These may be the days of stripes and satin paint and 22-inch wheels, but stoic Volkswagen just doesn’t roll like that.
It tends to leave the noise and glitter to the Americans and Asians.
Even Volkswagen’s most desirable car, the hot-hatch Golf GTI compact, serves up its considerable dash without much flash.
Just look at the gun-metal gray 2021 GTI I had last week, a sedan so sedate it could be carrying a bunch of tweedy foreign-policy analysts to a vegan lunch somewhere.
As you know, you’ve got to watch those subtle, silent ones, and the highly acclaimed GTI is definitely worth watching – once you find it on the parking lot.
We better enjoy it while we can, though. For better or worse, this is the final year of this seventh generation of GTI, so presumably the “little box that can” will likely look different in 2022.
It won’t matter. For decades now, the GTI has been a compelling blend of performance, handling and drivability typically wrapped in unremarkable tan or white or silver envelopes.
Not that the new GTI in my driveway was unattractive or anything. It just preferred quiet nods and a nice shirt to shouts and sparkle.
Clean and uncluttered, the front-wheel-drive GTI greeted the world with a thin horizontal blacked-out grille that stretched from one swept-back headlamp to the other, trimmed with a thin red-and silver strip.
A broad, slightly raised hood topped basically smooth sides defined by character lines through the door-handles and above the rocker panels.
Though the fenders were slightly flared, the car settled quietly on pretty tame multi-spoke 18-inch wheels wrapped with 225/40 tires.
What you can’t see, however, is the rock concert under the hood and body, starting with a remarkably refined, turbocharged 2-liter four spinning out 228 horsepower through a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic.
Struts and a multilink rear axle – pretty standard fare these days – are finely tuned to keep the tires stuck to the street, somehow giving the front-heavy GTI a grippy, remarkably neutral feel in corners.
It loves to run, offering small smile-inducing surges of power even in low-speed driving. This engine has been a mainstay at VW for decades and you can feel all the development work.
Responsive and lively, it happily revs to 6,000 rpm when asked.
Oddly, given how long the engine has been around, it felt momentarily flat when I put the pedal down, though it recovered quickly with a leap forward and a subdued growl.
Sixty miles per hour arrives in a swift 6 seconds flat, according to Car and Driver.
That should make expressway-entries a breeze, plus the 2-liter four should be capable of overall fuel economy of about 30 miles per gallon, but the GTI’s greatest strength is definitely its polished handling.
The 3,200-pound sedan turns into corners with gleeful urgency and almost no body lean, powering through them with impressive grip and balance.
As you might expect from a car that places greater emphasis on function than form, the steering was light and quick, even providing reasonable road feel.
Moreover, the GTI’s ride was pretty decent. While firm, the suspension offered good compliance, absorbing most city bumps with relative ease.
I wouldn’t hesitate to drive this good-natured sportster down to the coast and back this weekend.
I wish I could tell you how much car the GTI is for the money, but Volkswagen failed to provide a window-sticker for it.
According to the always reliable Inner Tube, er, Internet, the GTI’s base price is $27,265 and I would guess that a relatively well-equipped one like mine would run around $34,000.
The black interior in the car I had kind of reaffirmed that price range – nicely executed but done with a bit too much penny-pinching plastic.
Like the exterior, the interior was pretty basic, with a lightly sculpted black upper dashboard easing down to a slightly outdated-looking center-stack at mid-dash.
Dominating the stack was a 6.5-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system also offered forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert without being overly aggressive.
For some reason, the system had knobs for the audio, but still had to be tuned through the screen. OK.
Though the dash was fairly prosaic, it got some spice from a great flat-bottom steering wheel and some polished trim strips that curved around to the car’s mostly plastic door-panels.
The good-looking black seats, fortunately, gave the interior a slightly higher-end feel with sectioned centers and thigh-hugging bolsters trimmed in red stitching.
Meanwhile, the back seat offered reasonable leg-room if you’re under 6-feet and pretty good headroom.
I would own a GTI. Volkswagen, of course, is making all sorts of noise about its upcoming electric cars, but the real buzz for me in 2022 will come from the new GTI.
2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review
- What I liked most: The GTI’s impressive capabilities, which included straight-line performance, cornering, drivability and even ride.
- What I would change: Very little, but if you’re going to be smart enough to put knobs on the infotainment system, one of them needs to be capable of tuning the radio.
- MSRP: Base price, $27,265; as equipped, estimated $34,000.
- Official color: White Silver Metallic.
- Fuel economy: 24 miles per gallon in town, 32 on the highway and about 30 mpg combined with filler on the right.
- Odometer reading when tested: 616 miles.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- Weight: 3,221 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 168 inches long/70.8 inches wide/56.8 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 13.2 gallons.
- Towing capacity: Not applicable.
- 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI in a few words: The most refined, well-rounded and best hot-hatch compact in the U.S.
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall protection.
- Final assembly location: Puebla, Mexico.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.vw.com
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Up next: 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring.