2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI: Still Rocking a Six-Speed and Plaid Seats
The new GTI is everything you love about the old GTI.
It's often said that there are only two guarantees in life, but really, there are three: Death, taxes, and the Volkswagen Golf GTI. For four decades now, the GTI has been one of the best budget performers out there, the humble king of hatches whose effortless balance of fun and practicality has been a constant in this topsy-turvy world. It looks like that will continue with the just-unveiled 2021 VW Golf GTI—with a few key twists for the Golf's eighth generation.
This is important, because as of now this new Golf will only be available in GTI and R flavors in America as we continue to thumb our noses at small cars as basic transportation tools. The new GTI shares all its base styling cues the base car, which gets a little meaner this decade with a lowered and flattened fascia and sharper lighting to accompany its classic two-box shape. Taking it further, the GTI is now offset from the base model with a large, honeycomb-laced air intake under the grille that houses optional X-shaped fog lights. Unless you're afflicted with trypophobia, it's a cool look.
That traditional red stripe returns as a full-width LED spanning the front that illuminates along with the daytime running lights, while red brake calipers, angled five-spoke spoke wheels, and dual exhausts make their customary comebacks. Elsewhere on the outside, the biggest noteworthy change is that the GTI logo is now located smack in the middle of the rear hatch, right underneath the VW badge, as opposed to the left side. This switch will surely be prime VW nerd trivia in thirty years time.
Its conservative cabin is also ported from the new Golf, seasoned with the requisite dashes of GTI personality: tartan seats, a sport steering wheel, and a golf ball shifter for the six-speed manual transmission (still the standard setup on the car, praise be). But what you're seeing in these pictures is the new shifter to control the optional seven-speed dual-clutch box, an interface lifted almost straight out of corporate cousin Porsche.
VW's taken further steps to make the GTI feel upmarket, adding flourishes like 30-color ambient lighting and its Innovision Cockpit interface—that's a pair of 10-inch screens for the instrument panel and infotainment.
You can choose your own adventure with the transmission, but the 2021 Golf GTI's engine will always be an EA888 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder...if you live in America. In Europe, the GTI is just one of three prongs of a trident, joined by the GTE plug-in hybrid and the GTD long-range diesel. The lack of a diesel over here makes sense, but the GTE is one we'll miss, with nearly identical power figures from a 1.4-liter four tied to an 85 kW electric motor. Add in a 37-mile electric only range, a top speed of 81 mph without burning any gas, and a six-speed dual-clutch to swap cogs when you do, the GTE looks like an intriguing choice.
The 2021 GTI's motor is rated at 245 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque in its European spec; American figures aren't available yet, but there won't be a significant deviation from those numbers, which are up 17 hp and 15 lb-ft from the outgoing Golf GTI. There's one more parlor trick to share, a centralized chassis/suspension controller called DCC. It reads like a toned-down version of Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, combining incoming streams of data from the accelerator, brake pedal, and steering to help manage the adaptive dampers and further differentiate the four driving mode experiences. Add in a brake-based system up front to mimic a limited-slip differential, and the GTI should remain a hell of a good time.
We don't have any performance stats for the 2021 VW Golf GTI yet, other than that Volkswagen's Travel Assist aid (a system combining adaptive cruise control and lane-keep help) can function at up to 130 mph. We'll bring you more details on the American version as they're announced later this year, but in the meantime, enjoy the fact that some things in life do stay mostly the same.
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