The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI is affordable, practical, and—most important to folks like us—a brilliant driving machine. Hence its spot on our 10Best and Editors' Choice lists. While the current generation is nearing the end of its life cycle, it still continues to impress: It has won our annual 10Best award multiple times, including making the most recent list. With a sprightly 228-hp four-cylinder engine and terrific manual and automatic transmissions, this front-driver is wonderfully speedy. Of course, quickness doesn't equal engagement. Thankfully, Volkswagen has ensured this hot hatch provides nimble handling and communicative feedback. Those characteristics also apply to its sedan sibling, the Jetta GLI. Although its staid styling and above-average price won't appeal to everyone, the GTI's holistic approach to performance and undeniable versatility make it the ultimate sport compact.
What's New for 2021?
The current Golf GTI has had a great run, but 2021 is the last model year for this generation. While the upcoming 2022 model marks a promising evolution, there's still a lot to like about the Mk 7, which carries over unchanged for its swan song.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
We recommend the mid-level SE trim, which comes standard with LED headlights, leather upholstery, blind-spot monitoring, and a panoramic sunroof. While we think the dual-clutch automatic transmission is really good (and affordable), we'd stick with the standard manual gearbox. It's one of the best in the business and makes every drive an engaging experience.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The GTI's 228-hp turbocharged four-cylinder is one of the greats. Offering a reasonable amount of power, it delivers instant response and solid acceleration. The clutch pedal in manual models is easy to use, which means shifting is never a chore. But if you'd rather let the car handle the gearchanges, the optional dual-clutch automatic is no slouch, either. We'd happily pilot a GTI every day. It is nimble and responsive and takes corners beautifully. Most important, this hatchback is well coordinated and does just what you want it to do. The GTI reacts to steering inputs so quickly and accurately that you'll think the car is a sentient being. Plus, its brakes are firm and progressive on the road and strong on the track.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Fuel economy in the sport-compact class ranges from acceptable to outstanding, and the GTI provides some solid numbers. According to the EPA, the automatic model is the most efficient with ratings of 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway; going with the manual reduces those numbers to 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. The Golf GTI outperformed expectations in our real-world testing, sweetening the deal. The last version we tested earned 36 mpg during our 200-mile highway test.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Volkswagen interiors are simple and well crafted, and the GTI's is no exception. Although the car's main selling point is its agility and driver feedback, shoppers can still outfit their hot hatches with a few luxury features. Notable options include dual-zone automatic climate control and 12-way-adjustable leather power seats, but the GTI is plenty comfortable in its base guise. Four people can travel in reasonable comfort in any of them, but don't expect vast amounts of spread-out room in the rear seats. The entire Golf family enjoys large cargo holds, easy-to-fold seats, and useful in-cabin storage cubbies. Thanks to the nearly flat load floor, you'll have no trouble packing up the car for a trip to the beach or a ride home from IKEA.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Every model in the GTI lineup is graced with a touchscreen that is simple to use, but in our testing, it sometimes responded slowly to inputs. The system uses a mix of touch and voice commands as well as several menu-based buttons. It's about as easy to operate as the average smartphone. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard, too, and make device integration a cinch.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the Golf GTI a five-star safety rating but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not yet published the GTI's results. A full complement of driver-assistance equipment is available. None of it is standard, however, which is perhaps the one thing holding the GTI back from perfection. Key safety features include:
- Available forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Available lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
What was once the industry's best bumper-to-bumper warranty, at six years or 72,000 miles of coverage, has been shortened to four years or 50,000 miles. To help make that reduced coverage a little easier to swallow, Volkswagen now offers two years of regularly scheduled maintenance at no charge.
- Limited warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for two years or 20,000 miles