Natural athleticism. The 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI has long been the benchmark for the hot hatchback segment, and that continues for this model year. With a 228-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the GTI provides great thrust with little lag. In keeping with appealing to those that like to drive, a six-speed manual transmission is still standard.
Besides the Golf GTI's punchy engine, the hatchback is incredibly balanced around corners. When barreling down a winding road, the hatchback provides excellent feedback, while the suspension feels dialed in. There's a nimbleness in the entire chassis that others just haven't been able to replicate.
Good cargo capacity. The GTI may be geared toward performance, but it hasn't lost its versatility. With the second row in place, the GTI can hold up to 17.4 cubic feet of cargo space. That figure expands to 53.7 cubic feet with the second row folded down – all of this while offering a sporty ride and excellent driving dynamics.
Better than average fuel economy. Despite being a sporty hatchback, the GTI manages to get good fuel economy for the segment. When equipped with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the vehicle has EPA ratings of 25 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg highway, and 27 combined.
So-so safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested the GTI and didn't name the vehicle as one of its Top Safety Picks. The reason being the vehicle's “Acceptable” rating in the passenger-side small overlap front test. The IIHS also found the GTI to have “Basic” front crash prevention.
Some of the GTI's competitors, like the 2019 Hyundai Elantra GT, received higher ratings. Hyundai's option was named a Top Safety Pick.
Conservative styling. With a turbocharged engine, excellent handling, and a sporty lineage, one would think that VW would endow a more aggressive design into the GTI. That, though, isn't the case. The Golf GTI is one of the more conservatively styled sporty cars on the market.
While this will appeal to some, it could dissuade others. The good news about the safe design is that the Golf GTI will continue to look good as it ages. Competitors have aggressive, over-the-top styling, but the Golf GTI doesn't, making it an understated performance vehicle. Unless you know what you're looking for, the GTI looks like any other Golf for the most part.
Final thoughts. When it comes to a usable performance vehicle that can be enjoyed on a daily basis, the 2019 VW Golf GTI is hard to beat. Not only is it fun to drive on the track or a good winding road, it's also practical and civilized to commute in.
A peppy engine, a well-sorted suspension, and a proper six-speed manual (or a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic) all make the GTI the complete package. The hatchback body style brings some extra versatility, too. If there's one complaint, it's the vehicle's lack of character compared to the competition.
The Ford Fiesta ST is livelier and more enjoyable to drive., though that vehicle has a rental car interior. The Elantra GT is a better option in terms of value. Hyundai introduced a new Veloster recently, but while that has loads of character, it's smaller and has an asymmetrical design that some may not like.