The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI is a sporty compact hatchback that blends utility and performance. It serves as a high-performance variant of the Golf hatchback, intended for enthusiasts who want to spice up their commutes or head to the track on the weekend.
The 2016 Volkswagen GTI comes in S, SE and Autobahn trims. For 2016 it adds new connectivity, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. A rearview camera is now standard, and the range of available driver-assistance technology has been expanded to include features such as lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring.
The five-seat Golf GTI is a front-wheel drive hatchback available with either two or four doors. It comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The 2016 GTI’s shape will be pretty familiar to any Volkswagen aficionado. It’s essentially a boxy hatchback with a sloping hood and slightly rounded edges. It echoes the early hatchbacks of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but with a more modern shape.
Relative to the standard Volkswagen Golf, GTI models get model-specific side windows, a headlight cluster that VW describes as “sharper” than the standard Golf’s, a narrower grill, a lower front fascia, unique wheels, red-painted brake calipers and a unique rear diffuser. It also sits 0.6 inches lower than the standard Golf.
Front fog lamps and heated side mirrors are standard. Eighteen-inch wheels are also standard, and a power sunroof, automatic headlights and rain-sensing windshield wipers are standard on the SE and Autobahn trims.
An available Lighting package adds bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and adaptive front lighting that allows the headlights to swivel in the direction in which the steering wheel is turned.
The GTI’s cabin is handsome and laden with upscale materials. Gauges are clear and easy to read, and controls are laid out logically and easy to reach. The cabin looks and feels far classier than that of the competing Subaru WRX, for example.
Volkswagen has given the GTI a little extra utility with a trunk floor that can be raised or lowered by 3.9 inches and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat (Volkswagen claims an owner can fit a bicycle back there). Cargo volume is roomy, listed at 22.8 cubic feet with the seats up and 52.7 with the rear seats folded. With the seats up, that’s less than the Ford Focus ST (23.3) but it’s more than the ST offers with its seats down (43.9). The Subaru WRX, which is perhaps the GTI’s biggest rival, is available only as a sedan and it has just 12.0 cubic feet of trunk space.
Headroom is listed at 38.4 inches up front and 38.1 in the rear, while legroom is listed at 41.2 in front and 35.6 in the second row. The WRX has 39.8 inches of headroom up front and 37.1 in back, with legroom of 43.3 inches in front and 35.4 in the rear. This means the difference in rear-seat legroom between the WRX and GTI is negligible, while the WRX has a slight edge with legroom up front. Front headroom favors the WRX, while rear headroom favors the GTI.
Rear-seat space was cramped but acceptable for my tall frame, with my knees and head having clearance, but barely.
The GTI comes with ambient interior lighting, illuminated door sills, aluminum-look pedals, a model-specific instrument panel and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Heated front sport seats with plaid surfaces are also standard. Leather seats and a 12-way power driver’s seat are available.
Equipped as it is with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the GTI is quite peppy, and the available Performance package adds 10 horsepower. Our test car had the slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, which adds to the experience. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is available. In addition to the 10 horsepower, the Performance package adds larger front and rear brakes and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential.
With ample punch for passing, merging and leaving the line, the GTI generates plenty of grins when the gas pedal is depressed. The gearbox allows for quick, smooth shifts with little chance of hitting the wrong gate. Taking advantage of the drive-mode selector and putting the car in Sport mode adds more aggression to the proceedings.
All GTIs have a sport suspension with drive-mode selection that allows the driver to toggle between Normal, Sport and customizable Individual settings, and the optional adaptive damping system adds a Comfort mode. It might be worth ticking this option box if the GTI will be your daily driver. The GTI seemed to ride rougher, even in Normal mode, than a VW Golf R we tested earlier, and the Golf R is supposed to be the higher-strung, higher-performance model. Still, this stiffness wasn’t a deal breaker, and the car was mostly composed in commuting duty, whether on the expressway or surface streets.
The EPA rates the Golf GTI at 25/34 mpg city/highway with the manual transmission and 25/33 mpg with the automatic.
The GTI lives up to the hot-hatch promise. It’s easy enough to drive to work and back or to the store, but still ready to play when the right road presents itself.
The GTI’s key standard tech features include Bluetooth, a USB port, an auxiliary input jack, satellite radio and an infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Available tech features include keyless entry with push-button start, a premium audio system, a navigation system and dual-zone climate control.
The infotainment system is straightforward and easy to use, and Apple CarPlay provided navigation via Apple Maps. Apple CarPlay remains user friendly.
The 2016 Golf GTI scores a perfect five-star overall safety rating in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crashing testing. It gets four stars in frontal-impact crash and rollover testing, and five stars in side-impact crash testing.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the GTI earned top scores of Good in all tests and received a Top Safety Pick+ designation.
Standard safety features include side-curtain air bags, a rearview camera, stability control and antilock brakes. Available safety features include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning (with autonomous emergency braking), lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, park distance control and park assist.
If you choose options judiciously with the GTI, you can have a sporty hatchback with strong performance, good fuel economy, plenty of utility and a classy, high-tech interior for just over $30,000. The best way to do that is to opt for the mid-level SE trim, as it offers a fair amount of comfort and convenience features above the base S model. The S starts at $24,995 (excluding destination), while the SE starts at $28,025. The sunroof, keyless access, a premium audio system and leather seats are worth the extra change. The Driver Assistance package ($1,495) is probably a must-have for most commuters, thanks to the blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, not to mention the parking-assist features.
With a manual transmission and the Driver Assistance package, a two-door Golf GTI SE will run you $30,340, including an $820 destination charge. Equipping the car with an automatic transmission will add $1,100 to the price tag.
It’s really hard to beat the GTI if you’re looking for speed and utility at a relatively affordable price.
There’s very little to recommend against this car, although its rivals are strong, too. On its own merits, though, the 2016 Golf GTI is one of the tops in its class.