2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI new car reviews

Even though the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI on the horizon, the 2020 version is still a staple of our scene.

The current GTI produces 228 horsepower that can be sent to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

What's new for 2020? Only two trims are now available: S and SE. The special Rabbit edition has been dropped. The Autobahn trim has also been removed from the lineup, but lives on as an optional package for the SE trim that adds functions like automatic dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control and a Fender sound system. Front Assist, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Traffic Alert now come standard across both trims as well.

Pricing starts at $28,595 for the six-speed manual, and $29,395 for the seven-speed dual-clutch.

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Chris Tropea
Chris Tropea
Associate Editor

The Volkswagen GTI was born from a simple concept. Put a big engine in a compact light hatchback to create a fun car that can be used every day. That concept still rings true today with this 2020 MK7 GTI. Sporting a 2-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine that produces 228 horsepower and 258 lb./ft. of torque, this car is a blast to drive around town.

The GTI is one car on an ever-shortening list of vehicles that you can still get with a manual transmission. However, the example we drove driving was equipped with Volkswagen's seven-speed DSG transmission, and, I have to say, I don’t miss the manual. Sure, it might be more fun to drive with the third pedal, but for daily driving, I really like the DSG. The shifts are smooth, and it is quick to respond to throttle inputs. Switching the car into manual mode and using the paddle shifters are also very responsive.

My daily driver is a 2010 Mk6 GTI with a manual and I personally had a hard time giving up this 2020 GTI. It felt extremely similar to my car but seemed more refined. The updated engine gives a lot more torque down low and caries the power much higher in the rev range, making it feel much quicker. The chassis in the Mk7 is much improved from the previous generation, which carried the same basic setup from the Mk5 from when it launched all the way back in 2006.

The interior of the Mk7 GTI, while much improved, keeps the same basic layout of its predecessor. It’s similar to what you would expect to see in an Audi or Mercedes with comfortable leather seats—although I prefer the look of the classic checkerboard cloth seats—and premium feeling material throughout the whole cabin. Driving on both city and highway roads, the interior had no excessive road noise, and the suspension handled bumps and expansion joints comfortably. The Mk7 also came with the upgraded 400-watt Fender audio system that was one of the best sound systems I have heard in a car.

The infotainment screen is great and lets you cycle through almost every setting in the car all from one menu. Equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto you can seamlessly integrate your phone into the user interface with a mix of touch screen and voice commands.

The driving mode selections are cool, and while you can actually tell a subtle difference in the driving dynamics by switching between them, the “Sport” mode introduced more engine noise that only made the car sound annoying, so I found myself driving around in normal or eco mode.

Volkswagens have a reputation for not being the most reliable cars on the market, and I can say my Mk6 GTI has had its fair share of weird problems. Some of those issues have not been cheap to fix, but there is just something about the GTI that speaks to me.

The Mk7 GTI was comfortable to drive with pretty good gas mileage and has enough space to keep it practical for everyday use. Even though in the coming months it will be phased out to make way for the completely re-designed Mk8 GTI, the Mk7 is still a great car and will continue to be a good choice for someone looking for a fun daily driver.

J.G. Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

The Mk7 GTI is on its way out. Soon a Mk8—which was already supposed to have dropped at various auto shows that were subsequently canceled—will hit dealerships and it will likely be the new hotness. But no matter how good it is, smart buyers may flock to dealerships when the Mk8 drops to snatch up a deal on a leftover Mk7, because it’s an absolute gem.

The GTI is a true premium German car experience, in that it feels every bit as nice as anything from Audi, BMW or Mercedes. But the raw edge, hewn from the DNA of every GTI that has preceded it, still persists. You could hop in an ’85 Golf GTI and a current Mk7 blindfolded and still know you were climbing into a GTI.

I didn’t get much time on the street with this particular GTI, but I’ve driven plenty of Mk7 variants during the run—even spent several weeks blasting down the Autobahn in electric GTE and diesel GTD variants—and have always found the Swiss Army Knife utility of the GTI to be an exceptional everyday carry companion. Hyundai is doing an amazing job right now creating interiors with the right mix of buttons, knobs and touchscreens where everything makes sense and is easy to find. VW fails a bit on this end, hiding a few options needlessly in menus and replacing a few too many tactile controls with touchscreen options, but ultimately those are auto journalist problems, where we have to learn the UI for a new car each week. Living with this car in the long term, you’d quickly get used to the peculiarity of some of the control options, and it would start to make sense in short order.

I did get to spend some time with the GTI on track, however, and it was a straight-up riot. It has one of the best off-the-showroom-floor set of brakes of any car I’ve driven for quite a while. A set of performance pads would be all it needs to make it a true track day slaughter machine. The 228 horsepower engine feels underrated as the front tires scrabble for traction, even through third gear, and the car pulls hard to the redline. The DSG transmission is an excellent track companion, shifting firmly and positively both up and down. The timing of the shifts has some lag compared to the paddle actuation, but it’s at least consistent, so it’s easy to get a handle on the timing after a few hard shifts. The paddles themselves could be a little larger and nicer as well The DSG is such a good transmission for track use, it deserves a proper set of heavy-duty track paddles.

