The car that defined the term “hot hatch” embodies a classic formula: refinement, style, power, and playful performance. In 2018, the Golf GTI returns with a host of enhancements that continue the tradition of affordable performance it has built since its U.S. debut in 1983. It is now quicker, handles better and is more comfortable than ever.

The Golf GTI is powered by a compact turbocharged engine. The 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injection unit that powers the Golf GTI is a member of the latest, third-generation EA888 engine family and is built in Silao, Mexico. The EA888 engine has been retuned for the 2018 model year and produces 220 horsepower at 4,700 rpm, and torque peaks at 258 pound-feet, beginning at just 1,500 rpm and lasting until 4,500 rpm. It can be paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed DSG automatic transmission. The DSG transmission also incorporates a launch control feature and a new Start-Stop System designed to save fuel.

Our car featured the DSG gearbox and while it provides quick shifts, you can’t beat an old fashioned manual transmission for the fun factor. The DSG is also a bit annoying because it is programmed to assume that the driver is an idiot because it does what it thinks is correct no matter what the driver does. Even in manual mode, the DSG will downshift if you floor it while in a high gear and it will upshift when the revs get close to redline on its own. On the positive side, if you use the Sport mode, the transmission shifts rapidly and the exhaust note when shifting at high revs is just incredible.

The Golf GTI features a strut-type front suspension with lower control arms and a multilink rear suspension, both of which are controlled by coil springs with telescopic dampers. The Golf GTI has a lowered suspension, which is 0.6 inches lower than regular Golf models. The front suspension includes a 24-millimeter antiroll bar while the rear has a 20-millimeter version, 2 mm larger at the front and 1 mm thicker at the back compared with a regular Golf model. There is still a bit too much understeer at the limit and a bigger rear antiroll bar will probably be a good modification. Our Golf GTI had the top of the line Autobahn trim featuring the latest version of the adaptive chassis control system, which manages the suspension’s rebound and compression rates individually, helping to improve vehicle dynamics.

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The 2018 Golf GTI comes equipped with large 12.33-inch vented front discs and 10.7-inch solid rear discs with standard three-channel ABS with electronic brake pressure distribution. The higher line SE and Autobahn trims increase brake disc size even further to 13.4-inch front and 12.2-inch rear vented discs, with single-piston calipers all around.

All 2018 Golf GTI models are equipped with the XDS+ Cross Differential System. This technology acts somewhat like an electronic substitute for a traditional mechanical limited-slip differential, working by actively monitoring data from each wheel sensor. If the suspension becomes unloaded, the system can automatically apply braking to the driven inside wheel as needed to reduce understeer. While this can help improve handling and cornering performance, it does not work well for long. Continued use results in overheated brakes.

There are three driving modes on cars with the standard sport suspension: “Normal,” “Sport,” and “Individual.” The DCC adaptive damping system adds a “Comfort” mode. Normal and Sport have a different steering heft and throttle response, while Individual allows a driver to tailor the steering and throttle, as well as adjust the front lighting on cars fitted with the available Lighting Package. On cars with the DSG transmission, the Sport mode gives more aggressive shifts. With the DCC system, Comfort mode puts the dampers in their softest setting for a smooth highway ride and to their firmest setting in Sport for better cornering performance.

The result is a car that is a joy to drive at any speed. The GTI has a quick turn-in and precise steering that gives the driver tons of feedback and lots of confidence going into turns. The thick leather steering wheel feels great in your hands and the highly bolstered seats hold you in tightly.

When equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, the Golf GTI achieves an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. When equipped with the optional six-speed DSG automatic transmission, EPA-estimated fuel economy of 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

The GTI comes with an awesome six-year or 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, which can be transferred to subsequent owners throughout its duration. Most mainstream competitors such as Honda, Toyota and Ford offer only a three-year/36,000 mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty on their cars and SUVs. While Hyundai and Kia offer a five-year/60,000 mile basic warranty and a higher time and mileage limit on their powertrain limited warranties, if the vehicle is sold to a second owner, the powertrain limited warranty is not transferable beyond five years or 60,000 miles from the date it was first sold new.

The Golf GTI is a fantastic car that never gets boring. It is a true hot hatch that can do everything from playing at a race track to haul furniture at Ikea. Pricing starts out at only $26,415 for the base model with manual transmission. Go for the top of the line Autobahn version with the DSG gearbox and you pay almost $10,000 more at $36,170. Choose your Golf GTI and enjoy driving again.

Specifications

Engine:TGDI 2.0-liter DOHC Inline Four
Horsepower:220 @ 4,700 rpm
Torque:258 @ 1,500 rpm
Front suspension:Independent McPherson strut
Rear suspension:Multilink with coil springs
Transmission:Six-speed manual
Axle ratio:4.77:1 limited slip
Curb Weight:3,128 lbs.
Base MSRP:$26,415

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