For most gearheads, the humble Golf GTI represents the genesis of hot hatchbacks. When it first appeared, it flipped the script for many, luring more than a few people of their V8s and into a chuckable little car that still pegged the grin meter but was easy on fuel.
“But, wait!” you cry, throwing stale Vachon cakes and random tins of Skoal in the direction of your author. “The GTI itself is a trim!” Initially, this was true; the GTI resided atop the Golf (or Rabbit, depending on the year) food chain. For 2022, there are actually three trims of GTI – base, Autobahn, and Performance – not to mention a slinky new body style.
All are powered by the brand’s 2.0-litre TFSI engine, making 241 horsepower and available with either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic DSG. Despite the automatic’s propensity to crack off acceleration times with alacrity, we’ll take the extra driving engagement provided by the stick without hesitation.
The entry-level GTI stickers at $31,495 plus freight, a $3,500 walk from the Autobahn and a hefty $7,500 south of the pricey Performance edition (all with manual transmissions, of course). All models include the limited slip diff (VAQ) and meaty stabilizers front and rear. Progressive steering and a driving profile selection are also standard, meaning the base GTI gives up little in these departments.
LED lights pepper the front and rear facias, while the body-colour side mirrors and washer nozzles are heated. The latter is a feature you didn’t know you wanted until a particularly frosty Canadian morning. Illuminated door handles are a nice touch. One of the most visible clues that a customer chose to pop for the base GTI? Richmond alloy wheels measuring 17 inches in diameter instead of the 18s or 19s equipped on other trims. Also, more expensive models gain access to interesting paint colours such as Pomelo Yellow and Atlantic Blue.
Inside, the more expensive trims are more lavishly equipped, as one might expect, with the base car doing without wireless CarPlay, for example. Still, it’s hardly a barren wasteland in here. A 10.25-inch configurable instrument cluster does a good impression of the gauges found in much more expensive machines in the VW family, while wireless charging and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system are also on board. Front seats are heated and there are leather touch points on the steering wheel and handbrake lever.
What We’d Choose
While there’s a lot to like about the base car, and $3,500 is not an insignificant amount of cash, the Autobahn trim is very tempting. Bigger wheels are one of the star attractions, along with wireless smartphone integration and adaptive cruise control. Satellite radio is also a big draw in your author’s eyes, though it really should be standard across the board. Dynamic headlights are also a cool party trick.
But, at its core, the base GTI represents a remarkable bargain. Just make sure to spec the manual transmission.