2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI: The hot hatch

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No doubt about it: Volkswagen needs to repair its reputation with consumers in the wake of Dieselgate. One good way to do that might be to loan everybody a new Golf GTI. Once naysayers got behind the wheel and put their foots down, this little hot-hatch would leave all that negativity in the dust.

What is a hot-hatch? Short for “hot hatchback”, it’s typically a high-performance derivative of a car body style that has between three and five doors. The GTI is generally referred to as the car that started the hot hatch class, competing with the likes of the Subaru WRX, Subaru STI, Ford Focus ST, and its sibling, the expensive Volkswagen Golf R. With a starting price of $25,000 and four trim level packages–S, Sport, SE, and Autobahn–this GTI is an inexpensive way to get a high-performance, front-wheel-drive hatchback that checks off all the boxes.  It’s got looks, style, a smooth ride, clean handling, safety features, infotainment tech, and it’s downright fun! The Golf GTI is the kind of compact daily driver that can satisfy your economic, utilitarian, and performance needs without completely breaking the piggy bank.

It’s no wonder that the 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI ranks high on many lists. For starters, it’s small and nimble without sacrificing interior space. On my test drive, it was able to accommodate four big bears–Kent, Eliot, Jonesy, Sam, and Cubby–and my pocketbear self quite comfortably. The SE trim upgraded performance package adds an additional 10 horsepower to the four-cylinder, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, producing 210hp and 258 pound-feet of torque along with a limited-slip front differential that is electronically controlled. (That means more torque can be applied in the form of acceleration with less slippage, equaling faster corner exiting.)  The adjustable suspension allows increased range from comfort to sporty, and the oversized front brakes confidently provide quick deceleration.

It doesn’t end there, either. The improved technology package includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto,  making it easy to pair devices and access music, contacts, navigation, and other useful apps, either by voice or touch commands. The interior felt “preppy”, looking nice and sporty.  The very large cargo area could accommodate a lot of costume changes, with over 22 cubic feet and a 60/40 rear seat split. There was plenty to offer safety-wise, too: blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic braking, rear-view camera, and parking sensor parking assist just to name a few key features.

The week I drove the GTI included a quick visit to Aspen, Colorado and a stay at a vacation cabin. For over 20 years, I’ve made the drive up there, and I highly recommend it, if you’re in the area. It takes about three hours from Denver and provides some awesome views, but the last leg through Glenwood Canyon is the most spectacular with epic views of sheer canyon walls carved by the mighty Colorado River. Be sure to watch the video of Glenwood Canyon above as I enjoy the GTI’s handling, responsive steering, and robust engine performance on some tight turns and winding roads–you might even be able to hear the throaty exhaust system.

MSRP: From $24,995

Horsepower: 210 to 220 hp

MPG: Up to 24 city / 34 highway

Curb weight: 2,972 to 3,086 lbs

Cargo volume: 22.8 ft³, 52.7 ft³ with seat area