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The Volkswagen Golf GTI is the quintessential hot hatch. But it’s front-wheel drive nature leaves room for its sibling, the Golf R, to take the winter hot hatch crown. However, the GTI is certainly capable of good winter performance, and it can help you save a few bucks along the way.

Balanced handling makes the GTI easy to drive in winter

A gray 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI hot hatchback parked on an asphalt lot as the sunsets behind a hill
2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI | Volkswagen of America, Inc. Newspress Limited

The hatchback shape and sports suspension of the GTI make it an easy car to drive when the snow flies. Responsive, communicative steering and good rear suspension feel mean that you can instinctively feel changes in grip as they happen. Even if you aren’t in tune with driving dynamics like Lewis Hamilton or Kyle Busch, the GTI offers enough feedback to make you a more confident winter driver.

Snow tires are a must

As with any front-wheel-drive car, snow tires can be a big help in improving winter performance in the GTI. With quality snow tires, the GTI is a beast for winter driving. With so much weight over the front wheels, taking off from a stop is no issue, even in snow. Volkswagen balances this front-heavy weight distribution with stiffer rear suspension for predictable handling once you’re up to speed.

Performance brakes offer confident stopping power in the snow

A red 2022 Volkswagen GTI on a racetrack at sunset in Germany
2022 Volkswagen GTI | Volkswagen

Much like the suspension, Volkswagen equips the GTI with a quality performance brake package ideally suited for this hot hatch’s weight distribution. Strong rear brakes provide good all-wheel stopping power, helping take some stress away from the front tires. This helps avoid overloading the available grip at the front by distributing it more evenly among all four wheels. Furthermore, that strong rear suspension keeps the rear tires in touch with the road even when weight shifts forward under braking. This also helps with four-wheel stopping power, making the GTI uniquely stable while driving in the winter.

The GTI warms up quickly in the winter

Volkswagen designs and builds the GTI in Germany while testing its vehicles in northern Sweden inside the Arctic Circle. As such, the Golf GTI is designed with winter performance in mind, including the cooling system. Because Volkswagen sends its coolant lines along the exhaust, the engine coolant warms up more quickly than with other vehicles.

That means a quicker warm-up and a more comfortable drive even in the depths of winter. In my time driving a GTI in Vermont, it would go from a cold start to warm cabin air after just two miles of mild driving. My wife’s Camry, on the other hand, takes at least 6 miles to offer some cabin comfort.

Less turbo lag means predictable acceleration

Turbocharged cars often have trouble in winter, as turbo lag introduces a quick burst of acceleration midway through the rev range. According to APR Tuning, the current MK8 GTI jumps from 225 to 310 pound-feet of torque between 2000 and 2500 rpm. But low-end torque is relatively tame, and at partial throttle, you won’t get strong enough boost pulls to compromise traction as you accelerate. Moreover, you can short-shift your GTI to avoid peak boost altogether, maintaining linear acceleration and traction as you get up to speed.

Moreover, that torque curve is even shallower for the MK6 and MK7 GTIs. That means picking up a used GTI for winter isn’t just cheaper, but also better suited to slick-surface driving.

Pick up a Golf GTI for a cheaper winter hot hatch

A used MK7 Golf GTI, one of the best road trip cars
2017 VW Golf GTI | Marc Wiley, MotorBiscuit

A 10-year-old GTI will cost you between $10,000 and $14,000. That MK6 GTI is perfect for winter, and there are years of aftermarket development to make it your own. Of course, the MK7 GTI is pricier but offers much better interior amenities, styling, and performance for between $15,000 and $19,000. But any GTI from 2010 to now offers fun, functional winter driving and plenty of excitement once things dry out again.

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