"The World's Best Hot Hatch" – According to Jeremy Clarkson

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Some years ago, Jeremy Clarkson (you know, Top Gear, The Grand Tour, his column in The Sunday Times, and inappropriate statements about everyone) said something to the effect that every automotive enthusiast should drive a Volkswagen Golf GTI once in their lifetime.

He has owned a few. Apparently, Clarkson sold his last one – a 2015 model with a DSG and an upgrade in power – probably within the last year or so.

Still, Jezza has proclaimed the Golf GTI as "the world's best hot hatch."

I couldn't agree with him more.

It took a bit longer for me to discover this first hand. The first ones showed up in the MkI (that's the first-generation for those of you who do not speak "Volkswagen") Golf (I meant, Rabbit) in 1982 out of the Westmoreland, Pennsylvania plant. Somehow, I skipped several generations of GTIs. I can't explain why.

Then, I tried out a trio of Volkswagen models in 2013, including a MkVI GTI with a DSG. It was exactly as advertised: quick, comfortable, and absolute fun.

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A year later, the MkVII (the seventh-generation) Golf GTI came out. And, boy, was I excited to try that one out! So, I did get a brief spin in one. I came away with the same conclusion as the MkVI, but with some tweaks in driving dynamics, vehicle control, all with a premium feel inside.

Cut to 2019 – some five years later. The MkVII Golf GTI is still on sale. Some have said that it has aged well. Others are ready to receive the MkVIII Golf GTI quicker than Volkswagen can deliver.

Before I get into my review on "the world's best hot hatch," I was reminded as to why it remains as such in our psyche. That reminder came at the 2019 Midwest Automotive Media Association Fall Rally at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois. My first drive was on the North Circuit during the "novice lap." I took the Golf GTI because I knew it would deliver everything I expected on that track. It did.

And, I wanted more.

Then, it arrived – the same 2019 Golf GTI Autobahn edition with the DSG in Dark Iron Blue Metallic that I wound through the North Circuit at Autobahn Country Club a month prior. I wanted more, alright.

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In the middle of a typical fall in Minnesota, the Golf GTI faced temperatures that hovered around the freezing mark. Why would this matter? When you have a performance-bred sports compact with only front-wheel-drive, you have to be concerned about how it will handle when the road conditions were less than ideal.

Obviously, the solution is to get all-season performance tires for year-round driving. Yes, but I would suggest one step further: get winter tires. Better still, get performance winter tires! That way, you will have a Golf GTI that plays all year round in one of the toughest conditions this country can dish out.

Nonetheless, the MkVII Golf GTI delivers in every way possible. It is a comfortable, practical, quick, sharp handling sports compact hatchback that befits its heritage and reputation. This is why enthusiasts love them so.

There is plenty to love about the Golf GTI. You can never mistake this with a basic Golf hatchback or the all-wheel-drive monster that is the Golf R. The red trimming, honeycomb grille, and GTI badging are dead giveaways as to what you're dealing with. The stance is unmistakably Golf GTI. While there are many of them on the road, you absolutely know what it is and how it takes care of business.

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Then, you step inside. Unfortunately, I did not get the one with its signature tartan interior. Instead, I was treated to yards of black leather in my Autobahn edition tester. And, I'm OK with it. To offset the black finishes, there is red stitching, red LED strips, and the aforementioned GTI badge. All of this was tastefully done, because why would you want anything to distract you from the business of driving it?

That is why I love having analog dials for my main readouts. Granted, there is a digital TFT screen in-between the two big dials, but it offers information augmenting what I need to see from the speedometer, tachometer, fuel, and temperature gauges. It offers engagement that way it was intended to be.

Everything else falls in line with what I want in a Golf GTI. A thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel made for exact control of the road. Controls all around that are logical, good to the touch, and are made for full engagement. And, yes that does include the absolutely necessary climate controls. Those heated seats were much needed during my time with the Golf GTI!

