2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

The best looking Golf GTI? That's a personal opinion, but it certainly looks good! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Classic hatchback lines are as practical as they cheat the wind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

LED enhanced headlights look upscale. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Optional 18-inch Serron alloys look fabulous! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Impressive premium quality interior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

You can't get a better sport steering wheel anywhere. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Some of the best sport seats in the industry. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

Published on April 20, 2012

There's a lot to choose from in the "hot hatch" segment, even a number of coupes and sedans. The term was popularized back in the late '70s and early '80s when the GTI was unleashed on North Americans, and subsequent imitators, from the now legendary Honda Civic Si to the brutally quick (by comparison) Carroll Shelby tweaked Dodge Omni GLH Turbo, joined the fray. Now the Si can only be had in coupe or sedan form while a host of racy rivals range in body style and performance, from 160 to more than 260 horsepower, the GTI slotting right in the middle with 200-horsepower from its turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder.

Like with all things in life, more of any one thing doesn't necessarily translate into the best. When it comes to performance cars there are many other factors than just horsepower, such as a car's torque rating, agility through corners, overall sense of quality, and of course styling.

Many would consider the current Golf to be the best looking to come along in quite a while, if not ever, and the GTI to be the most appealing of that form. The wide grille, LED embellished headlamps, fog-light enhanced front fascia, creased bodywork, black side skirts, large rooftop spoiler, rear diffuser, twin chrome pipes, and clean, crisp taillight design is embellished with classic GTI cues like black honeycomb mesh upper and lower grille inserts with red horizontal pinstripes on the former, plus of course the golf ball inspired shifter knob and black, grey and red tartan upholstery inside.

My tester was clothed in optional leather, and so dressed what a fabulously upscale interior it is. Put the GTI up against any premium rival, including Audi's A3, and it holds up well. The Audi is slightly nicer, as would be expected, but BMW's 1 Series has hard plastics where the GTI, and all Golfs for that matter, boast soft-touch surfaces as well as high-quality switchgear that could make a number of premium rivals blush in embarrassment. Of course, at $30,740 (freight included) in base 3-door guise (add $1,000 for the 5-door and/or $1,400 more for the dual-clutch DSG direct-shift sequential automatic) the GTI is starting to approach premium territory.

Features? All the safety and luxury items you'd expect in a premium car come standard, the latter including heated powered mirrors with integrated turn signals, dual-zone automatic climate control and much more, while there are a few features that some premium cars don't even offer, like automatic up/down windows all-round, 6-CD audio with iPod connectivity (that can be swapped for a USB plug at the dealer), aux input, and Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and adaptive automatic bi-xenon headlamps. Performance goodies include a meaty and oh-so-cool flat-bottom 3-spoke perforated leather-wrapped multifunction sport steering wheel with red stitching, the same red stitching on the shifter boot, brushed aluminum sport pedals, and 17-inch alloys on 225/45R17 all-seasons.

Mine had the optional 18-inch "Serron" rims on 225/40R18s, part of a package that also gives you brushed aluminum dash and door inlays, colour doorsill trim, and front and rear floor mats with red loop stitching. The leather sport seats were a sign of the Luxury Leather package that also adds proximity sensing entry with keyless ignition and a powered moonroof with VW's optimal rotary tilt/slide opener; the sunroof can be added as a standalone option too. Lastly, my tester included the Technology package, complete touch-screen navigation, a 30-gig hard drive, and 8-speaker 300-watt Dynaudio sound that played my tunes very well.

Good tunes always make a great car better, and the GTI continues to be a brilliantly balanced bundle of fun. Fling it into a curve and you'll be rewarded with mild controllable understeer held tight by the sticky grip of its Dunlops. VW's paddle-shift actuated 6-speed DSG gearbox combines with 207 lb-ft of torque for quick takeoffs, and on the straight it's totally stable at speed. Under braking, four bright red calipers bite down on each disc with Doberman-like tenacity while fade is only a problem in extreme race-like conditions. Like all GTIs before it, only better, the 2012 GTI is one hot hatch! A formidable performance car that when behind the wheel makes you forget just how wonderfully practical it really is.

After all, my tester was a 4-door hatchback. The only thing more practical would be a 4-door GTI wagon; too bad VW doesn't make that one. You can load up four of your friends and still tote along a midsize car's worth of luggage behind the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. Lay those flat and cargo volume more than triples!

The negative? At 9.9 L/100km city and 6.7 highway the GTI is the thirstiest Golf in the lineup, other than the 254 horsepower all-wheel drive Golf R. And yes, premium fuel is recommended for quickest possible acceleration, but then again it's not required. And again still, the GTI it's nowhere near as guzzling as most performance cars. In other words, I've got nothing glaring to report against the GTI.

OK, at $38,950 including shipping, its as tested price is higher than you might expect. Then again, put the same features on an Audi A3 or BMW 1 Series and you'll be into the high 40s. Likewise, load up any mainstream brand's top luxury or sport model and it'll come close to and often pass right on by the GTI's fully featured window sticker, but few of them will deliver the style, performance, practicality and pedigree of the legendary Golf GTI.

The way I see it the 2012 VW Golf GTI may have a lot of competitors, but it really is in a class of one.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Volkswagen, VW, 2012, GTI, Golf GTI, $30,000 - $39,999, Compact,

Organizations: GTI, Volkswagen

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