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VW Is Missing Its Moment by Not Selling a Hybrid GTI in the US Right Now

Volkswagen practically invented the hot hatch. We wish it would commit to electrifying it here.

byMaddox Kay|
Volkswagen News photo


Volkswagen rolled out a mid-cycle refresh for its Mk8 Golf and GTI earlier this week. Some CliffsNotes: Buttons are back, the six-speed manual transmission is dead, and VW is once again denying the U.S. market the plug-in hybrid GTE, now with 62 miles of WLTP electric range and 268 horsepower. Why is VW so determined to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to small, enthusiast-friendly electrified cars in this country?

We asked Volkswagen's PR department why the GTE isn't coming here in an e-mail, and it told us that the cost of U.S. homologation was too high to justify for the volumes it would expect to sell. That was also the case when the model first appeared in 2014, VW said, when compact car sales were higher.

That's all valid. The GTI and Golf R are already niche products, and there's a chance that offering a GTE would cannibalize sales from those existing models rather than attracting new buyers. On the other hand: Volkswagen practically invented the hot hatchback and is uniquely positioned to reinvent the concept for hybrids and EVs. It'd virtually have the market all to itself. Instead, the company seems determined to throw up its hands and let its current enthusiast products die on the vine, at least in the U.S.

There was the e-Golf, a sprightly electric Mk7 hampered by its limited range and status as a “compliance car,” meaning VW barely marketed it and sold it at a loss to offset the emissions footprints of larger vehicles. The company dramatically improved the e-Golf's range from a paltry 83 miles to a more usable 125 in 2017 before killing it off without a replacement two years later. Then, there are the attractive ID.3 production car and ID.2all concept, which Volkswagen neither sells here nor plans to. 

We’re left with the ID.4, a crossover that looks like it was styled by the Idaho Potato Commission; and the ID.7, a long, sloped-roof sedan seemingly destined to follow the CC and Arteon’s footsteps into sales oblivion. Oh, and the handsome ID.Buzz van—when is that coming out, again?

Volkswagen could bring the GTE here right now, so it hurts that it doesn’t. The GTE's electric torque boost and electric range make a good car even better and more practical, and it bridges the gap between today’s sporty cars and tomorrow’s. It's also worth noting that under current rules, the GTE would qualify for a $7,500 federal EV/PHEV tax credit when leased, sweetening the deal and making the hybrid's value proposition more attractive at no cost to VW.

There’s a reason everyone from lawyers and doctors to teachers, tech bros, and musicians drive GTIs—they’re fun, practical, and classy, transcending wealth and status to deliver a great experience. As years pass and technology matures, those folks are looking for hybrids and EVs, and Volkswagen has nothing to sell them. An ID.4? Please. It’s no wonder they’re jumping ship to Hyundai and Tesla.

If VW wants to renew the GTI’s relevance to casual car enthusiasts—and, let’s face it, yuppies—it needs an electrified version, stat. It showed off the ID.GTI concept in Munich last September, which looks great, and can’t get here soon enough. But Car & Driver predicts it won’t arrive in Europe until 2027, and VW is mum about whether it’ll come here at all. Of course, there’s the adage that Americans don’t buy small cars, especially premium ones, but that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy when you don’t have compelling small cars to sell.

Volkswagen is dragging its feet, perhaps because it underestimates the significance of the GTI in the American context, as an alternative to crossovers and Camrys without being a hardcore, flat-brim-wearing STI or Type R. The GTI has never been about pure performance. It's about the total package, and that package has embraced progress through turbocharging, direct injection, and dual-clutch transmissions, all while playing up its signature quirks. Why not electrification?

An automatic-only, gas-only GTI sits in the uncanny valley between analog and digital—like an iPod in a world torn between vinyl and Spotify. On the other hand, a $40,000, 250-mile EV hot-hatchback with plaid seats, red accents, and a GTI badge? That's an exciting idea, and one VW is poised to make real, if it cares to.

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