Automotive

Review: Defining “hot hatch” in a 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Review: Defining “hot hatch” i...
Since the 1980s, the Golf GTI has defined hot hatch as a category and the 2019 model keeps that going
Since the 1980s, the Golf GTI has defined hot hatch as a category and the 2019 model keeps that going
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The Golf GTI has a reputation for being a well-handling street car
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The Golf GTI has a reputation for being a well-handling street car. It corners nicely at speed and feels confident on twisty roads
Most drivers should be able to squeeze out sub-7-second 0-60 mph sprints from the 2019 GTI
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Most drivers should be able to squeeze out sub-7-second 0-60 mph sprints from the 2019 GTI
The defining point of a hot hatch, outside of over-norm power delivery, is in the agility of a small-wheelbase compact
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The defining point of a hot hatch, outside of over-norm power delivery, is in the agility of a small-wheelbase compact
The 2019 Golf GTI has a natural feel about its dynamics that also boosts confidence in the curves
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The 2019 Golf GTI has a natural feel about its dynamics that also boosts confidence in the curves
The highest selling point, to us, for the 2019 VW Golf GTI is in its daily usefulness as a driver that happens to have performance options
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The highest selling point, to us, for the 2019 VW Golf GTI is in its daily usefulness as a driver that happens to have performance options
Since the 1980s, the Golf GTI has defined hot hatch as a category and the 2019 model keeps that going
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Since the 1980s, the Golf GTI has defined hot hatch as a category and the 2019 model keeps that going
Enthusiasts are likely to swap out the standard all-season radials for something more sticky, in order to carve out all of the performance the GTI can give
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Enthusiasts are likely to swap out the standard all-season radials for something more sticky, in order to carve out all of the performance the GTI can give
The Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine receives eight more horsepower, making 258 in all
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The Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine receives eight more horsepower, making 258 in all
The sport-centric nature of the 2019 Golf GTI means that it’s not as smooth or road-absorbing as are more conventional cars
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The sport-centric nature of the 2019 Golf GTI means that it’s not as smooth or road-absorbing as are more conventional cars
Back seats in the 2019 Golf GTI offer about average space for the compact segment
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Back seats in the 2019 Golf GTI offer about average space for the compact segment
The Golf has a typically Volkswagen simplicity to its interior design
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The Golf has a typically Volkswagen simplicity to its interior design

Most enthusiasts have used the Volkswagen Golf in its performance variants as the benchmark for the “hot hatch” category. The 2019 Golf GTI is the metric by which all others will likely be compared, which puts it in a tough spot. Luckily, the Golf GTI Autobahn we drove lived up to expectations.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI takes a basic VW Golf, already a well-rounded compact hatchback, and adds more under-hood muscle and a better suspension. This formula has served VW well and continues for 2019, but with a little more horsepower, a new transmission, and some added bling.

The major changes found with this 2019 model year are in the engine, transmission, and drivetrain. The Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine receives eight more horsepower, making 258 in all (192 kW) thanks to a little tuning. It additionally gets a new transmission option, upgrading the six-speed automatic to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. More importantly, it now also has a mechanical limited-slip differential as standard equipment.

The Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine receives eight more horsepower, making 258 in all
The Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine receives eight more horsepower, making 258 in all

The Golf GTI has a reputation for being a well-handling street car. It corners nicely at speed and feels confident on twisty roads. The upgrades added this year bring more of that. The HP addition doesn’t do much in terms of perceptible change for the driver, but the upgraded transmission and addition of limited-slip mean more confidence in the turns. Adding on the adaptive suspension dampers found in the SE Experience package and the Autobahn (as we drove it) model takes it up a notch.

For most everyone, the 2019 Golf GTI is a solid handling, fun little car. Enthusiasts are likely to swap out the standard all-season radials for something more sticky in order to carve out all of the performance the little hatch can give. That could limit usefulness in some climates, but for true enthusiasts, semi-annual tire swaps for better summer performance is the norm.

It does take a little time to get used to the odd turbo lag the Golf GTI has, though. Power delivery begins to peak at only 1,500 rpm, but there’s a half-second pause before the turbos actually kick in – enough that it’s perceptibly hesitant. The trick is to learn to keep the engine at or near 1,200-1,300 rotations and kick in the turbo more quickly on acceleration. Most drivers should be able to squeeze out sub-7-second 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) sprints once this is mastered.

