you feel like being, one can argue that the original Volkswagen GTI was not the first hot hatch. Alec Issigonis, with the revolutionary Mini, clearly inspired Volkswagen to move to the space-saving front-engine, front-drive, two-box form factor, even though the Austin/Morris original never had a true hatchback. No matter. Whatever the lineage, there’s no arguing that keeping mechanical bits in a separate box from the fleshy bits can yield impressive room from a small car.

My personal fleet reflects my typical suburban middle-class life — a minivan, a body-on-frame midsize SUV, and a midlife crisis disguising itself as a roadster-shaped shelf in the garage, not to mention the press car gravy train making frequent stops. And while my wife and I drive separately to our respective offices, pretty much all other times we are together in a single car.

I sometimes forget that many families throughout the world really don’t have a use for multiple vehicles — they need one that does everything. Hauling people, hauling stuff — one car does it all. That’s where the two-box solution shines. And if the driver likes driving, the minimal weight and compact dimension are a natural plus. So, the 2018 Volkswagen GTI is quite clearly shaping up to be a perfect one-car solution.

Like many enthusiasts with more time than cash, I’ll often peruse manufacturer websites for the configurators, looking for the best combination of features and price. Almost invariably, I end up at some significant multiplier of the base price, as the good stuff isn’t available on the bargain basement trim. Matthew Guy, I am not.

Except for this Ace of Base GTI S. The least expensive trim in the catalog is most certainly the one I’d buy with my own money. Higher trims offer a sunroof, LED headlamps, power driver’s seat, leather seats, keyless starting, and adaptive cruise control. While nice features, I don’t need them — and in the case of the seats, I want the lovely Clark Plaid cloth. Were I forced to select the top-trim Autobahn package, I’d seek out a wrecked S trim car and swap the leather for the cloth.

Back to the utility factor of the two-box form. Beyond my usual commute, I spent the weekend with the GTI shuttling two kids between softball, soccer, and cheerleading events. All of that sporting gear, plus camp chairs and coolers, fit easily in the 22.8 cubic foot cargo area without folding the seats.

The kids had plenty of legroom behind me, and — unusually — I had enough room to slide the front seat forward from the rearmost position comfortably. I’ll admit the power recline mechanism on an otherwise-manual seat is unusual, but the adjustments were simple to make. Take away the rest of the car, and I’d buy the GTI for the seats.

Thankfully, the rest of the car is just as brilliant. The six-speed manual transmission’s shifter is just a bit rubbery — the Mazda3 has a slightly better feel when shifting quickly — but the clutch action on this Volkswagen is linear, almost buttery smooth. As most cars I drive don’t have a clutch pedal, I’ll admit the first couple drives in a new-to-me manual will reveal a lack of left-foot/right-hand coordination with a stall or two. It never happened in the GTI.

The ride in the GTI is a touch firm for seriously pockmarked roads, which isn’t helped by the standard forty-series tires on 18-inch wheels. Otherwise, highway drives are calm and quiet, with bumps registering with a muted thump and controlled body motions. The electrically-assisted power steering has none of the vagueness typical of other EPS systems, with a direct feel and quick turn-in.

Drive this Volkswagen conservatively, upshifting at low revs with deliberate pedal and shifter action, and it’s a calm, quiet experience befitting the ideal city car. The basic infotainment system, with Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, works intuitively and sounds good enough for my ears. Only when you let the tachometer swing past straight-up noon does the hot-hatch nature reveal itself, with a menacing-yet-muted feline growl coming from deep within the car.

There’s 258 lb-ft of torque available at a low 1,500 rpm, so shifting isn’t strictly necessary when passing slower cars on the interstate. However, the sound can be addictive when you do drop a gear or two and you’re a child like me.

When you do break off the highway onto one of those roads laid out by the meander of a creekbed rather than the clinical shovel of a civil engineer, third gear is your friend in the GTI. Up and down ridges, around a mottled grey sycamore, and past the old bait shop, the roadholding is confidence-inspiring.

Indeed, while the GTI is clearly descended from hot hatches of old, there’s a bit of classic sports sedan deep within the soul of this truly great car. Composure over all road conditions is a hallmark of the iconic German sports sedans of old, and this VW delivers just like those legends.

Really, I’m convinced that everyone needs a Volkswagen GTI. It has the cargo room of a compact crossover, the driving manners of a good sports sedan, and the compact dimensions of a commuter. Plus the six-year, 72k-mile warranty eases the mind. Call me a jaded journalist, but it’s likely the one car I’d buy with my own (imaginary, remember, I’m a journalist) money.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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2 of 86 comments
  • Hreardon Hreardon on Jun 28, 2018

    Owner of a 2016 MT Autobahn, and I couldn't be happier. I replaced my 2006 A3 with a GTI after trying to convince myself that I wanted a B8 A4 or the (then) new S3. The A4 just wasn't doing it for me, and the S3 was great - but sterile. The GTI just felt right. It really is a "goldilocks" car. It's going to be hard for VW to not screw up everything great about the MK7 when its successor debuts in about 18 months. Similarly, it's going to be hard to convince me that an A3/A4/3-Series is going to be worth the premium when the time comes.

  • Bkrell Bkrell on Oct 08, 2018

    Late to this post but used this it to convince myself I wanted a GTI. I haven't had a German car since my 1982 BMW 320i. This car reminds me of that but more power. I'm gonna throw out there that the shifter feel is much better than my 2012 Civic Si that I had a few cars back (I buy often). I don't miss shifts with this manual. I did all the time in the Si. There's a little more lag down low than I was anticipating. It reminds me of my 1997 SAAB 900 in that respect. But damn, the handling. I've never had a car that felt like a go-cart as much as this one does. Yet it was just fine for a 3.5 hr each way interstate trip this past weekend.

  • SCE to AUX I charge at home 99% of the time, on a Level 2 charger I installed myself in 2012 for my Leaf. My house is 1967, 150-Amp service, gas dryer and furnace; everything else is electric with no problems. I switched from gas HW to electric HW last year, when my 18-year-old tank finally failed.I charge at a for-pay station maybe a couple times a year.I don't travel more than an hour each way in my Ioniq 1 EV, so I don't deal much with public chargers. Despite a big electric rate increase this year, my car remains ridiculously cheap to operate.
  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.