When driving a 2019 Volkswagen GTI the word that most readily comes to mind is “balance.”
Well, balance is a beautiful thing, right? You want people to be well-balanced; you work for a balanced portfolio; you balance wants and needs. It’s an aspiration, a goal, an ideal. And in a car it can be a joy.
So, I guess that’s really all I need to say. Take a drive in a GTI and experience the pleasures of a truly balanced automobile. It’ll become your benchmark. Say no more.
Okay, I’ll say more. The front-wheel drive GTI is powered by a 2.0-litre 228 horsepower intercooled turbocharged four-cylinder engine through a six-speed manual transmission (or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic) and a locking/limited slip differential.
It rides on a sport-tuned suspension attached to a stiff modular MQB chassis and stops with four large disc brakes (rear vented) shared with the more aggressive (and much more expensive) Golf R. Steering is managed by a precise electric rack and pinion system. Wheels are 18-inch with 225/40ZR tires.
GoneDriving’s distinctive $33,995 Urano Grey “Rabbit” tester came with the manual transmission, Pretoria black alloy wheels and the wonderful Clark tartan cloth interior (loved this the first time I saw it; reminds me of a vintage Porsche).
The “Rabbit” trim also features a special rear spoiler and GTI grille, leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel and front fog lights with static cornering lights. Mostly cosmetic, in other words.
The premium Fender audio system is impressive; satellite radio — no longer such a cool thing — labours on, competing with, Carplay and Android Auto. Hill Hold Assist is useful, and the proximity controlled display interface gets oohs and aahs. No sunroof at this trim level, though.
Additionally, and bringing the price of this GTI to $35,745, the optional Driver Assistance Package Plus included Autonomous Emergency Braking with pedestrian monitoring, Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Blind Spot Detection with rear traffic alert and Lane Assist. I like these features; for me they’re worth the money.
The GTI body is effectively that of a Volkswagen Golf, which means it’s a taut four-door hatch with appealing lines and proportions. It fits four people comfortably and offers good cargo capacity behind the rear seat; better, of course, with the rear seatback folded. It’s practical, in other words.
The GTI front seats are well-bolstered at the thighs and shoulders, with no adjustability in the bolsters which may make them tight for some. The steering wheel position, look and feel is a delight; the shifter and the position of the pedals are an effortless extension of your limbs. There’s lots of storage for bits and pieces and everything is crisply designed with Bauhaus-like attention to form and function.
I know… details, details. I guess at one level the GTI is about attention to details, but what makes it special is the balance of its driving dynamics once underway. Yes, you can take passengers and cargo; yes it uses fuel at the reasonable rate of 9.8/7.3 L/100km city/highway (regular if you want); yes it can park itself (which is pretty cool, really). But come on, you don’t want to park this thing, right? You want to go!
And what a ride it is. It goes and turns and stops as all cars do, but it does so at another level. So responsive, so precise, so satisfying. The 228 hp is perfect in this car; it just leaps ahead when asked, then it settles down to a smooth, relaxed overdrive pace on the highway, ready for instructions.
Want to pass someone on a two-laner? Signal… throttle… done. Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? It’s therapy, this car.
Twisting country roads become the routes of choice in a GTI. Even manoeuvring in a busy parking lot is entertaining. You just feel like you’re in total control of this thing; there’s a palpable synchronicity between driver and vehicle. You get this whenever you’re behind the wheel. It’s really quite marvellous.
Braking is likewise sharp, controlled, easily modulated, super effective. And I should mention the manual transmission: light, quick and precise. Gotta love a nice manual.
Not so keen on the “Rabbit” moniker. Blame it on the US marketing people, I reckon. They just won’t let it go. “Let’s call it a Rabbit!”
How about let’s not?
That said, what you have here is maybe the perfect small car. A little jewel. It’s not stupid powerful – not excessive at all — but when you need more of anything, it seems to know just how much and delivers exactly what you require.
But for my money — and really, the price is right — the Volkswagen GTI recalls the days when people drove for the pleasure of it; when “going for a drive” was reason enough.
And it’ll get you to work and back and do all the regular car things. Balanced, you see.
I like this car a lot. Maybe you noticed.
2019 Volkswagen GTI: $30,845
2019 Volkswagen GTI “Rabbit”: $33,995
2019 Volkswagen GTI “Autobahn”: $36,145
Price as tested: $35,745 plus $1,745 freight and AC tax: $37,490