2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review: Aging Like A Fine Wine

This is the last hurrah of the seventh generation of the all-time favorite Volkswagen Golf GTI. For 2021, this model soldiers on without any major changes. Still powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger, the GTI produces 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, positioning it below the Honda Civic Type R in terms of price and performance. A six-speed manual is still, thankfully, the default transmission while the brilliant seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic is an option. Regardless of transmission, usable power is sent to the front wheels through a standard electronic limited-slip diff that VW claims offers an eight-second Nordschleife advantage over GTIs without this technology. So, is the GTI still relevant in the USA, despite being on sale in this sort of guise for several years now? The short answer is yes. The long answer is below.

Read in this review:

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Golf GTI?

Volkswagen has made only a few minor updates to mark the final year of the seventh-gen, 2021 Golf GTI. All models get gloss black mirrors and a gloss black rear lip spoiler. For the SE and Autobahn trims, there is a new alloy wheel design. These trims also get the MIB3 infotainment system with navigation as standard.

Pros and Cons

  • Fun handling and sharp acceleration
  • Impressive ride quality
  • More standard features than ever before
  • German build quality
  • Affordable base price
  • Warranty coverage was recently reduced
  • Interior customization is limited to two options
  • Some competitors are faster for the same outlay

Best Deals on Golf GTI

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
S
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$28,695
SE
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$32,665
Autobahn
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$36,945

2021 Golf GTI Exterior

From the outside, telling the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback apart from its 2020 predecessor is almost impossible, but the new gloss black mirrors and the gloss black rear spoiler are changes introduced this year. The same adaptive LED headlights and LED taillights are standard. 18-inch wheels, the traditional full-length front GTI stripe, and a faux diffuser all feature. However, the SE and Autobahn trims gain a new design for their wheels. A dual-exit exhaust setup flanks either end of the diffuser, and SE models and above get treated to a large panoramic sunroof.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front View Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Rear View Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front Angle View Volkswagen
See All 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior Photos

Dimensions

The GTI's typically compact dimensions are part of the reason it's so loved, with a short wheelbase allowing the car to be easily chucked about. It's also easy to park in the city, with a length of just 168 inches. The wheelbase measures 103.6 inches, with width at a lowly 70.8 inches. Height is 57.8 inches, which makes it lower than a regular Golf TSI by 0.4 inches. The curb weight is 3,133 pounds for the manual and 3,210 lbs for the model equipped with the DSG gearbox.

  • Length 168.0 in
  • Wheelbase 103.6 in
  • Height 57.8 in
  • Max Width 70.8 in
  • Front Width 60.6 in
  • Rear Width 59.7 in
  • Curb Weight 3,133.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

A decent range of colors - six of them - are all no-cost options. On the base S, however, only four exterior colors are offered: Dark Iron Blue Metallic, Deep Black Pearl, Pure White, and Tornado Red. The mid-range SE and range-topping Autobahn add White Silver Metallic and Cornflower Blue. Fans of older GTI generations will be happy to know that the classic Tornado Red hasn't gone anywhere, a color that is as synonymous with the GTI as gray with black stripes are to the '67 Mustang GT500.

  • Pure White
  • Deep Black Pearl
  • Dark Iron Blue Metallic
  • Tornado Red
  • White Silver Metallic
  • Cornflower Blue

Golf GTI Performance

The Volkswagen GTI is available with a single engine choice: a 2.0-liter turbo four-pot that sends power exclusively to the front wheels, where an electronic limited-slip differential manages power distribution. It can send up to 100% torque to either wheel depending on the conditions, thus maximizing grip and cornering ability. Output is rated at 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which may seem low in comparison to some of the competition in this segment, but it's the delivery and breadth of torque throughout the rev range that helps make this car so fun to drive. The 0 to 60 mph sprint is dispatched in a respectable 6.4 seconds with the manual, and in the high fives if you opt for the quicker DSG, which includes launch control. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, but it's the way this car dances in the corners that will likely win you over in a test drive. Brute force and absolute power come second to driving dynamics and daily driveability, traits that make the Golf GTI so universally loved.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front Angle View 1 Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Rear Angle View Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Engine Bay Volkswagen

