2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn Review - All-around Virtue, or the Auto Journalist's Perfect Car

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (220 horsepower @ 4,700 rpm; 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm)
Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
25 city / 33 highway / 28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.6 city, 7.2 highway, 8.5 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$35,070 (U.S) / $35,895 (Canada)
As Tested
$35,920 (U.S.) / $37,640 (Canada)
Prices include $850 destination charge in the United States and $1,745 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 volkswagen golf gti autobahn review all around virtue or the auto

There’s a reason why the Volkswagen Golf GTI is fetishized by journalists and enthusiasts as perhaps the perfect daily-driver sporty car.

Because if it isn’t, it’s damn near close.

Changes for 2018 were minimal. The 2018 got a mild standard horsepower bump (assuming you’re using premium fuel) to 220, up from 210. Other changes included a reshuffled trim lineup, newly available LED headlights, larger infotainment, and driver-assist tech that was now standard on the SE and Autobahn trims. It also gained the Golf R’s brakes and an available electronically controlled limited-slip differential.

Torque from the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is listed at 258 lb-ft, and that’s enough to move with alacrity, if not authority. Sure, a Honda Civic Type R offers more torque and more urgent acceleration, and the Subaru WRX feels a bit stronger (despite having the same torque output), but the GTI will still give you the grins when passing.

As usual, it remains a blast to hustle through corners. The steering could use a little more heft, but it’s accurate, and the car just moves through a turn in a fashion that puts a smile on your face. The strut-type suspension with anti-roll bar up front and the rear multilink with roll-bar unit work together to give you a car that turns in urgently yet smoothly, with some rear-end rotation if you play things right. Yet freeway ride isn’t sacrificed, at least not by much.

Although I don’t recall there ever being beef about the GTI’s previous brakes, the addition of the Golf R’s brakes is welcome. Stout braking is necessary during hard cornering, and the GTI won’t leave you worrying about getting the right amount of deceleration dialed in.

The six-speed manual transmission remains a gem, even if throws are a bit looser than I’d like, and even if the clutch engagement could use some stiffening up. It’s not just a joy to row during hard driving, but also during sedate commuting.

Ah, yes. Commuting. The GTI doesn’t just exist to be driven hard, but to get you to the office the rest of the time. Or the grocery store. Part of the reason the car gets so many plaudits is because of its utility. Not only does it give up little in ride quality, but the hatchback shape gives it a leg up over its sedan and coupe competitors (the Type R is also hatchbacked). Nearly 23 cubic feet of cargo space compared to the WRX’s 12 is a good selling point for VW.

As per usual with Volkswagens, the interior is functional to the point of being a bit boring. Awash in black and familiar by now, the cabin is pleasant, and red trim accents do break up the monotony a bit. Most of the materials feel appropriate for the price point, but there are areas in which the cockpit materials feel underwhelming for a car that costs 35 large.

The GTI’s appeal is, of course, based on more than sportiness or its ability to handle the duties of daily driving. Content matters, and the Autobahn trim offers smartphone integration (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto) while also offering up a navigation system, dual-zone climate control, leather seats, heated seats, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, keyless entry and starting, satellite radio, premium audio, panoramic sunroof, and 18-inch wheels.

You can have your cake and eat it, too – the GTI will pass by fuel pumps, thanks to its 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway/28 mpg combined EPA ratings (yes, I know – your mileage will vary).

So, you get a car that’s a blast to drive, with hatchback utility and respectable fuel economy. Its styling is more sedate than that of the boy-racer Type R, it’s less stiffly sprung than a WRX, and doesn’t have the three-door weirdness of the cheaper Hyundai Veloster N. Yes, a Civic Si undercuts it in price, but only when compared against the SE and Autobahn trims. Not to mention the Si isn’t available with a hatchback or some of the available features of the GTI.

No wonder seemingly every auto journalist recommends the GTI to those who want an affordable daily driver that’s also fun to drive. The overall packaging makes up for any flaws, or for any individual aspects in which the GTI doesn’t compare favorably to certain competitors.

No car is perfect. But for many scribes, and many buyers, the GTI comes closest.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Join the conversation
2 of 59 comments
  • TomLU86 TomLU86 on Mar 04, 2019

    No problems in 30k is nice. It's when the car is out of warranty when you find out how reliable it is. It's bad enough to have problems that are annoying or expensive or both, but in a way it's worse when they are on a car you like, than some mundane wheels like a Dodge Avenger. What's interesting is all the commentary generated by the VW GTI--lots of interest here online, but their sales are not lighting the world on fire. By comparison, when I was 20, I sense there were a lot more Rabbit GTIs sold. And that's the problem. There are not enough people like us to generate enough sales. And this feeds the cycle of fewer enthusiast cars. So, when you save for 6 years to be able to afford to buy a BMW 3 and pay it off in 36 months, it's disappointing when you discover that you can only get it with an automatic. So much for the ultimate driving machine... Still, I think the GTI with a manual trans is the best overall car for sale in the US.

  • MorrisGray MorrisGray on Dec 10, 2019

    Is anyone using regular 87 octane in the GTI ? As stated it only requires 87 octane but to achieve the 228hp/258torque ratings, premium fuel 91+ must be used. ...... Just curious

  • Tassos The EQS is the best looking BEV, better than even the only Tesla I would ever consider (the S) and more luxurious inside etc etcThe self driving features will come in handy when I'm 110 and my eyesight and reaction times start to suffer.But that's four decades away, and only Tim recommends 40 year old "used cars"
  • Tassos "Baby, Baby light my fire!""Oh God please give me a Kia Forte" --Janis Joplin
  • Tassos The fugly looks of any Subaru, and especially the non-sporty non-elegant, fugly, low-rent looks and interior of the WRX are alone a sufficient turnoff to never want to own one.One can be a 100% car enthusiast but ALSO demand a beautiful AND luxurious vehicle one can be truly proud of and which makes one very happy every time one drives it.The above is obviously totally foreign to Subaru Designers and managers.
  • Thehyundaigarage Am I the only one that sees a Peugeot 508?
  • Lou_BC I realized it wasn't EV's burning by the absence of the usual suspects.