The 2014 Volkswagen GTI comes only as a 4-door model. The front-wheel-drive GTI is powered by a 2.0L, 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 200 horsepower. Because it produces its peak 207 pound-feet of torque beginning at a low 1,700 rpm, the engine feels more like a V6 in many respects, while returning EPA ratings of up to 24 mpg city, 33 highway. It works especially well with the available DSG automatic transmission, which is actually two small manual gearboxes, controlled by electronics, to deliver confident shifts in less time than you could shift yourself. A 6-speed manual gearbox is also offered. DSG includes steering-wheel paddle-shifters and to get the most out of DSG, it includes a Launch Control feature so that you can launch especially quickly from a stop.
A fully-independent suspension, with front damper-struts and a stiff tubular roll bar, plus a 4-link layout in back help to give the GTI performance tuning that is responsive but not too jarring or coarse for passengers. An electromechanical steering system also loads up nicely and can compensate for crosswinds or road surfaces. Brakes in the GTI are a step up from those in the Golf, with 12.3-inch ventilated discs in front and 10.7-inch discs in back and there's an XDS cross-differential system and electronic differential that functions as a limited-slip differential and helps send power safely to the wheels that can best use it. Exclusive to the GTI are polished exhaust tips with a "sound generator" that brings more sporty engine sounds into the cabin during spirited driving.
The GTI inherits the Volkswagen Golf's building blocks and same basic layout inside. What that means is that it offers a lot more interior efficiency and versatility than most dedicated high-performance models. There's a 15-cubic-foot cargo space, and the rear seatback is split 60/40 and folds down to expand the area for larger items.
The 2014 GTI is offered in two trims: Wolfsburg Edition and the fully loaded Driver's Edition. Wolfsburg models feature 18-inch alloy wheels, tinted glass, fog lamps, air conditioning, heated front seats, a cooled glovebox, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and an 8-speaker sound system with Sirius XM satellite radio and iPod capability, as well as an auxiliary input. Driver's Edition models add bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights, touchscreen navigation, power sunroof and leather seats front and rear.
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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