This week I’m behind the wheel of the 2020 VW Golf GTI - a hot hatch with a cult following that’s both well-earned and well-deserved. My recent stint behind the Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn only reaffirmed my high regard after driving the 2018 GTI S a few years ago. With a new 8th-generation GTI due out next year, big changes are coming then. Some notable differences between the 2018 and 2020 are a slight power boost and I’m happy to report there are more standard safety features.
I’d say drivers who buy a GTI first and foremost do so for its hot-hatch performance, so let’s start with what’s under the hood. A 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder that delivers 228-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque (premium fuel is required for top performance.) It’s mated to an excellent, smooth-shifting 6-speed manual that I really like. Acceleration is excellent. An optional 7-speed automatic is available for $800. (Note: The 8th-gen GTI will get a power boost when it arrives in America next year as a 2021 model.)
Ride and Drive
The front-wheel drive GTI delivers a great ride and drive. It sits 0.6-inches lower to the ground than the standard Golf due to its lower autobahn-tuned sport suspension. It’s also equipped with limited slip differential and shares performance brakes with the higher-performance Golf R. The Autobahn package adds DCC Adaptive Chassis Control which modifies suspension in real time to meet changing road conditions. All of it adds up to one engaging, fun to drive ride with spot-on braking. Handling is fantastic and steering is quick and responsive. It’s also a comfortable ride. It delivers firm handling without being too harsh and the GTI handles bumps in the road deftly and smoothly. Sport mode tightens up handling but you can also select Eco, Comfort, Normal, and Custom.
The 2020 Golf GTI comes in two trims—S and SE. My test vehicle is the top-of-the-line SE with the exclusive Autobahn package. The Golf GTI features a GTI-specific grille, bumpers, and side skirts and in back, a rear spoiler and dual chrome exhausts. Special badging also denotes its status. The SE is equipped with LED headlights (sorry S model), daytime running lights, fog lights and taillights as well as adaptive front lighting. The GTI rides on 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The SE trim with Autobahn Package offers optional 225/40 summer performance tires. A panoramic power tilt and slide sunroof and automatic rain-sensing wipers are standard on the SE.
The well-done GTI Autobahn leather interior speaks well for its $37K price tag. Titan black leather is accented by red stitching. The heated, sport seats for the front passengers are comfortable and supportive but only the driver’s seat is power adjustable. The SE features a leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel and gear-shifter. The GTI's tachometer is easy to read. But as in 2018, I found the center digital driver info display on the small side given what else is out there these days.
I was thrilled to see a nice 8-inch pinch-and-zoom touchscreen, an upgrade over the standard 6.5-inch. The SE Autobahn is equipped with the Discover Media system with navigation system.
I think VW’s done a nice job with it. Volkswagen’s MIB II multimedia system offers a clean interface with modern, bright graphics and it’s quick to respond and easy to use. Voice recognition worked well. All Golf GTI models also feature a standard rearview camera.
There is only one USB under the center stack, but I found it hard to get to. Access Apple CarPlay and Android Auto through App-Net.
One major highlight for me is an upgraded Fender premium audio system. It really sounds terrific.
The Golf GTI is roomy and offers a 60/40-split folding rear seat and there’s a middle “pass-through” where you can access the trunk from the second row. The rear seat comes with its own air vents and a drop down center cup holder console. Its hatchback status makes it practical in terms of a nice amount of cargo space. The carpeted cargo area with adjustable floor and a 12-volt power port. You’ll also get red ambient interior lighting in here, illuminated door sill scuff plates and stainless steel pedals.
Overall I’d like to see VW step up its driver assist tech. It’s there, but I don’t feel it’s as intuitive to use as other systems and, as with the 2020 Passat, I’m not as confident in its optional lane keeping assist feature designed to countersteer.
Kudos to VW though for making Front Assist (Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring), as well as Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Traffic Alert standard on all GTI’s. An Automatic Post-Collision Braking System and Intelligent Crash Response System are also standard.
The Autobahn package adds front and rear parking sensors, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control. The optional Park Steering Assist is designed to help you semi-autonomously park but I had more trouble using the system than in the Passat.
What You’ll Pay
Pricing comes in at just over $37,000 for my top of the line model. To recap, the SE Autobahn Package includes a Discover Media infotainment system with navigation, automatic dual-zone climate control, Fender Premium Audio system, along with DCC adaptive damping.
While not exactly in the hot-hatch demo, I do like a sporty and engaging ride (and turbocharger) so I enjoyed the GTI a lot, and more so than the 2020 Passat sedan (which I used to lease in 2013). I liked the Autobahn’s well-done interior, extremely responsive multimedia system, and premium audio but most of all its performance and fun to drive handling.
2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn
- What I liked most: 6-Speed, acceleration, handling, Fender audio.
- What I would change: Update size of digital driver display, make the USB port more accessible and add a second one.
- MSRP: Base Price: $36,495. As equipped: $37,415.
- Fuel Economy: 24 city/32 highway/ 27 combined. (Premium fuel required to achieve top performance numbers.)
- Official Color: Tornado Red.
- Odometer reading when tested: 403.
- Weight: 3,124.
- Spare Tire: Compact.
- Length-Width-Height: 168” long/ 70.8” wide/ 57.8” high.
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 13.2 gallons with filler on the passenger side.
- Towing Capacity: N/A.
- 2018 VW Golf GTI in a few words: If it’s a fun, engaging hot hatch you’re after - you’d be hard-pressed to find one better than the Golf GTI.
- Warranty: 4 years/50,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty with powertrain coverage/7 year/100,000-miles corrosion warranty/ 3 Years/36,000-miles 24-hour roadside assistance.
- Final Assembly Location: Puebla, Mexico.
- Manufacturer’s Website: Volkswagen