Thomas Ulbrich, Volkswagen’s head of electric vehicles, tells us, “There will be 70 new fully electric VWs by 2028; an investment of 30 billion (euros) in e-mobility by 2023; 22 million EV sales for the VW Group by 2028…The future is electric.”
So, here’s a question for VW: What about the gasoline cars, most specifically the Golf GTI ($30,845 base), which is arguably the most consistently excellent passenger car VW has produced for the past 50 years?
To be precise and a little historical, in fact, let me point out that the Golf – and its forebearer, the Rabbit – has been on the boil for 55 years. The GTI came along in 1976 and single-handedly did two things: create the hot-hatchback or pocket-rocket segment, and forced people around the world to forget about the bare-bones People’s Car, the Beetle, almost entirely.
Truth be told, car companies from Peugeot (the GTI version of the 205) to Renault (5 FT Turbo), Ford (Escort XR3i, Focus ST and RS), Fiat(500 Abarth), Mini (Cooper S), Nissan Juke-R, Subaru (WRX and STI) and all the rest have been trying to match the genius of the GTI for as long as VW has been making it.
The Mazda3 Sport GT, as I recently noted, is among the very best of the current alternatives and much less expensive, feature-for-feature. But pricing aside, the engineering excellent of the 2019 Golf GTI is really quite impressive.
Yes, VW does now and will in the future produce an electric Golf, the e-Golf. By definition, it will never be the entertainment equivalent of the 228-horsepower, intercooled turbo GTI I just tested, though. EVs have their charms – instant torque, no tailpipe emissions, low running costs – but they do not provide the visceral jolt of a gasoline-powered GTI with fiery-looking red brake calipers peeking through machined aluminum wheels wrapped in low-profile performance rubber (225/40HR18).
If the Golf GTI were a modern dancer, I’d call it Chris Brown, who also does a bit of rapping, of course. Yes, the GTI has moves.
The car can change direction quickly without losing its composure. It’s solid when in a rush. It’s powerful (258 lb-ft torque) without being muscle-bound. It makes a statement but remains understated.
By that I mean, if you own a GTI you are telling the world that you care about how your car handles, but you don’t want something over the top – like an Aston Martin or a Ferrari or a Chevrolet Corvette, even.
VW, in fact, has produced seven generations of the Golf/Rabbit and that is quite a record of longevity. The reason for that is consistent engineering excellence and ongoing innovation. And variety.
The four-door hatchback Golf GTI I have just tested is a delightfully executed city car with very serious sporting pretensions. The boxy-ish design is instantly recognized as a Golf GTI, but it also delivers practical benefits: lots of cargo room and room inside for at least four-full-size adults, five in a pinch. And you can be very tall, by the way. Headroom is amazing.
The seats are a triumph; arguably the very best in the category for comfort and support. The foam is firm, but not like a park bench. Which means that on a long road trip, you’ll have a decent change of staying comfortable. My Golf tester had the latest infotainment system with a very nicely done eight-inch touchscreen.
It was easy to use, right up to the point when I tried to sync it with my iPhone to get to the Apple CarPlay interface. Alas, I was never able to get my phone and the GTI to make friends. Yes, full Apple CarPlay integration failed repeatedly, regardless of what I tried. Not good.
On the other hand, the little turbo four-banger under the hood, proved to be very responsive, with maximum torque available at 1,500 rpm. Alas, it wants premium fuel.
The steering is tight but not jittery. The brakes strong, but not grabby. Outward visibility is terrific and the driving position in the GTI is ideal.
All in all, then, the Golf GTI is a fine car and if you bought one, you’d most likely enjoy it for the next decade. No doubt someone at the dealership would sort out smartphone integration and you’d probably gest used to paying for premium gas.
And at the end of the 2020s, you might find that VW is offering only an EV Golf. If so, you’ll be glad to have had a run with this hatchback.
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Base price: $30,845. As tested: $34,807 plus $1,812 with fees, freight and PDI.
Engine: 2.0-litre I4 (228 horsepower/258 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: seven-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.6 city/7.5 hwy using premium fuel.