Driven: 2018 VW GTI. My Favorite Toy.

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Apr 08, 2018
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We have to be careful when we trundle down memory lane. Our brains have a tendency to romanticize our history and make everyone of and everything in the old days seem better. Was my mother’s spaghetti really the best I ever tasted? Was that nervous first kiss from my seventh-grade girlfriend as sweet as strawberries? Was the VW GTI really the most fun car I ever owned?

Yes, I have a history with the GTI. My first newish car was a 1983 VW Rabbit GTI Mk1 that I bought from David E. Davis, Jr. and Car and Driver Magazine after I had finished my four-year stint as the magazine’s original Road Warrior and found myself a job with a real paycheck. They had driven the GTI a bit, installed Recaro seats, a Momo wood steering wheel, and some seriously cool aftermarket wheels of a brand I can’t recall. At the time it was a revelation. An American-built, German car that outhandled and outdrove Camaros, Mustangs, and Trans-Ams of the day even though it made just 90 horsepower and had all the practicality of a hatchback.

Which brings me to to the modern day GTI.

Aside from the fact that the 2018 GTI has two doors too many for my liking, it’s damn near perfect. Like the original, it’s nimble, it’s quick, it’s balanced, and it feels light. True, it’s 1,000 pounds heavier than the original GTI thanks to all the safety features and creature comforts we’ve come to expect in a modern car like airbags, anti-lock brakes, power leather seats, power windows, sunroof, automatic climate control, and sound insulation. Yet, somehow it manages to feel just as joyful as I found out when I set up a mini autocross course in the back parking lot of the TV station to demonstrate the GTI’s remarkable acceleration, handling, and braking to my co-host.

For 2018, the GTI makes 220 horsepower and weighs in at a svelte (by today’s standards) 3,062 pounds. The GTI can get from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds, nearly four seconds quicker than my old car. That’s what a torquey 16-valve, 2.0L turbocharged power plant will do for you. There’s good power off the line, but it isn’t until you hit about 3,500 RPM that it really comes to life. When you feel like tossing the GTI around, you’ll be driving a gear lower than normal, just to keep the revs – and your heart rate – spooled up. The good news is that’s really easy to do with a well-paired 6-speed manual transmission which is the way I’d order it. There is a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic available. If you’re going to buy a GTI do yourself a favor, however, learn to drive a stick. You will enjoy it more. I promise you.

But power isn’t what the GTI is all about. The words that best describe this car are agile, nimble, quick, and vivacious. The steering and suspension are the stars here. While you can, and I would drive this car every day, the set up is sporting. You don’t just feel every pebble and crack on the road, you become one with the pavement. Sitting low in the cockpit, with the golf-ball shift knob falling easily to your right hand, the leather steering wheel providing plenty of grip in your left, feet flitting between the accelerator, clutch, and brake pedals, the GTI is the Ginger Rodgers of sports cars. It is the perfect dancing partner whether you’re carving up a canyon road or trying to set a time at an autocross.

Inside, the Autobahn edition of the GTI is loaded with all the goodies, maybe a few too many for my taste. I’m not a big fan of sunroofs, especially in small performance cars. It puts extra weight where you least want it. The heated leather seats are nice and very supportive. The large, touchscreen infotainment system is easy and intuitive to use. The premium Fender audio sounds great. But my focus was almost always on the road ahead with glimpses at the classic instrument panel layout with its large analog speedometer and tach.

If you’re looking for a pure driving experience, the S model is the way to go. You don’t get performance brakes, a limited slip differential, nor LED headlights. You will also have to be okay with the plaid, retro-styled cloth seats. I know I would be.

I loved my original GTI, maybe even more because it gave up its life to save my wife’s after a Genesee County salt truck pulled out in front of her on a snowy Michigan highway somewhere south of Flint. This 2018 model, more than any generation of GTI since, channels the joie de vivre of my old car which, in a day and age where overlarge SUVs and nearly indistinguishable mid-size crossovers rule the roads, is an achievement in itself.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Base Price: $26,415
Price as tested: $35,070
Major Options: Autobahn Trim includes power sunroof, LED Headlights, 12-way power drivers seat, leather seating surfaces, dual-zone climate control, auto dimming mirror, keyless entry with pushbutton start, Fender premium audio, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, performance brakes, limited slip differential
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged, direct-injection four-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Power: 220 HP at 4,700 RPM (with premium fuel)
Torque: 258 lb.-ft. @ 1,500 RPM
Curb Weight: 3,062 lbs.
0-60 MPH: 5.9 seconds
Top speed: 130 MPH
EPA MPG: 25 city/33 highway/28 combined

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Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."

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