If there’s a downside to track performance, it’s how much work the front wheels are doing, which is basically ALL of the work. Although the GTI is responsive and predictable, it really feels like the front wheels are handling most of the burden of braking, cornering and acceleration—because they are. In contrast to something like the Honda Civic Si that feels more balanced, but not quite as aggressive, the GTI has the feel of a more edgy performance machine, but it gets the job done by relying heavily on those front tires to carry the load.

Still, that’s a minor quibble when compared with the actual drivability. Rotate your tires frequently and the GTI will deliver lap after lap of smiles.

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Error404 Reader
5/2/20 9:52 a.m.

Still 2 many doors, c'mon VW

OzarkOwen New Reader
5/2/20 5:14 p.m.

I’ve been looking for a two door manual trans, and none anywhere near me. My wife has an Odyssey and I do not need another four door hauling vehicle. I much prefer the look of the two door GTI. I believe 2017 was the last year. Of the four doors I have found most are dsg, and quite a few do not have a clean Carfax.  Hummm...

irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/2/20 8:23 p.m.

That last year before the really ugly 2021.......

Happy I bought mine in 2018 when they were giving out that monster warranty (6/72k). Going back to that warranty would be a bigger "upgrade" than the extra 10-15 horses the incoming model has to go with it ugly looks. 

ZOO (Forum Supporter)
ZOO (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
5/3/20 8:44 a.m.

Mine has been excellent!   Awful OEM wheels, like in the picture above, have been regulated to winter tire use.  

einy (Forum Supporter)
einy (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
5/3/20 9:38 a.m.

I hear all of the complaining about the demise of the 2 door GTI, but sentiment didn’t equate to new car sales of that variant.  The 4 door outsold the 2 door by a 5 to 1 ratio in our market, therefore the decision by VW.  Nothing more than that.

Error404 Reader
5/3/20 12:30 p.m.

My comment is based off ownership of a proper, 2-door GTI. I love it but, if I had to by a new car, I don't think it would be a GTI. Similar to how the C7 'Vettes or recent Civic's look like you could shave with the body panels, VW bulked up the GTI and went with the aggressive styling around the same time that they decided to save money by closing the 2-door production line. I'm partial to the older body styles of GTI, before they tried to up-class them, and that's probably where they lost me. Besides, wasn't 4-door small-family car the territory for the Jetta? I'm not a fan. YMMV.


Also worth noting is that I am not a fan of touchscreens in cars, infotainment centers, push-start, and e-everything but that's a whole 'nother thang that I worry will leave me deeply unsatisfied when I finally have to buy a new car. (new to me, not necessarily new new)

dxman92 HalfDork
5/3/20 5:48 p.m.

I didn't realize the starting price for a GTI was so high. surprise

Feedyurhed UltraDork
5/3/20 8:21 p.m.
einy (Forum Supporter) said:

I hear all of the complaining about the demise of the 2 door GTI, but sentiment didn’t equate to new car sales of that variant.  The 4 door outsold the 2 door by a 5 to 1 ratio in our market, therefore the decision by VW.  Nothing more than that.

Yep, that's it. We are a different crowd on this forum. "Regular" people on the outside don't even want cars anymore let alone a 2 door. Same thing can be applied to manual transmissions.........as has been discussed many times here before.

irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/3/20 8:36 p.m.
ZOO (Forum Supporter) said:

Mine has been excellent!   Awful OEM wheels, like in the picture above, have been regulated to winter tire use.  

VW should just break out the mold from the CC wheels and put them on the next one - not like those wheels are being used by anything else now. I've probably gotten about 20 complements from people about mine, and those aren't even V-dub people, just random people like neighbors and coworkers. They look "correct" like they should have been stock for the car, IMO. Most people don't realize these didn't come with my car, they just assume it's one of the OEM packages. 

On second thought, don't. I like everyone else having ugly stock wheels lol. (I sold mine wiht 10 miles on them, the day after I bought the car....)

2018 GTI: Initial Thoughts After a Week| Grassroots Motorsports ...

irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/3/20 8:39 p.m.
einy (Forum Supporter) said:

I hear all of the complaining about the demise of the 2 door GTI, but sentiment didn’t equate to new car sales of that variant.  The 4 door outsold the 2 door by a 5 to 1 ratio in our market, therefore the decision by VW.  Nothing more than that.

No complaints here. I had several coupes in a row (Integra, Accord) and for a daily driver I much prefer 4 doors  (and for my rally cars, for similar reasons). Otherwise the back seat just becomes someplace where random junk lives because it's too much of a hassle to clean it out, and no adult friends actually want to get back there.. I guess it must be a looks thing, because there is nothing functionally good about a 2-door car with real back seats...

Now, for real sportscars with no intent of any humans in the back seat, 2-door is the obvious choice (i.e. my 924)

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