The popular Volkswagen Golf heads into its seventh generation for 2016. Available in 2-door and 4-door hatches as well as a 4-door "sportwagen". The Golf 1.8T is powered by a 170-horsepower turbocharged 1.8L 4-cylinder. This is mated to either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.
The Golf GTI, available with either two or four doors, comes with a potent turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder that produces 210 horsepower and 258 lb-feet of torque. It's offered with a choice of 6-speed conventional manual or DSG dual-clutch transmission.
The Sportwagen, based on the 4-door Golf hatch, features 30 cubic-feet of rear cargo space, expandable to an impressive 66 cubic-feet with the rear seats down. It comes with the 1.8L engine and the same choice of transmission options.
At the top of the range is the Golf R. With 4 doors, a very impressive engine and all-wheel drive, it is the ultimate European "hot-hatch." The Golf R comes with a highly tuned version of the GTI's 2.0L turbocharged engine that makes almost 300 horsepower. It comes with only the 6-speed DSG transmission, but is packed with premium standard features that include a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, HID headlamps, heated power-adjustable leather seats and dual-zone climate control.
Two-door 1.8T models are offered in base and S trims. The base trim includes 15-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free connectivity, an 8-speaker stereo with iPod hookup, 5.8-inch touchscreen and HD radio, as well as cloth seating with a 60/40 split folding rear seat. The S trim adds an upgraded radio with a 6.5" touchscreen and satellite radio, steering wheel audio controls, smartphone-integration, remote keyless entry and a leather shift knob.
For the 4-door and Sportwagens, three trims are offered: S, SE and SEL. In the SE, buyers will find 17-inch wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, halogen fog lights, a power panoramic sunroof and a rearview camera. Inside, amenities include a Fender premium audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer and heated front seats. The top-of-the-line SEL trim includes 18-inch wheels, touchscreen navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control and front sport seats with 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat.
Available packages include a Lighting Package, with adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, which turn in conjunction with the car's movements down the road. The Driver Assistance Package features Park Distance Control with front and rear proximity sensors, as well as a Forward Collision Warning that alerts you when there's trouble ahead.
All Golfs come with standard safety features that include anti-lock brakes, traction control and engine braking assist, plus a host of airbags to protect the cabin.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of the all-time greats, spending seven generations in the sweet spot between daily usability and an old-fashioned good time. In its final year before the introduction of an all-new eight generation, the Golf's hot-hatch variant continues to remind us why it remains a darling of critics and car geeks alike.
The GTI doesn't look much different than the Golf, but that's fine, because it's never been a shouty car. My Tornado Red tester does grab some eyes with its paint color, but most of the stuff that sets the GTI apart takes some effort to find, like the slightly more aggressive air intakes on the bumper, the sensible number of GTI badges or the trick red elements tucked into the LED headlights. Even the 18-inch alloy wheels are appropriately sized. It's a look that flies under the radar, which is fine, because who really needs more points on their license?
My Autobahn-trim GTI foregoes the ubiquitous plaid seats in favor of something far less exciting: black leather. Honestly, that might be my biggest problem with the GTI. If it were possible to retain those excellent cloth seats on higher trims, I'd be a happy camper. That said, the leather-clad cushions aren't bad, with plenty of support and heaters that fire up pretty quickly in chilly weather. The Golf is an inexpensive car, but the interior isn't exactly bargain-basement; build quality is top-notch and most of the plastics aren't offensively hard or unsightly. A smattering of piano-black trim breaks up the dashboard's monotony, too.
The Good ~ Hatchback capaciousness ~ Fun and pragmatism in equal doses ~ Solid cabin tech
The Bad ~ One USB port ~ Can push into expensive territory ~ Just-OK fuel economy
The Bottom Line The GTI finishes its current life cycle as one of the most balanced entry-level sports cars on the market.
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