For the fifth year in a row, the Volkswagen GTI is an Automobile Magazine award winner. And while it can't really make up ground against the perpetually prized BMW 3-series, the GTI seems destined to slide into a similar role. It's not only a segment standard, it's also an industry benchmark, a refined and proven formula for driving bliss.
The enduring appeal stems from passionate performance, subtle restraint, and detailed execution that position the GTI as a capable, inviting, and upscale hot hatch. This is a vehicle that often feels like more than it is. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder acts like a much more substantial engine, with broad power delivery, smooth revs, and a throaty exhaust note. Approaching but not crossing the handling limits comes easy in the GTI, which bolsters the driver's confidence with predictable cornering and precise, communicative steering. The manual transmission's only imperfection is its slightly long throws, and there's no shame in choosing the automatic, either, as the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox snaps off a rapid, direct shift with each flick of the steering-wheel-mounted paddles.
The GTI's overarching accessibility and magnetism provoke you to move at full throttle whether you're streaking past a suburban strip mall or blitzing down a winding riverside road. And when you do mash the accelerator, you can take perverse pleasure in driving the red tach needle through the 6200-rpm redline toward the 7000-rpm fuel cutoff. Starting at $24,460, the GTI is a veritable performance bargain, but that's not to say this is a car only for young enthusiasts or budget buyers. An atypical maturity sets this sport compact above the competition, and it's sufficiently engaging and dignified that it makes a compelling argument even against a Bavarian sport sedan costing almost twice as much.
- Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
BASE PRICE RANGE: $24,460-$25,060
ENGINE: 2.0L turbocharged I-4, 200 hp, 207 lb-ft