2018 VW Golf GTI Autobahn Review: The Hot Hatch of Choice Keeps Getting Better

Volkswagen's beloved sporty car has bold looks and plenty of pep in its step, keeping it relevant in an era of crossover domination.

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 VW Golf GTI Autobahn.

The 2018 VW Golf GTI Autobahn, By the Numbers:

Base Price (Price as Tested): $36,170 ($37,710)

Powertrain: 2.0-liter inline-four, 220 horsepower, 258 pound-feet; six-speed dual-clutch transmission; front-wheel-drive

EPA Fuel Economy: 24 city, 32 highway

0-60 MPH: 6.0 seconds (Car and Driver testing) 

Quick Take: The VW Golf GTI Autobahn continues to prove why the Golf is one of the most desired daily drivers—it's attractive, sporty, and the ideal size, especially for city use.

One Big Question: Is the Golf GTI Autobahn worth my time? It isn't a crossover.

I see what you're saying; after all, crossovers are the way to go these days for many people. Sedans and hatches are dying breeds; just look at with Ford planning to remove the Focus ST and Focus RS from the U.S. once the next generation arrives. But there's a real case to be made that the Golf GTI could be the "perfect" vehicle, especially for a buyer without a large family. 

The GTI isn't like any other hot hatch on the road; for one thing, it has a timeless, extremely recognizable design, that has only gone through a few modernizing changes as it ages. It isn't in your face, like, say, the Honda Civic Type R. Overly-sporty-looking hot hatches with gaudy body kits can only appeal to so many people...and those people probably wear backwards baseball caps and drink Monster. 

What the GTI might lack in crossover-like storage space (although it does have 53.7 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded down), it makes up for in fun. Zipping through the backroads of Connecticut while blasting through the gears of the dual clutch automatic transmission brought more smiles to my face than I could count. The GTI is a prime example of why hot hatches don't deserve to die yet. 

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Erica Lourd

GTI has crowd-pleasing styling 

2018 VW Golf GTI Autobahn—The Pros

  • The 220-hp engine gets the Golf GTI moving. it won't necessarily throw you back in your seat and make you scream like the Golf R might, but the sports suspension certainly makes up for any power you could miss. The ride quality, in Sport mode especially, is well-calibrated, and the steering is responsive—curvy backroads quickly become your best friend. By playing around with the DSG's paddle shifters, you can better extract the power by holding the engine at higher rpm. 
  • The Autobahn trim is jam-packed with active safety technology, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning; a rear-view camera, forward collision warning, and blind spot monitoring also come stock, both here and on lesser GTIs. There is certainly nothing missing. In addition, the GTI can even park itself—although with the size of the Golf and its standard back-up camera, it doesn't seem all that necessary. Cool none the less.
  • Even aside from the actual performance, sporty accents—like the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the paint-matching strip of color through the grill into the headlights, and the always-entertaining red brake calipers—make this car look quick. Yet all of these are done in a tasteful way; this Golf isn't trying to attract flat-brimmed hat bros. 
  • Like all Golf and GTI models, one of the biggest selling points is the size. Its stubby, low-to-the-ground profile is highly desirable for many folks, especially city drivers. Of course, that compact size means you can't carry more than two passengers in the back seat without endless complaints—but with two, the bench is plenty comfortable, and packs enough head room. 
  • The Fender nine-speaker audio system certainly does not disappoint. The sound is rich—and with thanks to Bluetooth, USB audio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto hookups it's extremely simple to blast Celine Dion while belting out the words. (Is that just me?)
Erica Lourd

The recognizable rear of the GTI

2018 VW Golf GTI Autobahn—The Cons

  • It's time for VW's digital cockpit dashboard to make it into models besides the Atlas, Tiguan, and Golf R. Top of the line trims like the Autobahn, at least, deserve to have the small screen between the two analog gauges replaced. VW uses a very clean design for the gauges, but the tiny display between them never won me over. Toggling through menus on it is simple enough using the control on the steering wheel, but I was constantly irked about never being updated when a new song came on unless I had the display on the music settings option specifically. 
  • The headlights, although gorgeous, must be overly powerful, because half the drivers I would pass by at night would flash their brights at me as if I had my brights on by accident. Having never switched the light mode off of auto, and having seen the difference between normal lights and my brights (it was substantial), I knew the high beams definitely weren't on when this happened. (To be fair, this is only a con if you don't want to anger everyone else around you.)
Erica Lourd

The driver's seat

2018 VW Golf GTI Autobahn—Value

The GTI has a cult-like following for good reason—the inherent value is clear. It's a good-looking hot hatch that a self-respecting car person of any age will love. The power is plentiful, leading to fun whether on the highway or along rural windy roads—especially when playing with the DSG and paddle shifters. And there's enough tech to keep drivers happy, including controls anyone could master, without any fluff. 

Erica Lourd

Note the sweet red stripe across the grill and through the headlights

The Bottom Line:

Among competitors like the Focus ST and the Civic Si, the Golf stands out because of its timelessness. While the competition continues to add more and more outlandish body kits and attract more flat-bottomed-cap-wearing drivers, the Golf appeals to a different, more subdued driver. Not somebody boring, of course—just somebody who isn't as in your face. The Golf GTI Autobahn is just as happy providing laugh-inducing joyrides through the country as it is in stop-and-go traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, blasting tunes through the Fender stereo. 

As the Golf GTI continues to improve over the years, this Mark VII generation will stand as proof VW knows how to upgrade vehicles without changing their image. While this Volkswagen delivers the spicy hot you crave (especially in "Tornado Red" paint), it also delivers the daily driver you need even more—all without skipping a beat. 

Erica Lourd

The red brake calipers that make you feel speedy