First Drive: 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI

by Michael Satterfield

I have never been a "Volkswagen guy" for some reason or another out of all of the over 100 cars I have owned over the years only two have been VW's and both of those I bought to eventually give to someone else. An old VW Squareback that eventually would go to my cousin and a Cabrio which I bought for my little sister, a did have I Puma GTE which was based on a Beetle once. VW had just never been on the radar for me and I honestly hadn't driven a Volkswagen in at least 10 years, so when I was presented with the opportunity to drive the new GTI, I was excited to see what all the hype was about.

The Autobahn edition is the top-tier trim package for the Golf GTI, this one as equipped, came out to just over $37,000 including destination charges. That is a full $10,000 more than the base GTI and $17,000 more than a standard Golf. But while that may seem like a lot for a small hatchback, the Autobahn has a lot to offer.

The exterior styling is subtle on the GTI, most companies tend to brand their hot hatchbacks by painting them bright colors and adding massive wings, the GTI is clean, stylish, and understated when compared to many of its competitors, overall the Autobahn edition feels grown up and refined.

Moving inside the nods to the performance capabilities are more overt, the seats have large bolsters with red stitching, the steering wheel is also performance focused and the console is filled with buttons that lead to a lot more fun. The interior is comfortable and feels much more upmarket than what I would have expected from a VW. The infotainment screen is exceptionally good and the layout of the cabin feels natural and well thought out. The GTI also scores points for having easy to use controls, everything from using the radio to the performance driving settings is straightforward and intuitive. The only thing that I didn't care for with the interior was the steering wheel leather, it was nice, but it needed something suede or perforated leather, but that is just my personal preference.

This car was equipped with a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) gearbox with padel shifters, which I know the enthusiasts will bemoan, but honestly, if I was going to pick up a GTI for a fun daily driver the DSG is the transmission I would go with. Sure it costs $1,100 more, but after spending a week getting acquainted with the DSG, it is hands down one of the best paddle-shifted gearboxes on the market. 

When it comes to performance the GTI was also impressive, with 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque it is no slouch. Switching to "Sport Mode" adjusts the adaptive damping system firming up the ride, and changing the steering heft and throttle response. With the DSG transmission, the "Sport Mode" gives more aggressive shifts turning the almost docile hatchback into a true drivers car with the push of a button. I spent two whole days driving in the mountains and canyons of Southern California and GTI kept up with near six-figure sports cars in our group without any issue.

Overall I have to say my first drive in a GTI was not only a lot of fun, but a lot of car for the money, if the navigation, leather, and glass roof aren't' your thing the base GTI starting at $26,415 is a tremendous value when you consider the amount of performance focused technology that is included. For more information or to build your own Golf GTI visit