Review: The 2017 Golf GTI, Yep it’s Still Great

When I started this review, I suggested to my editor that just the title was enough, because what more needs to be said?. “Sure,” they said, “but we’re going to start paying you by the word.” So I wrote some more words. Know, though, that reading past this particular headline is entirely unnecessary. The 2017 Golf GTI is excellent: it’s fun, it’s reasonable, and I’d still own it over just about any other new car (even the R).

A Blast to Drive
The Golf GTI is the ultimate expression of Volkswagen. It isn’t tremendously expensive, it’s comfortable, it’s well equipped, everything inside has a feel of quality about it, there’s lots of space, and it’s quick thanks to the 2.0-liter TSI engine producing 220 hp (that’s on the optional Performance package). Despite all of that, though, no one begrudges you having it, because apart from a few really minor details, it just looks like a Golf, but better. It’s a concealed weapon. As such you end up driving around with the calm confidence of someone who isn’t trying to prove anything. That feels good.

Best of all, though, it’s a blast to drive. It’s so much fun, in fact, that you start poring over maps looking for the twistiest ribbons of tarmac in your corner of the world. Your work computer’s extra tabs won’t be open with hilarious cat pictures or Facebook anymore, they’ll all be Google maps.



That’s because the GTI is the king of the twisties. The Golf R is great, and its four driven wheels and extra power mean that it’ll out drag the GTI all day long, but the two-wheel-driver is lighter and you feel it. You can toss it around. Despite having what amount to casters out back, you never want for grip. The chassis is settled and it inspires all the confidence in the world.

The motor sounds good, too. It isn’t as deep and throaty as the VR6 or even as the Golf R’s 2.0-liter, but it’s good all the same and when you stay in gear past 6 grand you get a nice growl when you eventually do shift.

DSG is Good, But it Ain’t Manual

My only complaint with my press car was the transmission.

Here’s where I get on my high horse. The GTI I drove has Volkswagen’s 6-speed DSG gearbox (that we now know is being phased out in favor of a 7-speed dual clutch unit coming to our hemisphere in 2018). It’s good. Really. It is. It’s fine. It shifts quickly and when you first use it you can almost convince yourself that you’re driving a race car. But the feeling doesn’t last. And then you wish you had three pedals again.


It’s hard to explain the appeal of manuals, because they are, in almost every measurable way, worse than automatics. They’re slower, they’re more work, they’re less luxurious, and they’re less comfortable (I guess). But it’s like race tracks: they’d be way easier if there were no corners. But you know what happens when people find a big square of tarmac without corners? They put up cones and make some. Fun happens when you try to master something difficult. Fun happens when you have to clutch and brake and blip and shift all at the same time, because when you get it all right and hit the apex, and feel the wave of speed you’ve built up it’s amazingly satisfying. Asking for a manual and getting a DSG is a lot like asking for a meal and getting gum. It just isn’t satisfying.

With all that said, the DSG is fine though. As far these things go, this is the best one I’ve driven. There’s no moment of hesitation when you stab the throttle and the shifts are lightning quick.


All Things to All People

At any rate, when the DSG doesn’t really have to be lightning quick—like when you’re driving around normally—the GTI is still brilliant. When you’re done hooning it becomes a sleepy little hatch again, behaving itself just like all the other solid citizens. And you’re back to cool confidence. Plus it’s really well equipped. With the Driver Assistance Package it comes with Adaptive Cruise Control to keep up with traffic, Lane Assist to keep you in your lane, Park Assist to park for you, and whole bunch of stuff that makes you feel like you’re in a premium car.

I called the GTI a concealed weapon a few paragraphs ago, but maybe it would be better to compare it to a well behaved guard dog. It’ll attack on command, but it isn’t constantly barking or straining at the leash. And you do end up feeling that kind of mutual loyalty to it. Even though my road test only lasted a week, I really didn’t want to give my GTI up.

So yeah. The 2017 Golf GTI. Refer to title.


love-leave it