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The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Strikes the Perfect Balance

Despite Volkswagen’s good reputation and praise from critics, the Volkswagen Golf GTI still isn’t as popular as it should be. The GTI is widely regarded as the first hot hatch, first debuted in 1975. While it’s not technically a sports car, reviewers at CNET argue that it could certainly pass for one.

Sports cars are awesome for thrill-seekers, but the big dogs with over 300 hp aren’t exactly affordable. Still, as long as a sports car is fun to drive, missing out on the extra ponies isn’t always a big deal. The 2021 Golf GTI is both affordable and a joy to race around the track.

What is it like to drive the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI?

On paper, the Golf GTI’s power output looks slightly modest compared to other bargain-priced sports cars. It has a 2.0-liter turbo-four capable of 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is included in the base trim, but there’s a seven-speed dual-clutch option as well.

According to CNET’s test driver, the VW Golf GTI accelerates without any problems. The steering wheel feels lighter than expected but still provides adequate feedback. The tester also appreciated the subdued growl of the exhaust.

CNET’s test vehicle came with the Autobahn package. This bundle includes various drivetrain enhancements like adaptive dampers and all the available safety features. Setting the dampers to Normal mode provided a smooth ride with excellent cornering ability. The Sport setting is predictably stiff, but even that didn’t detract from the tester’s enjoyment.

CNET only had a few complaints about the GTI, including bad gas mileage and the occasional slow response from the transmission. The test driver reported getting lower gas mileage than estimated while driving around the city. The Golf GTI is also only available in front-wheel drive, but that’s not terribly uncommon for a hatch.

You can’t beat the functionality of a hatchback

One perk of opting for a hatchback instead of a true sports car is the extra storage space. With the rear seats folded down, the Golf GTI offers almost 53 cubic feet of cargo room. It also has big pockets on the sides of the doors, but the center storage cubby is smaller than average.

Still, there’s plenty of room for all riders to stretch their limbs inside the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Drivers get great visibility due to the skinny A-pillar. The Autobahn package comes with leather seats, though CNET’s test driver felt that the standard fabric ones were slightly more comfortable.

Highly intuitive technology

The Golf GTI comes standard with a small 6.5-inch touchscreen or 8-inch one on the Autobahn. Regardless of the trim, the system’s layout is easy to understand and the graphics are clear despite its age. It comes standard with Bluetooth, smartphone integration, and five years of Car-Net remote access for free.

A Wi-Fi hotspot is available, along with an upgraded audio system and navigation for the 8-inch touchscreen. CNET’s tester said that all the included safety features function correctly and every control is easy to reach.

Is the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI a good value?

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The most expensive 2021 Golf GTI costs nearly $38,000, which is way more than most would be willing to pay for a hatch. Its subpar fuel economy and dated infotainment system also don’t help to justify the price. A fully-loaded Subaru WRX costs $5,000 less, has more horsepower, and all-wheel drive.

Still, it’s hard to put a monetary value on enjoyable performance. Not many hatches or even sports cars have the same smooth full-throttle shifts and instant torque delivery. The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI is definitely worth test-driving for yourself.