The GTI is a master class in traditional Eurosport tuning. It's not a numbers car – acceleration is quick but not scary, and lateral grip is good without threatening your internal organs. Instead, the GTI's performance strengths are intangibles like response and controllability. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivers plenty of immediate, refined power. Handling is nimble and balanced, aided by precise and well-weighted steering. Both driveline and suspension calibrations maximize on-road effectiveness: everything is intuitive and smooth, very usable, and when you turn it up, intensely fun.
Most GTI-inclined buyers will instinctively opt for the six-speed manual gearbox (and yes, so would we) but Volkswagen's automated six-speed dual-clutch transmission is one of the best self-shifters on the market and pairs very well with the turbo engine - the finger-snap shifts keep the boost up and the power flowing smoothly.
The tradeoffs for this civilized speed are minimal. Fuel economy is pleasantly high, and ride comfort tilts firm but is never harsh. The GTI's identity as a hot hatch contains its own limitations, though; all that pragmatic usefulness means that the boxy Volkswagen is never going to be as pure a driving experience as something like a Mazda Miata or the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 twins.