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Adios, GOAT: Say Goodbye to One of the Greatest Generations of Volkswagen GTI

Testing the 2020 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn Edition once more, before it’s too late.

Billy RehbockWriter, Photographer

LOS ANGELES-The eighth-generation Volkswagen GTI has already been shown, and we're anxiously awaiting our first chance to check it out in person. But since the new GTI isn't here in the U.S. just yet, we decided to take one last crack at the outgoing version of Volkswagen's venerable hot hatch to bide the time. After all, we awarded the seventh-generation Volkswagen GTI an Automobile All-Stars accolade back in 2015, so we wanted to confirm the peppy compact still lights a fire in our hearts. Spoiler: It does, as we discovered in the car tested here, a Dark Iron Blue Metallic 2020 VW GTI in top-spec Autobahn trim.

2020 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn: Preserve the Three Pedals

The 2020 VW GTI test car arrived in top-spec Autobahn trim, complete with a manual transmission. The outside has crisp but subdued styling, accented with sharp LED lights that turn with the steering direction, blade-like 18-inch wheels, and real dual exhaust tips. The interior featured black leather garnished with red stitching.

Even at the end of its life, the GTI's interior is still a nice place to be, thanks in part to its panoramic sunroof and user-friendly layout. In fact, Volkswagen's minimalist approach to interior design has helped the cabin age gracefully, perhaps with the exception of the still-analogue gauges slated to be replaced by a large instrument-cluster display. Still, with an 8.0-inch screen in the center stack that accommodates both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the 2020 VW GTI Autobahn edition has the connected-car basics. We also love the fact VW includes a button that takes the user back into the phone-connection mode with a single press, returning the display to whatever mobile app was last being used. If you were using maps and wanted to check what was playing on satellite radio, just two button presses are required. The approach is intuitive, and hopefully the new Golf's user interface is executed as well.

When it facelifted its hot hatch, Volkswagen consolidated the GTI's variants by eliminating the optional Performance Package and effectively offering it as standard. That means every GTI has a turbocharged, 2.0-liter engine producing 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It also has a standard limited-slip differential and ventilated disc brakes. As we found out during our week in the driver's seat, though we know the next evolution of the GTI will be more powerful and have an assortment of performance upgrades, this outgoing model is still by no means a boring proposition.

2020 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn: Grand Touring Injection

When it came time to evaluate this 2020 Volkswagen GTI on the road, the first order of business was making a trip from Los Angeles to San Jose to visit family. I have plenty of Golf Mk7 experience; I helped my brother move from college by hauling his stuff from Southern to Northern California in his dual-clutch-equipped 2015 GTI S. Now, I was driving the same route in the facelifted version of the same car, but this time I could row my own gears, and I had the added benefit of VW's adaptive chassis-control system.

In the fun curvy parts of the drive, I opted for the stiffer Sport mode. When it came time to tackle nearly three hours of straight road through California's Central Valley, I popped the car into Comfort and cruised, alternating between fifth and sixth gear for the majority of the drive. When I needed real passing power, a fourth-gear downshift was all I needed to really get hauling. With usable power and a spacious trunk, the 2020 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn does great work fulfilling its grand-touring promise.

Back in the L.A. area, I made sure I gave the hot hatch a proper shakedown in the Malibu canyons. While I'd already had the chance to appreciate Volkswagen's phenomenal chassis tuning and responsive steering on freeways, bringing it to curvier roads gave me the opportunity to see what all the positive fuss was about back when the seventh-generation Volkswagen GTI made its debut.

For a start, the steering is very responsive and precise. The steering ratio is quick too, making it easy to bend the GTI around hairpin turns. Despite being a front-wheel-drive hatchback, the 2020 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn remains impressively neutral in the corners. To provoke understeer, I'd have to drive like a complete moron, which meant I had a pleasant and safe blast from the San Fernando Valley to Malibu, and back again.

Part of the reason the VW GTI is so fun is, all of its torque is available from 1,500-4,600 rpm, but its peak power comes on from 4,700-6,200. This makes for thrilling acceleration off of the line, and it also means it's easy to be in the right gear and have ample power available on twisty roads. The transmission isn't the snappiest, but clutch feel is good, and the gearing is fantastic.

From the outside, the GTI sounds great; roll down the windows in a tunnel, downshift, let it rip, and the exhaust makes a nice meaty burble. Despite being a GTI fan, however, I still am not a fan of the piped-in engine audio. The engine sounds good enough on its own without needing to fake it inside the cabin.

2020 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn: All the Car You Need

In automotive circles, I've noticed many people respond to the often-loaded question of, "What car should I buy?" with the Volkswagen GTI or the ever-enjoyable Mazda Miata. After this latest road test, I'm more entrenched in the GTI camp. VW's hot hatch starts at $29,515 in base S form, can be had for $33,115 in SE guise, and finally this Autobahn test car stickers for $37,415 with no additional options. I wouldn't dissuade a friend or family member from buying new at any of those price points, especially when the bones of the VW MQB platform are still so solid. In fact, if they couldn't wait and see how the Mk8 Golf will turn out, or they don't like its somewhat controversial styling, I'd encourage the choice.

At the end of its life, the seventh-generation Volkswagen GTI still has world-class handling, ample power, and a phenomenal chassis. Here's hoping its successor lives up to its excellent and well-earned reputation.

2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI Highlights

  • Peppy acceleration
  • Standard manual transmission
  • Standard limited-slip differential
  • Practicality and fun starting for just less than $30,000
2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI Autobahn Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $37,415/$37,415 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged 16-valve DOHC I-4/228 hp @ 4,700-6,200 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 24/32 mpg (city/hwy)
L X W X H 168.0 x 70.8 x 57.8 in
WHEELBASE 103.6 in
WEIGHT 3,062 lb
0-60 MPH 5.9 sec
TOP SPEED 155 mph