A classic soldiers on. The image of the hot hatchback was built in large part upon the shoulders of the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The 2020 Volkswagen GTI is the last of the current generation, here for one more year before a full redesign reaches North America.
The Golf (covered separately) has suffered some casualties for 2020: the wagon body and Golf R are no longer with us. As one of the top sellers in the range, the GTI fared well. Three trims are still available, with either a manual or automatic transmission.
The GTI may be aging, but it retains all the charm that made it a classic. Hot hatches bring personality to practicality, and the GTI does it with sense and taste, from the plaid upholstery to the handsome exterior. This GTI is business as usual, and that’s a good thing.
Exciting … At the heart of the GTI’s appeal is its performance. The GTI carries over with the same engine, a 228-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder unit. The turbo’s thrust is impressive without being jumpy, and the limited-slip differential does a good job of putting the power down upfront.
But the real star of the show is the handling. The tires are grippy and the steering responsive, with a well-balanced ride that’s comfortable on country backroads and highways alike. Around town, the GTI is pliant enough for back-seat riders without sacrificing the drive.
The GTI doesn’t even ask too much of an efficiency penalty. The turbo engine achieves an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon combined with either transmission. That’s a few behind most economy hatchbacks, but it’s far better than most dedicated sports cars.
… Yet sensible. The other part of the hot hatch formula is, of course, the hatch. The GTI’s body is as good as any, and better than most. The footprint is small, but the GTI feels larger inside.
Rear leg room is average at 35.6 inches, but head room is adequate and there’s plenty of room to stretch up front. Front seats have a wide range of adjustability, and the GTI’s seats are more supportive than those in the regular Golf.
Its 22.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity is enough to embarrass many compact crossovers. That’s doubly true with the rear seats folded, when the GTI’s capacity swells to 52.7 cubic feet.
Even the design is sensible. The exterior is sporty but conservative, with just enough personality to remind other drivers that it was a GTI passing them. The interior is a step above most competitors, and it works fine for family duty.
A worthy goodbye. Adding to the GTI’s family-friendliness is its full suite of safety tech. Automatic emergency braking comes standard, and the GTI scored generally well in federal and independent crash tests.
Unlike the regular Golf, the GTI also starts with blind-spot monitoring (and the plaid upholstery we enjoy so much). The base 6.5-inch touchscreen isn’t anything to write home about, but the Autobahn trim adds a better 8-inch system.
Even the middle SE trim is good value, with its leather upholstery and panoramic sunroof. This being the final year of the current generation means that discounts should be available. If you can find a deal, the GTI may be one of the best performance bargains on the market.
Final thoughts. This generation of GTI is on its way out, and it’s not the most modern vehicle on the road. The infotainment system is smaller than many, and the GTI hasn’t caught up to the swoopy aesthetics of modern crossovers.
But in our eyes, that’s not entirely a bad thing. The 2020 VW GTI still delivers everyday usability with a healthy dollop of excitement. Few cars can combine the two so well. While we look forward to the redesign, this year’s GTI is no slouch.
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