2019 VW Golf GTI 2.0T S: The 'hot hatch' lives
I had to laugh the first time I opened the door on the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI — it had plaid fabric seats, similar to those in the earliest Golfs sold in the US, when they were called Rabbits. And it was just as much fun to drive as the original version of the GTI, which created the "hot hatch" concept and dominated it for years.
Most drivers don't know or remember how revolutionary the Rabbit was when it was first introduced in 1974. It replaced the VW Beetle, whose sales had fallen in the face of cheaper, more economic small Japanese cars.
The Rabbit was different from the Beetle in every way — it was boxy instead of round, came with a water-cooled inline four cylinder engine instead of an air-cooled flat four, was front-wheel-drive instead of rear-wheel-drive, and was a hatchback instead of a coupe. Buyers embraced them, helping to make VW a major instead of cult brand in the US.
Although many earlier Rabbits were sold with a super-efficient diesel engines, VW brought out a performance version dubbed the GTI in 1983. It featured a gas engine that was more powerful than the base version, a stiffer suspension, and special trim and badges.
The Rabbit GTI created the concept of small hatchback cars with upgraded engines and suspensions that flourished for years, but has since faded due to the popularity of SUVs. It is still among the best of the remaining few.
Since the Rabbit first introduced, VW has now sold seven generations of the Golf in the US, each a little larger and more refined. The company has been using the German name since 1984 — except from 2006 to 2009, when it was rebranded the Rabbit again, before being called the Golf ever since.
Whatever it's been named, the Golf has always been an affordable, economical, fun to drive car that can be ordered in more upscale and powerful trim levels by those with a little more money.
Although the GTI can be ordered with a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, enthusiasts will prefer the smooth-shifting six-speed manual that allows drivers to take full advantage of the 228 horsepower produced by the turbocharged 2.0-liter four. The newer Golf R has more power — 288 ponies — but the GTI should satisfy all but the most demanding drivers in real world conditions.
During a week of test driving, our 2019 Golf GTI was consistently entertaining. Even in the Normal drive mode, the high-revving engine always seemed to have plenty of power on tap, or just a quick downshift away, and the suspension was firm enough to encourage flat cornering. The GTI was noticeably faster and louder in the Sport mode, and the suspension was also a little harsh over broken pavement — but that's to be expected.
Such performance carries a price, of course, with the lowest priced GTI S costing about $6,000 more than a base Golf. Other versions cost even more, topping out at $36,890 for the Autobahn edition. The dual-clutch transmission priced at $1,100 regardless of trim level.
The Golf R costs even more, however, starting at $40,395. For around$13,000 less, all but the most demanding enthusiasts should more than satisfied with the 2019 Golf GTI 2.0T S.
And for the nostalgic among us, there's also a new Rabbit Edition the slots between the base S and the mid-level SE. It features black trim for the wheels, spoiler, and mirrors along with Rabbit badges for the seats, all intended to evoke the original GTI.
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T S
Base price: $27,595
Price as tested: $28,940
Style: Compact hatchback
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4 (228 hp, 258 lbs-ft)
Transmissions: 6-speed manual; 7-speed dual clutch automatic
EPA fuel economy: 24/32
Length: 168 inches
Weight: 2,963 to 3,023 pounds
Final assembly point: Puebla, Mexico