Engine and Transmission

The Golf GTI's 2.0-liter TSI is a turbocharged four-cylinder engine known internally as the EA888. The six-speed manual gearbox is standard and absolutely joyous to shift, but those who summarily dismiss automatic transmissions should really give the dual-clutch seven-speed DSG a try. Flick the GTI into Sport, and shifts are as quick as cracks of a whip, with the accompanying comical "fart" that the break in spark provides. Using either the central gear-lever or the steering-mounted paddles, shifts are sharp and swift, but when left to its own devices, the transmission won't shift early or leave you without power either - so long as you keep your right foot mashed to the floor like someone trying to kill a particularly resilient cockroach. When you want to take things easy and cruise, you can switch the car to Comfort, allowing the GTI to maintain the ability to potter along quietly, with shifts so subtle that you'd be forgiven for thinking that a traditional torque converter was employed. Overall, it's the GTI's ability to maintain both sides of a dual personality with finesse that helps make it one of our favorites. In both manual and DSG configurations, the powertrain is a peach.

  • Engine
    2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmissions
    6-Speed Manual, 7-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain
    FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

The VAQ front differential fitted to all GTIs is an electronic system that Volkswagen says is predictive, rather than reactive. The result is that it can correctly reassign power depending on the conditions, the angle of the steering wheel, and the level of throttle input you give. This makes it up to eight seconds quicker around the Nurburgring's infamous north loop than a GTI without the electronic LSD would be. It's not just about carving the perfect line either - the GTI will indulge you in some lift-off oversteer antics if you so desire, it's neutral handling and balanced chassis helping induce pure happiness.

If you spec the Autobahn model, VW's Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers make the GTI even better, with the various driving modes that are standard (Normal, Sport, and customizable Individual) being supplemented by Comfort. In this mode, the DCC switches to an ultra-compliant and comfortable runaround. In Sport, everything stiffens up for better handling. This duality of purpose helps solidify our love for the GTI just as much as the versatile power plant does. Should you not wish to splash out on the Autobahn trim, fear not. The standard GTI is still excellent, and the ride is not unbearably harsh, nor excessively floaty. If you want a small sports car but can't compromise on rear-seat space, the GTI is the perfect answer.

2021 Golf GTI Gas Mileage

Official EPA figures for the Golf GTI vary only marginally between the manual and automatic. If you go for the DSG, expect figures of 24/32/27 mpg city/highway/combined. The manual fairs a bit worse but still manages a respectable 23/30/26 mpg. Combined with a 13.2-gallon gas tank, the average range with a mixed driving cycle will be around 356 miles for models equipped with the DSG.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    13.2 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 23/30 mpg
* 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T S Manual

Golf GTI Hatchback Interior

The S model is fitted with the classic tartan fabric color scheme called Clark Plaid that pays tribute to the original GTI of the 70s. Combined with a golf ball gear knob and red ambient lighting, the GTI seamlessly blends tradition with modern style. Considering its price, the build quality is excellent, and soft-touch plastics outweigh hard materials. The infotainment system on each model is intuitive and uses a capacitive touchscreen in either 6.5 or eight-inch sizing, while a 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat is available to help hone the perfect driving position. Regardless of which model you get, a leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard, and the overall ambiance is one of premium quality and solid construction.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Steering Wheel Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Dashboard Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front Seats Volkswagen
See All 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

The GTI is still a Golf, despite its performance abilities. This makes it a practical and comfortable five-seater, and even with its bolstered front seats, the hot hatch is comfortable and not confining. Whether chasing corners or eating up mile after mile, the GTI is comfortable. Six-footers may find the back seats a little tight, but legroom and headroom are still expansive enough to accommodate taller individuals for long trips. However, the Jetta GLI, with which the GTI shares many of its features, will be more spacious for the long-legged.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 41.2 in
  • Front Head Room 38.4 in
  • Rear Leg Room 35.6 in
  • Rear Head Room 38.1 in

Interior Colors and Materials

As standard, the Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback is fitted with fabric seats in a nostalgic gray and red tartan design, but Titan Black leather is standard on the top two trims. Either color scheme is accented by red contrast stitching and ambient lighting, with the steering wheel wrapped in leather. The sporty theme continues with aluminum-look pedals, a gloss black center console, and smatterings of silver accents. Black is the transcendent color on the SE model, but we prefer the base model's greater contrasts.

