One Last Dance With The VW Mk7 GTI
The next generation is hitting showrooms, but the Mk7 still gets my respect.
Volkswagen's GTI first graced our roads in 1974, as the German make's plunge into a market we'd all grow to appreciate. Several generations later, millions of GTIs are buzzing around cities and countrysides, with the practical hatchback putting smiles on faces. In 2014, VW's Mk7 GTI arrived, and was updated in 2017.
With the eighth generation GTI rolling out, I wanted to give the Mk7 one last drive, to enjoy that iconic hot hatch in its simpler form. Thankfully the folks at VW had a 2021 GTI in the press fleet, and were happy to set me up.
All The Figures That Matter
The Mk7 GTI is powered by VW's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, pumping out 228 horsepower at 5,000 RPM and 258 lb-ft (350 Nm) of torque at just 1,500 RPM. Peak figures are stated using premium unleaded, but you can run regular unleaded in the GTI at the cost of a bit of power. With your choice between a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG, the Mk7 GTI can sprint from 0-60 in around 6 seconds, and has a limited top speed of 155 MPH.
As a five-door hatchback being the only body style option in the States, the GTI sports practical dimensions of 168 inches long, 70 wide, 58 tall, with a 103-inch wheelbase and track of 60 and 59 inches front and rear, respectively. Curb weight for the automatic-equipped GTI is 3,210 pounds (or 1,456 kilos). The GTI packs 17.4 cubic feet of storage space in the back, with a cargo capacity of 24.8 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down.
The fun hatchback market has no shortage of competitors, but VW slowly crept up the GTI's price to pin it against some faster metal. At a base price of $28,695 for the base S trim level, the GTI is still an affordable hot hatch. The White Silver Metallic Autobahn model I tested racked up a total MSRP of $38,740, which is more than the much more powerful and obscenely fun Honda Civic Type-R I reviewed last summer. If you crave more performance from your VW, there is a more potent--and more expensive--Golf R option available.
The Practical City Hatchback
As a smart-sized hatchback, the Mk7 GTI is fantastic as your daily driver, boasting a great balance of fun and practicality. The punchy turbocharged engine is a blast around the city, with smooth response, and a hint of torque steer when you smash the go pedal. If your throttle applications are smooth, you'll be rewarded with a surge of low-end torque and a good exhaust tone. Take it easy on the acceleration, and you'll enjoy EPA fuel estimates of 24/32/27 (city/highway/combined).
The GTI is easy to park in tight spaces, thanks to small dimensions. Couple those with perfectly sharp variable-assist electric power steering, and the GTI is fun to zip around any road. Ride quality from the adaptive chassis control is splendid in any condition, and can be adjusted in your choice of three default drive modes or a customizable setup that allows for tweaking the chassis, steering, and engine response separately. I set up the engine in the eco mode, and put everything else in the sportiest setting, to spare some fuel while making the GTI fun enough around town.
Inside the GTI is a no-fuss interior, still rocking an analog instrument cluster, an easy to use infotainment system, the basic VW switchgear package, and perfectly supportive sport seats--covered in leather in the upper pair of trim levels. Driving position, touch points, and visibility are still exceptional inside the VW hot hatch too. The GTI can tote five passengers, and adults aren't too cramped in the back seat. The practical GTI has a boxy enough back end and a big hatch opening, so any errand runs or trips across the country will not have you needing more boot space.
Still A Hot Hatch Where It Counts
More mild like a good tikka masala rather than my favorite scorching vindaloo, the GTI is still an iconic hot hatch. Ignore the peak horsepower figure when you're buzzing around a fun back road, because the GTI is a blast in the twisty stuff. It's light weight and wide power band make for great response at any RPM, giving you loads of turbocharged joy. I prefer a manual transmission in a small, fun car, but was more than happy with the DSG's quickness when I'd pull either steering wheel-mounted paddle, met with a nice burble from the dual exhaust tips.
Flogging the VW GTI on a winding road is best done with the car in its sportiest mode, to quicken up the hot hatch's reflexes. The GTI's front strut and rear multilink setup gives a just right sharpness, and the adaptive chassis control keeps anything from being disrupted. A tiny bit of body roll is exhibited in fast bends, but the weight sticks to the outer tires to help you rotate nicely, and understeer is minimal for a front-wheel-drive hatch. Credit the limited-slip differential for managing the slightest torque steer when you get a heavy foot as you apex.
The Mk7 GTI Autobahn has a cool set of 18-inch wheels shod with a set of 225/40 Bridgestone Potenza 5001 tires. Providing great grip in demanding conditions, the Bridgestone rubber wasn't too noisy either. Scrubbing speed during harder driving is done with some cool red brake calipers--with GTI logos--clamping down on ventilated discs that only showed the tiniest bit of fade when I was thrashing the GTI for nearly an hour straight.
Some Positives And Negatives
Tidy yet sporty styling has continued to be the signature of the Volkswagen GTI. Where many manufacturers are crafting hot hatches that look like they wiped out the inventory of a Pep Boys, the Mk7's looks will stay attractive for a long time. Red detailed lines around the exterior carry into the cabin with deviated stitching, subtly letting you know this is no ordinary hatchback.
The GTI's proportions are great, and the body makes for a cabin with good space for actual adults and all their stuff. Sure the gauges and infotainment are a bit spartan versus its competition, but the GTI's setup is intuitive and useful. Sporty yet comfortable seats do a fine job of keeping you stuck in place when you're tossing the GTI around, while not looking too boy racer, and the heating for the front seats got toasty quickly.
The GTI's infotainment couldn't keep my iPhone synced to Apple CarPlay, whether it was plugged in or utilizing the wireless compatibility. At least the Bluetooth streaming feature continued to work, and the Fender premium audio system cranked out with good bass and clarity. I also don't love how the plastic interior panels and light amount of sound deadening translated to more cabin noise than I prefer. Though these tiny gripes don't really affect my impression of the GTI.
It Changed Over The Years, But It's Still An Icon
The all-new Mk8 GTI--with its updated styling and tech inside and out--is hitting showrooms around Europe, and is headed to the U.S. soon. Plenty of reviewers have praised it as a continuation of VW's great hot hatch tradition. Dealers still have some Mk7 models, and there are probably some good incentives to move those units. If you're not wild about the new looks, and want to save a few bucks, the Mk7 is still a fantastic hot hatch you'll enjoy for several years.
Even though the GTI doesn't stand out on paper versus its competition, it's still wonderful. A nicely-equipped GTI now costs as much as the faster Civic Type-R, but it still manages to uphold its reputation as a brilliant hot hatchback. I'd happily rock a Mk7 GTI for a long time, and imagine plenty of drivers would too.