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2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

$27,595 - $37,095
Price Range (MSRP)
Volkswagen Golf GTI

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Test Drive Review: Nothing It Can't Do

by Jared Rosenholtz

Can a car truly be perfect? Probably not. But there are a few which get pretty close. If there's any car that at least belongs in the conversation, it is the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Ever since its introduction back in 1975, the GTI has defined the hot hatchback ethos of sports car handling mixed with practicality. The current seventh-generation model has been on the market since 2015 but even after nearly five years on the market, few hot hatchbacks have come to challenge the GTI's dominance. There is an all-new GTI on the way but before it arrives, we wanted to take one last look at a 2019 Autobahn model to see if the Volkswagen still owns the hot hatch segment.

Read in this review:

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Changes: What’s the difference vs 2018 Golf GTI?

The 2019 Golf GTI is the final year model of the impressive Mk7 lineup introduced in 2015. A few changes have been made to keep the model interesting before the all-new eighth-generation is launched next year. Upgrades for the new model are few but effective, with the new GTI getting a slight power bump of eight horsepower and the addition of a mechanical limited-slip differential and larger brakes as standard. The iconic Rabbit model also returns as a limited-edition trim option, with unique exterior paint color options, Rabbit badges, and some gloss black accents.

Pros and Cons

  • Universally versatile and practical
  • Fun driving experience with sharp acceleration
  • Great handling
  • Good ride quality and useful options
  • Premium interior
  • Standard all-season tires detract from the driving experience
  • Minimal safety equipment on the base model
  • Some rivals are quicker
  • Some rivals are more exciting
  • Gets pricey quickly

Golf GTI Exterior

The Golf has never been the poster boy for groundbreaking design, but it has managed to be instantly recognizable throughout all generations. This is thanks in part to its trademark red stripe on the grille, which these days extends into the headlight clusters. This year's version comes standard with 18-inch wheels on all models. The most unique trim is the Rabbit model, which is badged differently and comes with adaptive LED headlights, black accents, and Pretoria wheels borrowed from the Golf R, while the mid-range SE features a sunroof. In our opinion, the wheel options for 2019 are a bit weak but don't detract much from the GTI's handsome yet understated looks.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front View
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Rear View
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front Angle View
See All 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior Photos

Dimensions

Just breaking the 3,000 lb mark, the 2019 GTI weighs 3,062lbs in manual guise, while the slightly heavier DSG models weigh 3,128 lbs, with the dual-clutch automatic system adding just 66 lbs to the overall curb weight. The GTI's physical dimensions are similarly diminutive. The 2019 Golf GTI is 168 inches in length with a height of 57.8 inches and a width of 70.8 inches. The wheelbase measures in at 103.6 inches. The next generation will likely swell slightly in size, but we think this year's model is perfect.

Exterior Colors

With color options being limited to nine total variants, two of which are specific to the limited-edition Rabbit model, there are not a huge number of choices, but they are suitably varied and none cost anything extra. The signature Tornado Red shade returns, as do Pure White, Dark Iron Blue, Deep Black Pearl, Night Blue Metallic, White Silver Metallic, and the interesting Great Falls Green Metallic. The Rabbit edition is only available in four colors, including Pure White and Deep Black Pearl, while its unique options are Urano Gray and the visually striking Cornflower Blue.

  • Pure White
  • White Silver Metallic
  • Deep Black Pearl
  • Night Blue Metallic, Available: 04/08/2019
  • Great Falls Green Metallic
  • Dark Iron Blue Metallic
  • Tornado Red
  • Urano Gray, Build Out: 01/07/2019
  • Cornflower Blue, Build Out: 03/25/2019

Golf GTI Performance

The Golf GTI has always been the benchmark for performance in this segment, almost single-handedly inventing the modern hot hatch. As such, it will always be scrutinized more thoroughly than its rivals, but once again, it shines as a brilliant machine. With a responsive 228 horsepower engine, the GTI's 2.0-liter transversely-mounted turbocharged engine produces 258lb-ft of torque, which is transferred to the road through the front wheels.