Golf GTI Trunk and Cargo Space

The Golf GTI's universal appeal has its roots in reasons that extend beyond its fun factor, comfort, and interior space; you can genuinely use the GTI as a family car too. Cargo space in the back is 24.8 cubic feet from the floor to the roof, and 17.4 cubes up to the rear parcel shelf. That's enough for three large suitcases. Longer items can be accommodated by a pass-through, or you can fold the rear seats in a 60/40 split for a maximum volume of 52.7 cubic feet. As we learned when testing the car last year, that's enough space for a queen-size bed-in-a-box.

In the cabin, a quartet of cupholders is divided between the front and rear occupants, with large door pockets with bottle holders supplementing storage. In the center console, a nifty phone tray is convenient and is accompanied by a sunglasses storage area in an overhead compartment, as well as a glovebox and a generous center armrest bin.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Maximum Cargo Space Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Maximum Cargo Space 1 Volkswagen
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Trunk Space with Seat Folded Volkswagen
  • Maximum Cargo Space
    53.7 ft³

Golf GTI Infotainment and Features

Features

Standard features on the GTI include LED daytime running lights, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, ambient interior lighting, the obligatory rearview camera, Car-Net remote vehicle access and a number of safety features. These include standard blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, and post-collision braking. The SE model adds keyless entry with push-button start and a sunroof. Opting for the Autobahn model adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, auto high beams, park distance control, a 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and an automatic parking assistant. If you spec the DSG gearbox, remote start is also available as part of the Car-Net suite of features. Dual-zone climate control is available as part of the Autobahn trim, replacing the standard single-zone.

Infotainment

The entry-level trim in the GTI range features the MIB II infotainment interface with a rather small 6.5-inch capacitive touchscreen. The system features an SD card slot, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus MirrorLink and a USB-C port. On the SE trim, the screen is upgraded to an eight-inch unit as part of the MIB3 system. At this level, HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and navigation are added. If you spec the Autobahn package, a Fender Premium Audio sound system with eight speakers is fitted, along with voice-activated navigation. The lower trims use a less powerful six-speaker sound system. Whichever variant you opt for, response times are quick and the menus are quick and easy to learn with clean, stylish images displayed.

Golf GTI Problems and Reliability

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI has been recalled once so far for a rearview camera image that turns black or freezes. The 2020 model remains recall-free but the 2019 model suffered from three recalls. The first was in March 2019 for rear coil springs that may fracture. The second was in August of that year for an oversight that allowed the key to be removed even if the DSG gear-lever was not in park. The last one was in December when it was announced that front wheel bearings were improperly machined. There were no reliability reviews for the Volkswagen GTI from J.D. Power at the time of writing.

In terms of reliability, things have changed since the 2019 model. The industry-leading bumper-to-bumper six-year/72,000-mile warranty has now been shortened to a four-year/50,000-mile plan, but at least two years or 20,000 miles of scheduled maintenance are now thrown in.review

Warranty

  • Basic:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    7 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Maintenance:
    2 Years \ 20,000 Miles

Volkswagen Golf GTI Safety Reviews

The Golf GTI has maintained its score of a full five stars out of five in the NHTSA's crash tests, while the IIHS has given the VW GTI a review that's similar, with maximum Good ratings in every crashworthiness category except one; for the small overlap front test on the passenger side, the GTI was only rated as Acceptable.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

In whichever trim you select of the three available options, LED daytime running lights, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection - known as Front Assist- are standard. Post-collision braking is also included as standard. In Autobahn guise, the GTI gets adaptive cruise control, park distance control, lane-keep assist and auto high beams. Dual front and front side airbags, as well as front and rear curtain airbags are standard on all models, along with a system called Intelligent Crash Response, which automatically unlocks all doors, disables the fuel pump and turns on the hazard lights.

Verdict: 🏁Is the New Volkswagen Golf GTI Hatchback Still Worthy of the Crown?

Although the seventh generation of the new Golf GTI has been on sale in the US since 2015, the things that drew us to it haven't changed since we first drove one. The seats are supportive but comfortable; the interior is sporty but livable, premium but affordable. The performance from the brilliant 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger is also equally matched by great gas mileage, and the starting price is not excessive. While we wait with bated breath for the upcoming Golf, the current generation continues to both thrill and comfort drivers and passengers alike. It's not the fastest, nor is it the most luxurious hot hatch you can buy, but in terms of being the best practical hatch you can play with every day for how much value it holds, it's still the boss.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI?

