Being a fan of the Volkswagen GTI is a little like being a fan of the Yankees. You’ve aligned yourself with a perennial winner, but people are suspicious of your motives. Are you just a fan because it’s the easily defensible choice? Unlike the West Coast transplant who buys a blue cap when they move to Brooklyn, we’re not recognizing the GTI because we feel like we have to. The GTI was on C/D‘s first 10Best list in 1983, and this year marks its 15th consecutive win. We reward it time and time again because it’s just that good. As is its fraternal twin, the Jetta GLI.
These two cars share a 228-hp turbocharged inline-four, VW’s MQB platform, a limited-slip differential, and a pair of transmissions. They get extra credit for the standard six-speed manual, but the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is excellent, too, and a little quicker. Either car with either transmission can make it to 60 mph in under 6.0 seconds. Get behind the wheel of a GTI or GLI and you’ll find a playful and premium driving experience, with each offering a level of sensitivity to driver inputs that most makers of sport compacts can only dream of achieving.
What’s more, for all this goodness, VW doesn’t demand a single sacrifice in practicality. Both rows offer plenty of passenger space, and the GTI has a more usable cargo hold than some vehicles that claim to be crossovers. Plus, we managed 36 mpg in a manual-trans GLI and 34 mpg in an automatic GTI in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test.
The interiors are businesslike, bordering on austere, but the controls are as intuitive as they come. There’s a place for everything, and everything’s in the right place. And you can’t say the GLI’s starting point of $27,340 isn’t attractive.
This is the final 10Best outing for the GTI before it is replaced by the next-generation model, which is already on sale in Europe. The new car will be more powerful, meaner-looking, and loaded with tech but largely cast from the same mold. Check back this time next year to see if we’re still cheering for these all-time favorites, because our loyalty is only as strong as each year’s team.