Enthusiasts are likely to swap out the standard all-season radials for something more sticky, in order to carve out all of the performance the GTI can give
Enthusiasts are likely to swap out the standard all-season radials for something more sticky, in order to carve out all of the performance the GTI can give

That quick acceleration is augmented by strong cornering capability. The defining point of a hot hatch, outside of over-norm power delivery, is in the agility of a small-wheelbase compact. Steering inputs for the GTI are varied according to drive mode and dynamics. The faster the vehicle is going, the heavier the steering feel. This isn’t unusual in sporty vehicles, and it gives a strong feeling of control to the driver. The 2019 Golf GTI has a natural feel about its dynamics that also boost confidence in the curves.

There are limits to those points, however. Namely at speed. At higher speeds, the understeer and body roll common to smaller front-wheel drive vehicles comes to the fore in the Golf GTI. The limited-slip differential helps with this, but can only do so much, so the GTI is naturally speed-limited in the turns due to its overall design. Outside of the race track, most drivers are not likely to push those limits much. But performance junkies will need to learn the car’s limitations before pushing it too hard.

The highest selling point, to us, for the 2019 VW Golf GTI is in its daily usefulness as a driver that happens to have performance options outside of that. As an everyday, the Golf is a great hatchback with lots of versatility and a usable nature. Ergonomics are good and comfort is generally well-done. There are some caveats, trade-offs made for the performance capabilities, and some may not like the austerity of Volkswagen interiors. For those looking at a hot hatch, however, those tradeoffs are probably not big concessions.

The Golf has a typically Volkswagen simplicity to its interior design
The Golf has a typically Volkswagen simplicity to its interior design

The sport-centric nature of the new GTI means that it’s not as smooth or road-absorbing as are more conventional cars ... including the standard VW Golf. Inside, the Golf has a typically Volkswagen simplicity to its design. Function makes form in a VW interior, and the Golf GTI is definitely on that trend. Seating is comfortable and controls layout is intuitive, but the distinct lack of design offsets – even in the top-shelf Autobahn trim – may not appeal to many.

Infotainment in the Golf GTI is improved over the previous generation, adding a larger screen and better responsiveness. Standard features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but there’s only one USB port and it’s required in order to use them. Anyone else with a charging need is out of luck. The Fender audio system, we’ll point out, is an excellent addition (available in most trims, standard in the Autobahn). Those wondering will find the CD player and SD card reader in the glove box.

In all, the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI is a fun little hatchback that builds on the legacy of the GTI brand. Since the 1980s, the Golf GTI has defined hot hatch as a category and the 2019 model keeps that going.

Product Page: 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

6 comments
warren52nz
You're hardly redefining "Hot Hatch" with a 0-60 of about 7 seconds. A 2006 Mazda 3 MPS does it in 5.8 https://www.google.com/search?q=Mazda3+MPS+0-60&rlz=1C1CHZL_enNZ760NZ760&oq=Mazda3+MPS+0-60&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.5167j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
martinwinlow
You see, this is why I don't believe anything that VW says about wanting to transform its internal combustion fleet to electric. If it were really true, why on Earth would they still be spending millions developing new ICEVs?
D Sizzle
can you even fit one or two sets of golf clubs in the rear area behind the back seats? If not, this car is useless as a hatchback.
MorrisGray
Okay I have a couple of opinions about the car and some concern. Concern.... Is the 2019 GTI having stall problems as I have heard about? with manual or automatic? Hot Hatch...? that is just a reference and mostly an opinion. To me hot hatch equals high hp and that is based on whatever else there is to compare to it. But just my opinion. Cargo space? ... No hatchback really has trunk equivalent space but fold down seats is what makes them so useful and a high opening lift gate. Speed ratings.... 0-60 mph is a useless rating. Say one thousand one. There is your difference in an actual but unimportant time from stop to 60 mph. Merge on the interstate or passing another car quickly from say 55 to 70 mph is important.
Spiffypants
Probably worth mentioning that the 2020 Mark VIII Golf (full redesign) is right around the corner.
warren52nz
@MorrisGray The word "hot" when applied to cars means quick acceleration. If VW thinks it is "defining hot hatch" with a car that's about 2 seconds slower than a car made 13 years ago then they're not doing their research. As for 0-60, that's always been the standard for acceleration (now translated into 0-100 KPH for every country except the uSA who can't seem to get their heads around the metric system along with Liberia and Myanmar). If one car is 2 seconds quicker to 60 than another which one do you think would be quicker from 55-70?