by Sebastian Cenizo
If you think this is the review of the all-new Golf 8, we have bad news for you. This is the last hurrah of the seventh generation of the all-time favorite Golf GTI. For 2020 this model is lightly updated with some new standard features to help keep the compact hot hatch relevant before the groundbreaking new model arrives next year. Still powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger, the GTI produces 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. 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, despite being on sale in this sort of guise for five years now? The short answer is yes. The long answer is below.
To keep the loyal hordes of fans placated until the new model comes out, the 2020 GTI features some newly-standard features like a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and Car-Net remote access. Front assist, otherwise known as forward-collision alert, is now standard with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection. The special edition Rabbit model has also been dropped, while the Autobahn trim is now a package available on the range-topping SE model. The warranty package has also been revised.
From the outside, telling the 2020 GTI apart from its 2019 predecessor is impossible. The same adaptive LED headlights and LED taillights are standard, along with a subtle roof spoiler. 18-inch wheels, the traditional full-length front GTI stripe, and a faux diffuser all feature. A dual-exit exhaust setup flanks either end of the diffuser, and SE models get treated to a large sunroof.
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 0.6 inches. Curb weight has not been officially disclosed for 2020, but we expect it to mirror that of the 2019 model, at 3,062 lbs for the manual and 3,128 lbs for the DSG dual-clutch.
With the death of the Rabbit Edition, the model's unique shades of Urano Gray and Cornflower Blue have sadly been deleted from the palette. However, a wide range of 'regular' colors - seven of them - are still all no-cost options. These include Deep Black Pearl, Dark Iron Blue Metallic, an almost pearlescent White Silver Metallic, Night Blue Metallic, Pure White, and Great Falls Green Metallic. Fans of older GTI generations will be happy to know that the classic Tornado Red has once again been included, a color that is as synonymous with the GTI as gray with black stripes is to the '67 Mustang GT500.
The GTI is available with a single engine: 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% 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 compared to some of the rivals 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 0-60 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. Brute force and absolute power come second to driving dynamics and daily driveability, traits that make the Golf GTI so universally loved.
The Golf GTI's 2.0-liter TSI is a turbocharged four-cylinder 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.
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 package, 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 package, fear not. The standard GTI is still excellent, and the ride is not unbearably harsh, nor excessively floaty.
Official EPA figures for the Golf GTI don't vary even slightly between the manual and DSG models, which means you don't have to feel guilty for choosing the manual if that's what you want. The GTI's official figures are 24/32/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles - regardless of transmission. Combined with a 13.2-gallon gas tank, the average range with a mixed driving cycle will be around 356 miles.
The S model is fitted with the classic tartan fabric color scheme 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.
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.
As standard, the GTI is fitted with fabric seats in a nostalgic gray and red tartan design, but Titan Black leather is available on certain trims, too. 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.
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 22.8 cubic feet from the floor to the roof, and 16.5 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-sized 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.
Standard features on the GTI include adaptive LED headlights, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, ambient interior lighting, illuminated door sills, 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 package adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, auto high beams, parking sensors (front and rear), 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 package, replacing the standard single-zone.
Both trims in the GTI range feature the MIB II infotainment interface, but the base model gets a smaller screen than the SE. On the S trim, a 6.5-inch capacitive touchscreen manages an SD card slot, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple and Android smartphone integration, plus MirrorLink and a USB-C port. On the SE trim, the screen is upgraded to an eight-inch unit with a USB-A port, and HD Radio, as well as SiriusXM satellite radio, are added. If you spec the Autobahn package, a Fender Premium Audio sound system with eight speakers is fitted, along with voice-activated navigation. Whichever variant you opt for, response times are quick and the menus are quick and easy to learn with clean, stylish graphics.
The 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI has thus far not had any recalls, but the 2019 model was subject to three. The first was in March 2019 for rear coil springs that may fracture. The second was in August 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.
In terms of the warranty, 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 of scheduled maintenance are now thrown in.
The Golf GTI has maintained its score of a full five stars out of five in the NHTSA's crash tests, while the IIHS rated the GTI similarly, with their best overall score of Good.
In whichever trim you select of the two available options, adaptive LED headlights, 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. The Autobahn package adds adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, 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.
Although the seventh generation of the Golf GTI has been on sale in the U.S. 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. Now, in 2020, the GTI has evolved ever so slightly, but even more standard features are included and the ultimate hot hatch is safer than ever. 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, it's still the boss.
With new standard features comes a slight increase in price. The base S model starts at $28,595 before a $920 destination fee. This gets you a manual GTI, but if you want DSG on the base trim, it's available for $29,395. The slightly more premium SE has a base price of $32,195, with DSG also $800 dearer. Fully loaded, you'll add the Autobahn package and one or two styling and convenience accessories, bring the price to just under 40 grand.
The 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI is available in just two trims: S and SE.
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, and has access to the Autobahn package. This suite of features includes an upgraded sound system, additional safety and convenience features like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and dual-zone climate control. A 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat is also thrown in with the package. Either trim is available with a dual-clutch automatic transmission for $800.
The Autobahn package is the automatic default choice for those who want the ultimate GTI. Only available on the SE trim, this package adds adaptive dampers, dual-zone climate control, voice-activated navigation, adaptive cruise control, park assist with front and rear parking sensors, and auto high beams. This package costs $4,300 but is worth the added dough for its safety and convenience enhancements, not to mention the added comfort of adaptive suspension. Other options are available individually, including different 18-inch wheels, satin silver mirror caps, and paint protection film. Summer performance tires are a no-cost option on the SE but can't be specced on the S trim.
The base GTI is a brilliant choice, blending value-for-money with performance, and now it includes additional standard features like a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, remote access and more. With adaptive LED headlights and ambient lighting, it's a great entry into hot hatch ownership. 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 and access to better safety, comfort, and convenience features through the Autobahn package make it highly attractive. Whichever version you pick, the GTI is sure to be a solid performer.
The 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. The Golf R starts at over $40,000, 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.
Those interested in a fun and affordable 2.0-liter four-cylinder car may be attracted by the Subaru WRX sedan. At a base price of $27,495, it's just over a thousand dollars cheaper than a base Golf GTI. Will 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 five mpg less on the highway. 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 at least 4.5 cubic feet 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.