Car Review: The VW Golf GTI is a polished hot hatch that’s still fun and practical

Volkswagen Golf GTI
The VW Golf GTI Autobahn is a grown-up hot hatch with more power and still available manual transmission for now. (WTOP/Mike Parris)

The hot hatch was born 40 years ago when Volkswagen gave its sensible five-door hatch more power, improved suspension and some styling tweaks. The GTI has been a staple ever since.

The latest Golf GTI carries on the tradition as a sportier version of the five-door hatch with power boost for its latest redesign. Now, 241 hp makes the GTI more competitive with other sporty cars in its class. The peppy turbo-four can be paired with a slick shifting manual transmission or quicker shifting DSG automatic. I enjoyed the light clutch and the smooth quick shifts of lovely six-speed manual transmission. However, the DSG automatic is faster.

The Golf GTI loves back roads with higher handing limits. This VW is one of the better handing front wheel drive cars you can buy in 2023, and some of the credit goes to that adaptive suspension in my GTI Autobahn trim level. This is one polished ride as it also handles normal driving chores with confidence and without beating you up like sporty rides can. The brakes are also improved with this latest redesign, and they really haul down the GTI easily.

The Golf GTI sports new styling tweaks for 2023 with a more modern look this time around. With a revised grill design below the bumper and more expressive LED lighting, the VW Golf GTI is up to date.

Choosing the top-level Autobahn trim level also upgrades the look with larger 19-inch wheels that come with summer tires. Out back polished dual exhaust pipes and a rear spoiler dress up the little hot hatch nicely without being shouty and screaming, “Look at me!”

Inside the GTI is a more upscale place to be then before with higher quality materials used throughout the cabin. You can have heated and ventilated front leather seats, or my tester came with the cloth seats and plaid seat inserts that give a retro look and save you $1,200. Since this is still a five-door hatch, you have good space for both front and rear seat riders even for a smaller car. The interior also has more technology with a digital cockpit display and a larger central touchscreen. I like the graphics but it doesn’t always respond quickly when you try to use it. Luckily, the voice recognition works well this time around. The hatchback design allows easy access and the ability to haul larger items.

Cost: $38,720; as tested $38,985

MPG: 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway; I managed 27.5 mpg in 258 miles of mixed driving.

Safety: Front assist; adaptive cruise control; park distance control front and rear; forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitor; lane-keep assist and traffic jam assist; active blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert; automatic post-collision braking system

Options: $395 King Red metallic exterior; $1,225 credit for cloth seating with plaid inserts

Things to know: The Golf GTI still carries on the hot hatch fun-to-drive car vibe and is practical. If you want a manual, don’t waste a minute as this is the last generation to have it.


  • Ample space for front and back seat riders
  • A fun-to-drive five-door hatchback with powerful engine and a manual transmission


  • Radio and touchscreen not so user friendly
  • The GTI Autobahn model is priced near $40,000 or over
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