2.0T Autobahn Edition
by Paul Herrold
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of those rare automobiles that when someone asks you, “Hey, what do you drive?” you don’t even need to say the name of the manufacture (Volkswagen) or even the name of the model (Golf): just say, “GTI” and everyone, seriously everyone, will know exactly what you are talking about. It’s the “people’s car” that does everything very well combining speed, handling, room, build quality and affordability all in one package making it one of the best values on the motorway. This year marks the last time you can purchase the 7th generation (Mk7) of the GTI as the new 8th generation (Mk8), already available in Europe, is on its way – but that doesn’t mean you should scratch this car off your shopping list. Although the Mk7 version has been out in the US since 2014 as a 2015 model, it still has a lot to offer and continues to hold up to the competition very well, even just recently winning a spot in Car and Driver Magazine’s prestigious 10 Best competition for 2021. How many vehicles at the END of their production cycle can pull that off? Only the greats.
So, as a farewell to the $37,395.00 Mk7 Golf GTI Autobahn edition, we would like to compile a list of the top 5 things we absolutely love about the GTI and why this car will always be one of our favorites.
#5 Hatchback Utility
No surprise, the hatchback is a very efficient design allowing a car to have a small footprint yet carry a lot of stuff. Even though America never really caught on to the original hatchback craze, as soon as car companies took that same hatchback exterior, raised the suspension up a few inches, and gave it a different name – “SUV” – viola`! Americans now can’t get enough of them; who says it’s not all in the packaging? Regardless of how you view the takeover of SUVs, there will always be a place for cars and, especially, the quirky little hatchback that gives its owner exactly what they want – versatility and ample space.
#4 Vehicle Dynamics
What made the original Golf GTI an instant success carries through on this Mk7 Autobahn version – great handling and sure footedness. Generation after generation, the GTI has always been a fun car to drive combining speed and agility in a balanced and well-behaved chassis. The suspension is firm but not harsh, road imperfections are noticed but do not upset the ride. Body roll is well controlled. Despite being an electronic set-up, which can feel a bit numb, the steering on the GTI Autobahn feels great and communicates what those front tires are doing, giving you the confidence to push more speed through the corner. Likewise, the car has plenty of lateral grip, and the traction and stability control are more of an aid rather than an unwelcomed intervention. Brakes are strong with great stopping power and a good progressive feel – not too grabby but not soft either. All of this makes the car a joy to drive and gives the GTI its solid reputation as the hot hatch of hot hatches!
#3 Backup Camera
Now that every car sold in the US requires a backup camera, what’s the big deal with the GTI’s camera? You have to see how this thing works in order to appreciate it – the backup camera is hidden behind the VW logo on the back of the hatch and when you put the car into reverse, the logo flips open and the camera pops out – it’s pure genius! Why, you ask? Because the 007-style feature keeps the camera clean, dry and protected when not in use, you can actually see clearly when it’s raining or, especially in winter, when everyone else’s camera gets completely covered in road salt and grime. Every car manufacturer should be doing this!
Leave it to the Volkswagen group to make a small 2.0 liter 4-cyclinder engine, when mated to either the 6-speed manual or one of the best DCT dual-clutch gear boxes out there, super impressive. This engine punches way above its rated power. At 228hp and 258 lb-ft of torque (US spec), the turbocharged GTI feels and drives like it has a lot more – hit the accelerator and that torquey engine will really surprise you and even embarrass other, bigger-engine vehicles. Oddly, from a stop, the GTI does have a slight hesitation making you believe that there’s just a little turbo lag as the turbocharger spools up – but yet that doesn’t happen at any other time. Once you get rolling, turbo lag disappears making us wonder if that off-the-line softness is intentional so as to not overwhelm the GTI’s front-wheel-drive with loads of torque-steer. Once the coast is clear, however, it’s bat-out-of-hell time with power that doesn’t stop until you do. Trust us when we say that the Golf GTI has to be the most powerful 228hp car on the road!
There are only a few cars out there that can claim to have literally defined a segment – the GTI is one of them. When the Golf GTI hit showrooms back in June of 1976 the term “hot hatch” was born. The first generation Mk1 was originally slated for 5,000 units, just enough to recoup the development and extra engineering costs over the regular Golf. Volkswagen realized right away that they were going to have to build more to keep up with demand, and by the end of the Mk1 production run, Volkswagen sold an incredible 461,690 units, marking the first chapter in what remains the world’s most successful compact sports car. Through the years, the GTI has undergone many changes but the fundamental DNA is always the same – the practicality of a hatchback mated with a sufficiently peppy engine and enough handling to call it a sports car. The formula has been a win for Volkswagen and a win for owners for 45 years now.
So, what’s next for the GTI? Already introduced in Europe, the USA gets the next generation Mk8 in mid-2022. Naturally, there will be more tech, more safety, and more power along with something called “Driving Dynamics Manager” that manages all of the electronic driving systems through a 15-position slider, which definitely sounds interesting. However, should all this new stuff be enough to cause buyers to skip the Mk7 GTI and wait? Well, not exactly as the Mk8 actually uses the same chassis as the Mk7, and while there is surely going to be some tweaking and refinement, we don’t expect a world of difference in how the car will drive. Also, at this writing, the Mk8 is still about 16 months away, so if you are in the market right now for a car that can comfortably carry 4 adults, is small enough to park anywhere, has enough cargo space to carry a futon home from the furniture store and is an absolute blast to drive on the street and even an occasional track day event – we just gave you all the reasons you’ll ever need to go get yourself a Mk7 Volkswagen Golf GTI!
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