The increase in features brings an increase in price for the Volkswagen GTI. The base price starts at $28,695 before a $995 destination fee in the US. This gets you a manual GTI, but if you want DSG on the base trim, it's available for $29,495. The slightly more premium SE has a base price of $32,665, with DSG also $800 dearer. Finally, the Autobahn costs $36,945 in manual guise or $37,745 with the DSG.

2021 VW Golf GTI Model Lineup

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI is available in just three trims: S, SE, and Autobahn.

The base model is equipped with tartan fabric upholstery and a six-speed manual gearbox. A 2.0-liter turbo-four produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, with an electronic VAQ limited-slip differential controlling output. A 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system is also included, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and a rearview camera. Red ambient lighting is also standard with a single-zone air-conditioning system.

The SE model earns keyless entry, a sunroof, a larger eight-inch touchscreen, and SiriusXM satellite radio. It also gets leather upholstery in black. Other features that are added at this level include a cornering function for the LED fog lights, keyless access with push-button start, and navigation.

As its name dictates, the Autobahn primarily comes with several driver-assist features to take the strain out of covering long distances, while also making the GTI a bit safer. These technologies include adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and park distance control.

See All 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

Although comprehensive packages are missing, you can upgrade the GTI with a few basics like a cargo box attachment for $699, a bike holder attachment, or various other wheel designs that range in price. The GTI is very much a case of what you see is what you get - fortunately, what you get is still one of the most balanced offerings in the segment.

🚗What Volkswagen Golf GTI Model Should I Buy?

The base GTI is a brilliant choice, blending value for money with performance. However, as much as we love the tartan fabric on the base model, the larger infotainment screen available on the SE, along with a sunroof, make it highly attractive. The same applies to the Autobahn with its added safety kit. Whichever version you pick, the GTI is sure to be a solid performer.

Check out other Volkswagen Golf Styles

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Comparisons

Volkswagen Golf R Volkswagen
Subaru WRX Sedan Subaru
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Volkswagen Golf GTI228 hp23/30 mpg$28,695
Volkswagen Golf R 292 hp21/29 mpg$40,395
Subaru WRX Sedan 268 hp21/27 mpg$27,495

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI vs Volkswagen Golf R

The VW Golf GTI and the Golf R share much between them, with the GTI's platform and engine providing the basis for the Golf R. However, they are very different - particularly when it comes to price. When it was still on sale, the seventh-gen Golf R started at over $40,000 more than the GTI, and although its 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is a brilliant way to handle the additional power from a bigger turbo (60 hp more and 22 lb-ft extra), the R is a bit too premium to be as fun and carefree as the GTI. The GTI doesn't take itself as seriously and is a car you can have fun with even at lower speeds, whereas the Golf R's all-weather traction makes it a little more focused, heavy, and expensive. The Golf R is an outstanding hot hatch, but the simplicity, price, and fun of the GTI mean that it's still the better car for daily enjoyment.

See Volkswagen Golf R Review

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI vs Subaru WRX Sedan

Those interested in a fun and affordable 2.0-liter four-cylinder car may be attracted by the Subaru WRX sedan. At an MSRP of $27,495, it's just over a thousand dollars cheaper than a base Golf GTI. With all-wheel drive, a six-speed manual as standard, and 268 hp under the hood, the Scooby is an affordable performance car that is guaranteed to out-launch a GTI at the traffic lights. However, paired to a heavy all-wheel-drive system, the WRX scores three mpg less when the manual models of each are compared. A boxer's rorty, off-balance engine note may allow you to forgive the heavier consumption, but these days, Subarus are more sedate in that department. With the same torque as the WRX, less weight to play with, and a cargo area that's easily bigger than the Subaru's trunk, the GTI is both more fun and more practical. The ultimate hot hatch still beats cars that aren't even in its class.

See Subaru WRX Sedan Review

Volkswagen Golf GTI Popular Comparisons

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2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Video Review

Check out some informative Volkswagen Golf GTI video reviews below.

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