The Volkswagen GTI doesn’t require much of an introduction. The O.G. hot hatch has been an automotive icon for almost 50 years. It’s the benchmark for reasonably-priced sporty cars. Competitors must provide an answer to a simple question: why would you buy this instead of a GTI? Fairly often — even now, eight years into the Mk7-generation’s model run — it’s a tough question to wrangle with. The GTI is almost preternaturally perfect.
It’s not particularly powerful, what with its 228 horsepower. Its 6.5-second 0-60 mph acceleration time won’t drop anyone’s jaw. But concentrating on specs misses the point: the GTI excels at driving refinement and enjoyment. It handles corners with precision and responsiveness that can compete with just about anything that’s road-legal. You need to spend significantly more than the GTI’s starting price of $28,595 to find comparable driving dynamics..and even then, the practical, 30-mpg-plus GTI may be the car you’d want to drive every day.
It’s the car I want to drive every day, at least. The GTI is my dream car. Not the unobtainable dream where I’m dropping mad cash on every Porsche 911 that pops up on Bring a Trailer, but the attainable one. I could hypothetically afford a GTI now, particularly with the 0 percent financing deal VW has on offer.
So, to see if I could keep the dream alive, I wanted to find out whether a GTI could work as a dad car. I have one small child and a second on the way; downsizing from a wagon to a hatch would be a tough sell. VW loaned me an Autobahn-trim GTI with a six-speed manual for a week to find out if I could make it work.
The GTI can improve on perfection, but not by much
There’s a shadow hanging over the Mk7 GTI: VW just revealed the new Mk8 version. It should arrive stateside in late 2021, packing a bit more oomph — an additional 13 hp and 15 lb-ft of torque — from its turbocharged 2.0-liter. But the superficiality of the improvements highlights how there isn’t much wrong with the Mk7. The minor tweaks VW is making for the eighth-gen version appear to be mostly aesthetic.
A harsh critic might point out the current GTI looks a bit bland; the Mk8 receives sharper lines, for a more aggressive feeling exterior. The GTI interior feels a tad busy and dated; the Mk8 adds a digital instrument cluster, has fewer knobs and analog buttons, and streamlines the air vents. Those changes, plus some suspension tuning tweaks, are about it.
I understand why so many GTI drivers get speeding tickets.
The GTI ranked in the top five cars for vehicles whose drivers are most likely to have a speeding ticket. Some of that boils down to, well, the sort of people who buy purist manual sports cars probably want to enjoy them. But, after driving one for a week, I think a couple of other factors may be contributing to that.
Driving a GTI felt more conspicuous than I anticipated. (My tester being painted Tornado Red probably didn’t help.) I didn’t have any encounters with law enforcement, but other drivers and pedestrians appeared to be giving me a wider berth. I seemed to be causing Audis and Ford Focuses in my general vicinity to rev higher than usual, and the third Hemi-powered Dodge Charger that passed me on the right on a highway going 95 mph suggested it wasn’t a coincidence. The GTI isn’t a normcore assassin. It’s a car people notice.
The GTI also entices you to drive faster than usual. Some cars surprise you with their raw power; with the GTI, it’s the sheer amount of control you have. It’s a fine-tuned beast for tackling the normal roads you drive on. Switching to Sport mode requires one touch of a well-lit, easily accessible button. Having a little fun is hard to resist. And “the man” wanting you to slow down to 35 mph for that mundane S curve feels unreasonable.
The GTI came very close to working as my dad car.
The GTI was more practical in the day-to-day than I anticipated. I took my son for rides — red “race cars” are his favorite — and that was easy to manage with four doors. I had no trouble getting him or his car seat in and out; in fact, there was room for two cars seats back there. I mostly had to imagine what routine errands would look like, seeing as how we were still under lockdown…but I don’t make many trips to Home Depot anyway, so it seemed manageable.
My wife was more amenable to an eventual GTI purchase — someday — than I anticipated. Buying a sub-$30,000 hatchback is not blowing the kids’ college fund on an air-cooled 911. The primary point of contention wasn’t size, in fact. It was that, since I’m testing cars regularly, I’ve used my “daily driver” for about a week and a half since Thanksgiving.
But I made it through the week with the dream still alive. Then I did one daft thing: right before I had to hand the GTI over, I got curious, and tried to fit my son’s behemoth Nuna all-terrain stroller into the trunk. Laid flat, it came about an inch from fitting. Yeah, I could have removed the cargo cover and put the stroller in horizontally (or, y’know, bought a new stroller). But the last thing you want as a parent is added hassle. My dream may have to wait.
Price as Tested: $37,415
Drivetrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, 6-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
Power: 228 hp, 258 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 24 city, 32 highway
Volkswagen provided this product for review.
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