2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI

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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:

  • Exterior Design 9 /10
  • Performance 9 /10
  • Fuel Economy 7 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 10 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 10 /10
  • Reliability 8 /10
  • Safety 10 /10
  • Value For Money 10 /10
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2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Changes: What’s The Difference vs The 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 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
See All 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Trims and Specs

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.

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.

Check out other Volkswagen Golf Styles

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Comparisons

Volkswagen Golf R
Subaru WRX Sedan Subaru

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
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