Driving the 2017 Volkswagen GTI on the mountain roads of Arizona was a holistic wayback machine experience for me having cut my canyon carving teeth some 30 years ago on the same roads in a 1984 GTI, the first generation of the hot hatch.
Fast forward to now, the seventh generation GTI is larger, heavier, much safer and has more than twice the power as the seemingly meager 90 horsepower of the original. It has more technology in the audio system itself than the entire car did back in the 1980’s.
What hasn’t changed however is the basic formula. You take a utilitarian hatchback economy car, amp it up with more power, better handling, and keep it pure for the enthusiast. That’s what made the GTI an enthusiasts dream at the start and continues to keep it on top today.
Now tipping the scales at just over 3,000 pounds, the 2017 Volkswagen GTI has 210 horsepower in the S trim of our tester. With Sport trim and above you can get 220 horsepower with the standard performance package. Torque however remains 258 pound-feet for both versions.
Now you have the choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or the 6-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic in the one we’ve tested. Suspension is stiffer than on the standard Golf, wheels are 18-inch alloys and brakes are healthy in size. If you get Sport trim and above they’re even larger.
But on the base trim you still find a great starting place. Priced at $27,515 with the DSG and about $1,000 less with a manual you get a substantially upgraded interior from the Golf S. Here you have GTI sport seats in Clark plaid that are heated.
They are manually adjustable for most movements but recline is power. Comfortable and grippy are the words to describe them just as in the original GTI of 30 plus years ago. The driving position too is every bit as businesslike as in the beginning as is the design of the cabin.
Material quality is top notch throughout as is the fit and finish. Storage areas abound including a nice cubby up front for your phone as well as a USB and auxiliary port to plug into. Rear seat passengers will be comfortable too with plenty of space and support from the seats.
Those rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split as expected but there’s also a handy pass though door for long items while retaining two seating positions. Under the rear floor is a spare tire too, a novelty these days.
Performance from its 2.0 liter turbocharged engine is spirited if not raucous. It’s not as powerful as some in class such as the Ford Focus ST but VW threads the needle with smoothness and refinement that others don’t have.
The DSG transmission works well on the open road and twisties, holding your gear in Sport Mode for in and out of curves. Around town in Normal Mode however it’s rough and abrupt. In both cases I’d take the manual transmission given the choice.
EPA estimates 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined. In my week with it however I bested at 24 mpg combined, admittedly on the power quite a bit.
Handling is still one of the best smile inducers with the GTI. While the original would corner on three-wheels happily and predictably, the newest one does the same but remains on all four tires. It has a sense of refinement and grip that is hard to find in the competitive set with steering feel that’s sublime to say the least.
In the end, my takeaway is that the seventh-generation GTI not only lives up to the legend of the original but is well two to three times the car without question. It has all the joy and willingness but in a more modern and livable package. It also makes our “Id Buy It” list for 2017.