So the Volkswagen Golf GTI is your 2016 North American Car of the Year.
At least that’s what the jury of 57 journalists that handed it a decisive win over the excellent Ford Mustang and Hyundai Genesis thinks. I wasn’t on it, but I generally agree with the assessment that the seventh generation GTI offers lots of utility, refinement and performance per buck.
You’ll need 25,605 of them to get into it. That buys you a two-door GTI with a six-speed manual transmission. Add $600 for a four-door model and another $1,100 for the six-speed dual-clutch automatic and you end up with the car I tested.
The GTI looks familiar, but it’s an all-new car that’s built on VW’s innovative modular platform, which can be stretched or shrunk to accommodate a variety of vehicles that range in size from subcompact sports car to midsize SUV. In this case, you have a compact hatchback that’s lower, longer, wider and a few pounds lighter than the model it replaces, with crisp lines and a high quality interior that wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi showroom. These are all good things. It also has a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 210 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque that would make a small pickup truck envious.
The boxy GTI could almost pass for one with all the room it has, even more than before. The plaid-upholstered seats provide plenty of support and legroom, and if you drop the ones in the rear, 52 cubic feet of space is yours for the filling. Of course, the latter also applies to the run-of-the-mill Golf. You buy the GTI to drop the hammer.
Do that, and you have a moment to catch your breath as the turbo spools up, then smoothly launches you forward like you’re being tossed from a trebuchet. It’s all very controlled; there’s no torque steer twitching the wheel in your hands, as is the case with many powerful front wheel drive cars, and the excellent traction control system makes quick work of any slippery surfaces.
It’s almost too sophisticated and quiet, but darn it if the little guy doesn’t feel fast. If you must, and you might as well, the GTI has a Sport mode that turns up the aggression and the volume, pumping engine noise into the cabin via a device VW calls a soundaktor. Most turbocharged cars these days have something like this, but the VW’s is among the best.