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When Volkswagen launched a performance version of the Golf, it created a new market segment for hot hatches. Now, almost 50 years later, the GTI still shines thanks to refining its formula of a compact, fun-to-drive hatchback. Packing a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 241 hp, it’s one of the few 2023 cars offering a six-speed manual transmission. 

It’s a bright spot in VW’s lineup that checks all the boxes for a performance enthusiast looking for practical transportation. Thus, the GTI earns high marks from automotive publications like ours and U.S. News, listing it as the highest-ranking 2023 Volkswagen model. 

The 2023 Volkswagen GTI is the top-rated VW

The 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI shows off its sensible German hatchback car styling while it blasts down a mountain road.
2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI | Volkswagen

U.S. News reviewers find the 2023 Volkswagen GTI athletic, peppy, and practical. Yet it can “carve corners with aplomb and still serve as a sensible daily driver.” On the downside, they note it has a slightly cheap-feeling interior and a lack of physical infotainment controls, relying too much on its touchscreen. 

For that reason, reviewers rank the GTI third on a list of 11 compact cars, losing out to the Honda Civic and Mazda3. But the scores are close. U.S. News rates vehicles on a combination of research and data elements from various sources, and all three cars are within a half-point of one another on a 10-point scale. 

Yet even with its third-place finish, the GTI still scored higher than any other Volkswagen model that U.S. News reviewed for 2023, including the Jetta and ID.4. And now that the Passat has retired, it’s one of three sedans or hatchbacks in VW’s lineup, including the Jetta and Arteon, both of which rank eighth in their respective categories.  

2023 Volkswagen GTI pros and cons

The Volkswagen GTI’s benefits make this car so enduring. It offers quick acceleration and nimble, responsive handling. Behind the wheel, it’s easy to forget you’re driving a compact hatchback and not a sports car.

Yet when you look around, you’ll notice plenty to like about the GTI beyond performance. It’s equipped like a premium small car with loads of standard features. It also has ample cargo space. Plus, the back seat comfortably seats full-sized adults. And with the rear seatbacks folded down, the cargo capacity increases to almost 35 cubic feet. 

The GTI’s downsides include the previously mentioned over-reliance on the infotainment touchscreen instead of physical knobs and buttons. In addition, some interior materials have a cheap look and feel, unbefitting a premium car in this segment, especially given its high MSRP compared with the Honda Civic and Mazda3.   

Should you consider a GTI? 

The GTI should be on your list if you want a small car that’s fun to drive yet practical. It will haul people comfortably and hold a surprising amount of cargo. Yet, with its turbocharged four-cylinder and quick, communicative handling, it will produce more grins per mile than just about anything else in its price range

Other cars to consider in this range are the Mazda3 and Honda Civic. Or, on the performance end of the spectrum, check out the Hyundai Veloster and Subaru WRX. But if you’re a fan of the original hot hatch or VWs, you’ll be delighted with the GTI


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