The Volkswagen GTI is the originator of the hot-hatch genre, which mixes economy-car underpinnings with powerful engines and performance-oriented tuning. For many experts, the current GTI marks a return to the original winning formula of smooth power, fuel efficiency, hatchback versatility and top-notch handling, making it the best-reviewed sporty compact car. What sets it apart from its competition, such as the Mazdaspeed3 (Base MSRP: $23,700) and the 2010 Subaru WRX (Base MSRP: $23,392), is unmatched driving dynamics and an interior that is luxurious in quality. Competitors offer more power and post faster acceleration numbers, though. Regardless, nearly all reviewers prefer the GTI despite its lower power output.
In fact, the 2010 GTI was named Automobile Magazine's Automobile of the Year. Car and Driver's equally important 10Best list included the VW Golf/GTI for 2011.
The Volkswagen GTI received significant updates in 2010, and the 2011 model year remains unchanged from the 2010 model. All of the reviews included in this analysis tested the 2010 Volkswagen GTI, and the results are applicable to the 2011 model.
Reviewers constantly cite the high-quality, ergonomic interior as one of highlights of the 2011 Volkswagen GTI. As Autoblog.com puts it, "build quality both inside and out is typical Volkswagen -- meticulous." The experts all agree that the interior design and execution is befitting of a car twice as expensive, and is in many cases, better than cars that are twice as expensive.
Furthermore, the hatchback configuration allows for decent storage space. The GTI can accommodate 15.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 46 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.
Not only are the materials first rate, but there are plenty of high-class features available such as steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles for the dual-clutch automatic, Bluetooth connectivity, an eight-speaker stereo and heated front seats. All of these features come standard on the GTI, and niceties like a sunroof, touch-screen navigation and xenon headlights are optional. The GTI's Autobahn package adds leather seat inserts, a premium audio system and keyless ignition.
The exterior of the GTI isn't the subject of much discussion, but when the topic does arise, reviewers say the favor the car's taut and simple design that is evocative of its sporty intentions.
And sportiness comes in spades, as the GTI's handling is considered world class. Car and Driver proclaims that "the ride-and-handling balance is among the best in the world," and that the "steering is light and precise." Autoblog.com echoes this sentiment, mentioning that it feels like "Volkswagen sent this car off to a weekend handling seminar at BMW." Nearly every expert reviewer agrees that the ride is supple and quiet, while the handling takes corners with vim. The GTI also manages to avoid the problems of torque steer and unbalanced handling, which are often present in powerful front-wheel drive vehicles. One reviewer says more steering feel could be dialed in to make it even better, and another says that the short wheelbase leads to unpleasant motions in highway driving, but such opinions are the minority.
The excellent driving dynamics are complemented by a 2-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. While the GTI has lower power numbers than its competitors, all reviewers enjoy its smooth power delivery and torque accessibility across a broad range of engine speeds. Turbo lag is not an issue, as the 2.0T offers immediate power on demand. The engine "delivers lively acceleration at higher revs," according to Cars.com, and also has its peak torque available at a low 1,800 rpm. The power is transferred to the road via either a six-speed, manual transmission or a six-speed, dual-clutch, automated manual transmission. Many reviewers prefer the manual for allowing the driver to optimally extract power out of the engine, while others prefer the dual-clutch automatic for its racecar-quick shifting, better fuel economy and paddle-shifting feature. Cars.com says the dual-clutch automatic is a bit clunky at parking-lot speeds.
Fuel economy with the six-speed, dual-clutch automatic is impressive for the amount of power the GTI delivers. With the automatic, the GTI gets an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway/27 mpg combined fuel economy. This rating is better than some less powerful, less sporty economy cars. The EPA rates the manual-equipped GTI at 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.
Crash-test results are impressive for the GTI. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety names the 2011 GTI a Top Safety Pick, meaning it got the highest crash-protection rating of Good for front, rear and side impacts, as well as roof strength. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government entity that performs crash tests, has not tested the 2011 Volkswagen GTI. Plenty of safety equipment comes standard, including antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, front-side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
Reliability is predicted to be average by a leading consumer organization. The GTI's basic warranty is average in duration at three years/36,000 miles, but owners get free maintenance service and roadside assistance during this period. The powertrain warranty is longer at five years/60,000 miles.
All in all, the 2011 Volkswagen GTI is reviewers' favorite sporty compact car for its uncanny ability to deliver the polished driving experience and everyday comfort of a more expensive vehicle. About.com's Aaron Gold summarizes the GTI's credentials, saying, "when you look at the whole picture -- price, performance, and the all-important fun-to-drive factor -- the GTI is about as good as it gets." (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
More simply, Car and Driver says, "the GTI gets a hold of you and never lets go."
Edmunds.com editors are quick to point out that the 2011 GTI is not the fastest sporty hatchback available but that it is still one of their favorites because of its refinement and everyday drivability. The interior is a clear winner for best-in-class in their opinion, and the smooth torque delivery is very practical in everyday driving.
Review: 2011 Volkswagen GTI, Editors of Edmunds.com
ConsumerReports.org tests the GTI and offers details on the drive, practicality and expected reliability, among other measures. ConsumerReports.org is one of the most respected sources for automotive testing and the editors provide ratings for most new cars.
Review: New Cars: Small Cars, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Considering the 2011 Volkswagen GTI is the best-reviewed sporty economy car, it gets impressive fuel economy. This is particularly true when the GTI is equipped with the six-speed, dual-clutch, automated gearbox, which delivers 27 mpg in combined driving, as estimated by the EPA. The manual transmission makes the GTI slightly less fuel efficient, delivering a lower 25 mpg in mixed driving.