I love where the eight-inch glass-covered infotainment display fells within reach of my fingers. There, I have control of my drive modes, along with setting up my Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay functions (it also connects to your device through Android Auto and MirrorLink, too!), as well as my SiriusXM presets. Fender guitars' name appears on the nine total speakers that surround your Golf GTI. This is available on select Golf GTI models.

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Seating is heavily bolstered, which almost compromised the wider parts of my body. Just like most sports seats, it does eventually, envelop you in getting secure behind the wheel. The power adjustments, along with the steering wheel, help to find a perfect driving position for stress-free commuting or a few laps on a track – to relieve stress, if course.

If you want to sit behind me, make sure you're not my size, However, if I let some "average-sized" humans get in, they'll be fine. Not to mention the 22.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind them – plenty of room for a weekend's worth of luggage.

Underneath the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 228 horsepower. Just like most turbocharged engines, you can achieve maximum performance by putting in premium fuel. Yet, the label inside the fuel door says you can put in regular fuel. May I suggest putting in the better stuff? That way, you won't complain about your GTI – ever.

My tester came with the available seven-speed DSG transmission. Yes, you can row your own gears with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, but you may want to try the DSG to find out which one will respond to your feet better. The DSG offers quick shifts without the third pedal, although you do have paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel to fine-tune some gearing for better control.

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There are moments when you wished you had the manual. For example, you may not like the way the gears would hang on for longer in Sport mode. That is why you have paddle shifters to manipulate the gearbox.

As for fuel consumption, I averaged only 27.9 MPG in my care. That may be just good enough for the GTI unless you do a lot of highway driving, which your average could scale above 29.0 MPG. It is probably the best you can possibly get in a sports compact.

The real reason you get a Golf GTI is because of its famous driving dynamics package. It also helps that my tester had the Dynamic Chassis Control, also known as DCC. From the infotainment screen, you can choose between Comfort, Normal, Sport, Eco, and a Custom mode. You will find the difference between Sport and Comfort mode as pretty stark on throttle/transmission, suspension, and steering feel and response.

With that said, there are two scenarios that came into play with my overall time in this Golf GTI. If you know that the roads are going to be full of potholes or you can see the cracks developing on older pieces of tarmac, out into Normal mode. Normal gives you a compromise between Comfort and Sport, which enables the driver to "take it easy" to preserve the components through some tough climates. If you want to put your Golf GTI on the track, go with Sport mode. That way, you get the full benefit of what this car is all about.

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The one thing the DCC does not work with is the brakes. They are usually very sharp on stops with excellent pedal feel, however, I found there were moments when the system lagged a bit on normal stops. I would rather not force my foot onto the pedal because (a) the pedal feel is really good and (b) I would like to not shorten the life of the pads and rotors. You can, if you want to, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Still, the Golf GTI is rewarding to drive in any mode and on any road (and track). Even in the softest model, you can still feel the turbocharged engine wanting to play. You also can feel the steering system's sharp reflexes at every turn and maneuver. The suspension system offers that right mix of ride and handling for superb overall driving dynamics. It is everything you expect from a Golf GTI.

Currently, pricing for the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI starts at $27,595 for an S model with the manual gearbox. My Autobahn edition tester came with a sticker price of $37,990.

There is something to discuss here. Remember I mentioned that there are some enthusiasts waiting for the arrival of the MkVIII Golf? I am not sure when the USA will get them. In the meantime, Volkswagen of America will sell a 2020 Golf GTI in several week's time. There will be a Golf hatchback available in a single trim coming soon afterward. Meanwhile, the Golf Family has been trimmed down for the new model year, as Volkswagen of America canceled the SportWagen, the Alltrack wagon, and the all-wheel-drive Golf R high-performance hatchback.

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If you want "the world's best hot hatch," you get a Golf GTI. Don't just take my word – or, Jeremy Clarkson's word – for it, either.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Volkswagen of America

All photos by Randy Stern

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