This makes the GTI capable of a 0-60mph time of 6.4 seconds, with the powerband of the 16-valve engine facilitating smooth acceleration throughout the rev range. Although this figure drops substantially to below six seconds with the optional DSG transmission, rivals are quicker. Its top speed is limited to 155mph, which is normal for this segment. Straight-line performance won't win you any trophies, but the GTI's composure and sharp steering will pay dividends in the corners, although again, some rivals do feel more agile.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Engine Bay
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Wheel
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Central Console

Engine and Transmission

One engine configuration is available with no variation in output anywhere in the range. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder motor is paired with a standard six-speed manual transmission, but this can be swapped out for the excellent optional (and new) seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, which replaces last year's six-speed DSG.

We tested a fully-loaded Autobahn trim with the DSG, which has come to be one of our favorite transmissions on the market. It shifts smoothly in automatic mode but can also rip off quick changes when you want to drive aggressively. There is noticeable turbo lag when the GTI is caught in the wrong gear but the DSG is typically quick enough to respond with a downshift, keeping your wait time for power short. It may be because the competition has become better over the years, but the DSG doesn't feel quite as much of a cut above like it used to, though it remains one of our favorites if you don't want the manual.

  • Engine
    2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmissions
    6-Speed Manual, 7-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain
    FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

The GTI's trump card is its clever VAQ front differential, which puts the power down better than any other front-wheel-drive vehicle, especially with launch control enabled. Driving this car makes us question why anyone would spend the extra money on a Golf R because the GTI feels just as exciting with just two driven wheels. The GTI is so well-balanced and the lack of drive to the rear allows the driver to get the back end loose through the corners, resulting in a bigger smile.

Even though the GTI attacks corners like a missile aimed at its target, it remains perfectly comfortable to drive every day. The Autobahn trim includes VW's DCC adaptive suspension, which can soften itself over bumpy rods the stiffen up to reduce body roll. If you want the perfect blend of sporty flavor and comfortable usability, look no further than the Golf GTI.

Golf GTI Gas Mileage

Both the DSG and manual versions of the GTI are decent front-wheel-drive performers in terms of fuel economy with little to separate them. The manual manages 24/32/27 mpg city/highway/combined, while the automatic version gets EPA scores of 25/31/27 mpg on the same cycles. This works out to an estimated average range of 356.4 miles from one full 13.2-gallon gas tank. These figures make the GTI more economical than either the Ford Focus ST or the Hyundai Veloster N. We averaged 26.5 mpg in our week of testing and consistently saw up to 35 mpg on the highway, beating the EPA estimates.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    13.2 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 24/32 mpg
* 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T S Manual

Golf GTI Interior

Typical of Volkswagen products, the interior of the GTI is restrained and elegant, with excellent build quality and clear attention to detail. The dash is soft but solid, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel adding to the quality feel. With an easy-to-use infotainment system featuring clear graphics, comfortable and supportive heated seats even on base models, and a simple but thoughtful layout of all controls, the Golf's cabin is a great place to be. The feeling of sitting in a more expensive, more premium car never really leaves you, even after hours behind the wheel, further cementing the GTI's status as the best hot hatch in this segment.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Steering Wheel
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Dashboard
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front Seats
See All 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

Unlike the new Jetta GLI, which makes do with standard seats, the GTI's front chairs are nicely bolstered to help keep you in place during hard cornering. Some sport seats can feel uncomfortable over long journeys but the GTI's buckets are still remarkably comfortable. Opting for a GTI over the GLI does come at the expense of rear legroom, however. The Jetta offers up 37.4 inches in the back seat while the GTI only manages 35.6 inches. On the side, the GTI is taller and offers more headroom.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater

Interior Colors and Materials

Our Autobahn tester sported leather seats with red stitching, making the cabin feel up to par with most entry-level luxury models. In fact, all of the materials used in the cabin would not feel out of place in a lower-priced Audi. We still prefer the tartan seats found on the lower trim GTI's, which offer a unique plaid design that feels more youthful than leather.

Golf GTI Trunk and Cargo Space

The trunk's volume measures a decent 17.4 cubic feet with the rear seats up. Those rear seats have a center pass-through which allows longer items to be stowed without collapsing the seats. If you do need more space, the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split to expand the maximum volume to 53.7 cubic feet. This allows for a decent amount of luggage - three large suitcases can be easily stowed. In a real-world application, we moved a queen-sized bed-in-a-box in the back of the GTI, a feat which would be impossible in a sedan.

Two cupholders in the center console are supplemented by cavernous door cards at each corner of the car which are capable of holding bottles and additional items like wallets, keys, and more. A phone tray below the center dash console is a nice touch too, while an overhead sunglass storage area and a bin under the center armrest fit sundry items along with a well-sized glovebox.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Maximum Cargo Space
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Maximum Cargo Space
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Trunk Space with Seat Folded
  • Maximum Cargo Space
    53.7 ft³

Golf GTI Infotainment and Features

Features

The GTI is a well-equipped car from the factory but some features are notably missing on lower-spec models, particularly when it comes to driver aids. However, LED fog-lamps, heated power mirrors, automatic windscreen wipers, and heated front seats are included as standard. A rearview camera and leather-wrapped steering wheel add to standard creature comforts. Keyless entry with push-button start, a power sunroof, auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, and front and rear park sensors with auto braking are available further up the range, while adaptive suspension and summer tires can also be added along with an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Additional safety equipment can be had in the form of a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as a self-parking feature.

Infotainment

Volkswagen's infotainment has improved over the years and is now one of the best on the market - if you get the right trim, that is. The S and Rabbit trims use a tiny 6.5-inch capacitive touchscreen display which feels too small for 2019. Our Autobahn tester was equipped with the larger eight-inch display, which is much easier to read from. Both screen sizes do include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, so they are both quite useful in that manner.

Volkswagen has also added some performance gauges into the infotainment system, showing stats like boost pressure and lateral g in real-time. The high-trim Autobahn model's infotainment is linked to a Fender audio system (yes, Fender the guitar maker), which is among the best systems we've heard on a mainstream car.

Golf GTI Problems and Reliability

The 2019 Golf GTI scored 81 out of 100 in the J.D. Power reliability index, which is great. There have been two recalls for the vehicle, though, one of which was to prevent vehicle rollaway in the event of the shift lever not being left in the park position, and another for potential fracture on the rear coil springs.

The GTI comes with the best bumper-to-bumper warranty in the country, covering owners for six years/72,000 miles. This warranty is also transferrable should you decide to sell your car.

Golf GTI Safety

The 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI scored the highest possible rating of five stars in the NHTSA's crash tests, while also achieving the best possible overall score of Good from the IIHS.

Key Safety Features

An unusual feature at this level of the market is the GTI's self-parking system. This works hand in hand with the front and rear park sensors and auto-braking system and is capable of alley-docking, parallel parking, and other maneuvers. Adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keep assist round out the driver aids available. Dual front- and side-impact airbags for the front occupants feature in addition to overhead airbags to protect occupants in the event of a rollover. Seatbelt pretensioners also feature on the GTI.

Verdict: Is the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI a good car?

Not only is the Volkswagen Golf GTI a good car, it is among the very best cars on sale in 2019. There is almost nothing the GTI can not do. Need to carry a mattress to your new apartment? The GTI has you covered. Are you driving across the country on a road trip? The GTI is perfectly comfortable. Do you live the race track? Well, the GTI is plenty fast and can be easily tuned to be even faster. The term 'all-arounder' is tossed around a lot to describe cars that handle a variety of tasks well but few live up to the gold standard of the Golf GTI.

What's the Price of the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI?

