Our daughter Dr. Laura summed up the Volkswagen GTI succinctly: “I want to buy this car.”
She and her siblings learned how to drive in our VWs, so they have what I call a “post-judice” towards them.
That’s a word I made up, indicating judging after (“post”), not before (“pre”) the fact.
My tester was a 2020 car, the soon-to-be-replaced A7 body style (officially now “MK VII”, but most VW-philes stick with the old nomenclature).
Pricing for my tester started at $30,845. It had the “Autobahn” package, the seven-speed dual-clutch manumatic (DSG) gearbox, and the “Advanced Driver Assistance Package”. This brought the total to $39,895. I said “started” (past tense) above, because the 2021 edition will come in Autobahn trim with that package, making its list price of $35,995 look like a bargain.
Subtle red badging, a red line across the grille, and the lovely 18-inch wheels will be the only clues that yours is the GTI model. The interior in some ways reminded us of our 2003 Jetta Wagon. VW figured out long ago how to do things like mirror adjustment and window controls, so why change?
One thing that has changed is you can now turn the headlight switch full right when you buy the car, and never touch it again. As all cars should, its lights go off when you shut the car off, after a time delay to let you get to your front door. The dash displays looked familiar too, although there’s tons more information now. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both supported. There’s even a lap timer function if you’re taking the car onto the track, and no head-up display.
The SatNav screen is bright, but for whatever reason, I had to re-configure the map whenever I switched the screen to another function. As usual, it will take a while to figure out what all the buttons and controls do.
Interior trim quality, fit and finish may be a small step down from our car, but they’re still pretty good. Heated seats and steering wheel are included. The seats also fit both father and daughter perfectly, with just the right balance of comfort and support. The rear seat is a bit snug for adults, but the flat roofline and big rear doors make access easy. The hatchback body style means easier access to the sizable trunk.
One key feature my tester had that won’t be available in the 2021 car is the “delete leather seat” option. The almost-plaid upholstery may not be to everyone’s taste, but I liked it. Besides, you’re sitting on it, not staring at it.
The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine develops 228 horsepower at a peak of 6,200 r.p.m. and a healthy 258 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 to 4,400 r.p.m. This provides strong performance, accompanied by a suitably sporting exhaust note. Shifting, as you would expect from the dual-clutch gearbox, is absolutely seamless. If you think you can shift better than it can (hint: you can’t…) you can either use the steering wheel paddles, or the gearshift lever.
Sadly, VW gets the latter backwards. This just has to be back to upshift and forward to downshift. How did this get by their test drivers? One behaviour I have not experienced before with VW DSGs, and one I only noticed on occasion here, was a slight hesitation when starting from rest. It felt like the engine revved up, then released its automatic clutch before slinging me down the road. Other times, response was immediate; not sure what was going on there.
The drive mode selection system lets you tailor the car’s behaviour to the circumstances, or your mood. The settings – Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Custom – are largely self-explanatory. The car’s brain chooses from a variety of things like throttle response and damper behaviour to suit.
I left it in Sport most of the time because that’s the kind of car this is.
Ride quality is on the firm side, but I found it fine, even on our winter-ravaged roads.
The tester had winter tires, so absolute grip levels weren’t high. But the crisp steering and well-sorted handling made the car a delight to drive. There was a hint of torque steer – a tugging on the wheel in quick corners – but corrections by both driver and the car’s Directional Stability Control system soon sorted that out.
And I always smile when VW’s clever back-up camera pops out from behind the VW logo on the tailgate to show the view behind. This means an always-clean screen.
I’m not sure to what extent this car impresses simply because we’re so familiar with VWs.
But there’s a singularity to this car, a wholeness, a sense that all of its functions work together in near-perfect harmony. This has been characteristic of GTIs in the past. It’s still here now.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.