Review: 2011 Volkswagen GTI, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov
4. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The 2011 GTI, like its stablemate, the Volkswagen Golf, gets the IIHS's Top Safety Pick designation, as it receives the highest rating of Good for all crash-test scenarios, from front, side and rear protection to roof-strength testing.
Review: Small Cars, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
5. Automobile Magazine
Editors at Automobile Magazine compare a wide variety of contenders to decide what the best car of the year is, based on many factors. The GTI is named the 2010 winner because it "continues to burn the affordable-enthusiast-car flame like no other vehicle in the world."
Review: 2010 Automobile of the Year: 2010 Volkswagen GTI, Joe DeMatio, Nov. 2009
6. Car and Driver
The Volkswagen GTI and Golf are together named to Car and Driver's 10Best list for 2011. Editors consider the chassis "so well sorted that it can devour back roads as happily as it swallows the indignities of the daily commute." The high-quality interior, livability and dynamically superior behaviors make it one of the best cars available, editors say.
Review: 2011 Volkswagen Golf / GTI -- 10Best Cars, Editors of Car and Driver, Nov. 2010
This short-take review of the GTI corroborates what many other reviewers are saying. Namely, that the engine has buttery-smooth power delivery, exceptionally good handling and solid build quality. Due to its impressive fuel efficiency, the reviewer calls the GTI "arguably one of the most appropriate performance cars of the times."
Review: 2010 VW Golf GTI Test Drive: 207-hp Mite Packs Refinement and Muscle, Barry Winfield, Oct. 1, 2009
The GTI is all good in Don Gammill's eyes, as he says that "when you get behind the wheel, your life will almost assuredly suck less." More to the point, he loves the combination of interior quality, overall refinement and impressive torque delivery from the turbocharged engine. Any lack of power compared with rivals is easily made up with unbeatable driving dynamics.
Review: Review: 2010 Volkswagen GTI, Don Gammill Jr., Nov. 23, 2009
9. AOL Autos
Reilly Brennan likes the GTI very much, but he says it doesn't quite recreate the formula of the original version of his youth, which he calls "the greatest car ever made." He says that he wants more engine/road noise for the visceral thrill, and that the steering is lacking feedback in some instances. Other than that, he doesn't specifically say what's missing.
Review: Driven: 2010 Volkswagen GTI, Reilly Brennan, April 9, 2010
This reviewer puts his adoration of the 2010 Volkswagen GTI in the framework of value -- he considers it the cheapest German sports car one can buy. (The 2010 GTI is virtually identical to the current 2011 model year.) The reviewer notes that the ride isn't as stiff as most of its competitors, but remains very compliant and willing to take on any cornering situation.
Review: Volkswagen's GTI Is Porsche Fan's Starter Car, Jason H. Harper, Jan. 27, 2010
Cars.com names the GTI a Best Bet for 2011, and this review of the 2010 GTI explains why. Overall, the review is positive, but unlike some other reviewers, Kelsey Mays experiences choppy up-and-down motions in highway driving that he attributes to the GTI's short wheelbase. He also doesn't like the clunky and hesitant operation of the automated manual transmission at low speeds.
Review: 2010 Volkswagen GTI, Kelsey Mays, Jan. 29, 2010
12. Car and Driver
This comparison of the GTI with its most direct competition, the Mazdaspeed3, results in a win for the GTI. Smooth clutch operation, higher levels of sophistication, better interior quality and a smooth yet athletic ride are all cited as the GTI's advantages over the Mazda.
Review: 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 vs. 2010 Volkswagen GTI -- Comparison Tests, Tony Swan, Nov. 2009
13. Road & Track
Again, when compared directly to the Mazdaspeed3, the GTI is chosen as the favorite. The editors of Road & Track slightly prefer it to the Mazda for the same reasons that other reviewers like the GTI: refinement, smooth power, everyday drivability and a top-notch interior.
Review: Mazdaspeed3 vs. VW Golf GTI -- Comparison Test, Editors of Road & Track, July 28, 2010
14. Edmunds Inside Line
Edmunds Inside Line has a special section in which it tests certain cars over a longer period of time. This allows editors to more readily gauge quality and livability and form more informed opinions. Editors have had a 2010 Volkswagen GTI in their fleet for about a year and have more than 180 posts on the car. This is an outstanding resource for anyone considering the car.
Review: 2010 Volkswagen GTI -- Long Term Road Tests, Editors of Edmunds Inside Line
The title says it all. This Autoblog.com review reports that the slick handling, powerful engine and smart packaging are all present in the redesign of the GTI. This review covers the 2010 Volkswagen GTI, which is nearly identical to the 2011 model year. There is little to complain about in the GTI aside from the fact that the rear seat isn't huge. Good fuel efficiency is the icing on the cake.
Review: Review: 2010 Volkswagen GTI -- It's Got Its Mojo Workin' Again, Dan Roth, May 26, 2010
This review's subtitle is amusingly direct, demanding readers to "just buy it." Aaron Gold says the GTI is hands-down the best front-wheel drive, sporty hatchback available. Ergonomics and interior materials are considered to be first rate. He compliments the GTI for being able to cruise smoothly at highway speeds and be aggressive in the corners as well. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Review: 2010 Volkswagen GTI Test Drive, Aaron Gold