Friday, March 15, 2019


Fuel economy may be the No. 1 reason many people shop in the compact class, but it’s not the only one.

In what could be considered a “sub-grouping” in the segment, so-called “pocket rockets” — compacts and sub-compacts tuned for performance — throw a bit of spirit into the mix while still offering decent fuel economy.

Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has been a prominent player in this field since it was brought to the U.S. in 1983, the second generation of the snappy little hatchback that had been serving European audiences for the previous eight years.

It especially appealed to those buyers with champagne tastes when it comes to performance but were living on beer budgets.

J.D. Power and Associates put it this way: The GTI was based on the first-generation Golf and was “a performance buffed version of the small, fun, but painfully slow economy car, and offered up a measure of athleticism and German handling for those who were interested in Teutonic vigor but couldn’t cough up the cash for a BMW or Mercedes.”

A marketing firm that keeps track of such things, J.D. Power says that men account for 86 percent of GTI sales. They have a median age of 46 and median annual household income of $113,816, and more than half identify themselves as “performance buyers.”

Not surprisingly, the 2019 Golf, which is offered in S, SE, and Autobahn trim with a limited-edition special GTI Rabbit Edition slotting in between the S and SE, gets a boost of 8 horsepower over its predecessor for a total of 278 hp available when run on premium fuel. (It also can run on unleaded fuel.)

Peak torque from the 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is 258 pound-feet from 1500 rpm through 4500. Mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, the GTI still offers fuel mileage numbers of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway and 27 combined while those equipped with the optional 7-speed DSG automatic boasts numbers of 25/31/27.

Those aren’t spectacular numbers for the segment, but you’ve got to sacrifice something to get that performance.

That power train is common to all trims as is the MIB II touchscreen infotainment system. You can flip through different driving modes (Normal, Comfort, Eco, and Sport) by pushing a button on the console. It’s right next to a button to turn off the Stop-Start feature on models equipped with the automatic transmission.

The GTI’s interior is nice, very nice actually. A special GTI interior with red ambient lighting, leather seats with red stitching, and illuminated door sills, and a black headliner add a touch of class to the nicely appointed cabin.

There’s also lots of space for passengers (just over 41 inches of legroom up front and 35.6 for the second row) and your stuff.  Cargo room behind the second row is 22.8 cubic feet. Fold those seats and it’s a spacious 52.7.

The top-of-the-food chain Autobahn trim, which served as my test vehicle for the week, comes with long list of standard equipment that includes such features as a crash response system, rear-view camera, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights and LED daytime running lights and fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, panoramic moonroof, GTI grille, bumpers, side skirts, and rear spoiler, dual-zone climate control, paddle shifters, and technological features like navigation, a Fender premium audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, and adaptive cruise control.

Those features make options pretty much unnecessary, but they do drive up the price. Base MSRP for the GTI Autobahn is $37,095. Add in the $895 destination charge and the total is $37,990.

That number may be out of range for those shopping on a “beer budget,” but you don’t have to go for the Autobahn trim. The SE model starts at just over $28,000 counting the destination charge.

Call that a “craft beer budget.”

What I liked about the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn: It’s a fun car to drive, especially when Sport mode is engaged. It’s comfortable enough and offers pretty decent storage in the back even without the second-row seats folded (easily accomplished). The Autobahn trim comes with a lengthy list of standard equipment.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Volkswagen Golf  GTI 2.0T Autobahn: Road noise kind of drowns out the audio. Some techno features require extra steps to perform basic functions like changing the clock, and the touchscreen can be overly sensitive. It’s easy to hit the screen surface and change a station when you’re turning up the audio volume if you’re not careful.

Would I buy the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn? I wouldn’t personally because I am not a fan of compact hatchbacks in general, but if that is the kind of vehicle you are looking for, this should be on your list. Cost no doubt plays a huge part. The GTI is among the most expensive offerings in its class.

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