The 2019 Golf GTI starts at $27,595 for the base S model, exclusive of taxes and Volkswagen's $895 destination charge. The limited-edition Rabbit will set you back $28,895 before fees, while the SE will cost $31,795. The top-of-the-range Autobahn model will start at $35,995 for the manual version. This model is full-loaded from the factory, so the only option we could tick was the $1,100 DSG automatic transmission available on all trims. This takes the cost to $37,095 before taxes and destination charges.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Models

The 2019 GTI is available in four states of trim, one more than last year. These are the S, Rabbit, SE, and range-topping Autobahn.

The S is the simplest offering but is still well-equipped in many aspects, particularly driver aids, but its infotainment system is well-equipped, featuring a touch display, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and Bluetooth. Heated seats and mirrors are also nice additions, and the driver aids are optional.

The Rabbit includes driver aids like autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and forward-collision warning, but stands out with its unique color options, Rabbit badging, and gloss black rear wing and side mirrors. It also features black 18-inch Pretoria wheels and keyless entry.

The mid-range SE model adds to the regular GTI features with a power sunroof, leather seats, an eight-inch touch display, and VW's Car-Net connected services along with an eight-inch touchscreen display.

Finally, the Autobahn model features adaptive suspension and an eight-speaker Fender sound system as standard. It is the only trim in which you'll find dual-zone climate control, and also the only one that can be had with summer tires, which radically improves the handling and acceleration characteristics. Adaptive cruise control, self-parking, and front and rear PDC are notable inclusions too.

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.0T S
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$27,595
2.0T Rabbit Edition
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$28,895
2.0T SE
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$31,795
2.0T Autobahn
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$35,995
See All 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

The base S model can be specced with the $450 Driver Assistance package, which adds blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, and autonomous emergency braking, as well as pedestrian monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, making it a much better all-round offering. The other available package is optional on the SE only and goes by the moniker of Experience. This $860 addition gives your GTI adaptive damping on your suspension, as well as the eight-speaker Fender audio upgrade.

What Volkswagen Golf GTI Model Should I Buy?

The Autobahn trim we tested was certainly nice but it's nearly $40,000 price tag seems a bit steep. Instead, we'd opt for the more affordable Rabbit Edition trim, which has the best available colors, the coolest wheels, the plaid cloth seats, and a price under $30,000 if you get the manual transmission.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Comparisons

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI vs Subaru WRX Sedan

Looking at their body styles, one may argue that the Subaru WRX is nothing like the VW Golf GTI. However, they are both hotted-up permutations of practical, affordable cars. The base model of the WRX is $400 cheaper than the equivalent GTI, while its top trim is $4,200 less than the GTI Autobahn. In terms of comfort, the cars are fairly evenly matched, with optional heated seating and supportive bolstering featuring in both cabins, but in terms of usable space, the more compact GTI actually has a more cavernous trunk. Infotainment is also better in the German model, with more user-friendly controls and a more premium feel, which can be noted in the overall comfort and refinement too. The WRX is well worth a look, but the GTI is the best in its class and comprehensively outdoes the WRX in everything but raw performance, making it the easier choice to live with.

See Subaru WRX Sedan Review

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI vs Volkswagen Golf R

Often compared due to their shared DNA, the R and GTI are worth comparing before a purchase. The R's immediate advantage lies in its 4-Motion all-wheel-drive system, which the GTI does without. More standard features are equipped as well, including leather interior, adaptive damping, and navigation. The R is a fully-loaded GTI with more power and traction, making use of a larger turbocharger to produce 60 horsepower more and 22lb-ft extra torques. While this has its performance advantages, the drawbacks are directly attributed to the mechanical upgrades too. Weight increases, affecting gas mileage negatively, and the price is severely inflated, with the R starting at $40,395, over $12,000 more than the base GTI. It's also been accused of being less fun to drive due to its permanent competence, requiring an utmost commitment for its limits to be discovered. The GTI is built to be the perfect all-rounder, and the more attractive economy, price, and fun-factor mean that it's our preferred option.

See Volkswagen Golf R Review

Volkswagen Golf GTI Popular Comparisons

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