2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn Review and Road Test

 

2017 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn

Like we’ve said before- it’s pretty much perfect

Words by: Adam Allen

 

Like you said before? You guys like to repeat yourselves, don’t you?

Honestly, we try to avoid repetition around the Carpages Garage- it doesn’t make for very interesting reading when you sit down to read a review and think to yourself, “been there, done that.” With a car like the GTI and the Mark 7 generation now in its third year, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about its inherent goodness that borders on perfection without sounding a bit like a broken record.

Try.

We’ll do our best. This time around, Volkswagen gave us the keys to a 5-door GTI in Autobahn trim. This would appear to be the Goldilocks package on offer- it has more features than the base model but lacks the Performance Package hardware you get when you step up to the trim level of the same name. Our butt dynos aren’t finely calibrated enough to miss the extra 10 horsepower that comes along with the top trim, although we would have liked to have the bigger brakes and sportier tire option on our tester. It seems like the Autobahn models give you access to the upgraded Fender audio system without navigation and leather seats. Frankly, the cloth Clark seats trimmed in plaid are what you really want anyway.

Which transmission should I get?

We consider ourselves as “Save the Manuals” evangelists, so for us the choice can be made without hesitation- it must be VW’s excellent 6-speed and the wonderfully dimpled golf ball that resides at the top of the shifter that fits perfectly in your hand. It’s a pleasure to use and if you know what you’re doing, you can really exploit the potential of the GTI. Most people who buy a GTI specify the DSG 6-speed dual clutch automatic familiar for offering smooth shifts around town that turn lighting fast when you take the reins from the computer and employ the paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel. If you are kept awake at night at the 10ths you might give up by shifting for yourself in an autocross or track day context, get the DSG (it also comes with Launch Control.) However, if you prefer a more involving driving experience with less mechanical complexity, order the manual. Either way, you really can’t go wrong- both transmission choices are complemented by the GTI’s peerless chassis.

It’s been said that the GTI, the car that began the genre, is King of the Hot Hatches. Is it still fit to wear the crown?

It used to be that the GTI had little in the way of competition here in Canada. That has certainly changed; there are many compelling choices in the segment and each bring a unique driving unique experience to the table. Throughout the list of choices that are available, you can get cars that are faster, handle better and look sharper than the GTI. You can even get all-wheel drive if you look to a Subaru showroom for a WRX. The truth remains that none of the GTI’s competitors offer the same polished multi-pronged excellence of the Vee Dub. The GTI is simultaneously a fast car but can achieve fuel mileage that would make economy cars envious. It offers generous room inside not only for occupants but for their stuff, too- we were able to verify on a trip to Ikea that yes, it’s even more commodious than Volkswagen’s own Tiguan small crossover. The materials that appoint the cabin are in many cases better and more luxurious than cars costing much more, and the build quality is meticulous. Some people have said that the GTI’s styling is a bit too anonymous, but we disagree- it’s as handsome a two-box design you’ll encounter and you won’t feel the slightest pang of embarrassment when you arrive for valet parking at a nice restaurant. And when you just want to get home after a long grind at the office, it will commute comfortably and quietly- no droning exhaust or crunchy suspension tuning. Add all this up and it becomes clear: the GTI’s reign is safe, at least for now.

It’s got a good mix of those intangibles that make up great cars.

We attended an event recently for racers and journalist types and those that showed up brought their daily drivers. It didn’t surprise anyone that there were four GTI examples of various vintage and trim level. If you really care about driving and have a real-world budget the choices for placating the need to drive something that will place a smile on your face each time you drive it are few. The way you interact with a GTI’s controls and the fluidity it exudes when attacking your favourite ribbon of pavement are hard to put into words. It’s just so easy to establish a rhythm, flowing from corner to corner as the car obediently follows your directions so you can place it exactly where you want. No matter the situation, it just works.

What might go wrong?

Earlier we said the GTI borders on perfection, so you can imagine there wouldn’t be much to complain about. Let’s start off with the DSG gearbox- it’s hyper quick swapping of cogs comes at a price, specifically in low speed driving. It tries to emulate a typical torque converter transmission’s behaviour, but ends up lurching about and sometimes causes a dead spot in power delivery when you need it most- say, when you’re about to merge into fast moving traffic. Solve the problem by spec’ing the manual. The other issue is the tires VW fits to all Autobahn GTI examples- they are H-rated all season tires, and the car practically begs for a more aggressive setup to allow the handling and braking brilliance to truly shine. Solve that problem by stepping up to the Performance model or simply swap out for a more aggressive set of rubber at your local tire shop.

Should I buy a GTI?

If you haven’t been convinced of the GTI’s incredible dexterity thus far, this is how we concluded our Road Test the last time we had a GTI in the Carpages Garage in 2014: “The Volkswagen GTI is the best front wheel drive car there is, period. You should buy it.” We rest our case.

 

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn – Specifications

  • Price as tested: $37,705
  • Body Type: 5-door, 5 passenger hatchback
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
  • Engine:  2.0-litre turbo inline four, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower: 210 @ 4,300-6,200 rpm
  • Torque (lbs.-ft.): 258 @ 1,600-4,200 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed Dual Clutch automatic
  • Curb weight: 1,418kg (3,126 lbs.)
  • Observed Fuel consumption: 9.3L/100 km (25mpg)