Demonstrates Just How Fun And Practical A Front Drive Hatchback Can Be

When the all-new Mark 8 Volkswagen Golf arrived last year, we got so excited, we skipped the main course and went right to dessert with a track test of the delightful Golf R.  Now, with our high-performance sweet tooth satisfied, it’s time to turn our attention to the more affordable GTI. So, let’s find out if this iconic hot hatch still nourishes our appetite for budget-friendly fun!

The Volkswagen GTI has been around longer than the internet— 1975, to be exact. Back then, there was no Googling what exactly a hot hatch was, or clicking through the endless debates of whether the GTI was indeed the start of the concept.  But none of that matters to us, as we’re on a roll, going full tilt around Savannah’s Roebling Road Raceway in the 2023 edition of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Even after all those years, it’s still a barrel of fun to throw this little car around a track. Not too much body roll, very little understeer, and a nimble well-balanced chassis. The suspension is marginally stiffer, but doesn’t necessarily feel any harsher, just more eager.  Compared to the Golf R, it’s down about 75-horsepower and it doesn’t have all-wheel-drive; but that doesn’t seem to dampen the fun factor in any way. It does have a torque-sensing limited slip differential, which really helps it make the best use what power is has.

That’s 241-horsepower and 273 lb-ft. of torque, outputted from the 2.0-liter I4 turbo. Up 13 horsepower and 15 additional lb-ft. of torque over last gen; gains coming from higher pressure fuel delivery and reduced friction for internals. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, 7-speed DSG the auto-shift option.

With the manual, and despite a very soft clutch, it was plenty quick off the line, and the throttle is just as responsive as always.  We hit 60 in 6.0-seconds flat; the 1/4-mile taking 14.5-seconds at 100 miles-per-hour.  The direct shift automatic will shave a few tenths off those numbers if that’s your priority. Drive modes are limited compared to the Golf R, but they’re simple to use and are much more than just suggestive. Plus, Individual mode offers a lot of customization if you’re willing to do some menu diving.

The GTI still manages to be a great daily driver, despite its abilities when you crank things up on your favorite set of twisties, or race track all the better. You really do need to pay attention to speeds more than you used to, as they pick up quickly, and can approach numbers with serious legal consequences before you know it.

Despite its reputation and capabilities, the GTI has an uncanny ability to blend into the surroundings like an unassuming commuter car; and if you’re into it enough to call it a Mark 8, you’ll probably notice a slight change in the GTI’s badging, LED lighting another big departure, but otherwise not all that different from before.

Autobahn trim comes with 19-inch alloys with summer performance tires, Good Years in our case, which provided excellent grip on the track, and held up great through multiple track days.
Inside, there’s a good mix of old and new. Lot of touch sensitive controls. We’d rather have physical buttons and switches, but it’s very modern and everything in here works great, and is within easy reach. Front seats are terrific, and when sitting in the driver’s seat, just about everything feels just right. The one outlier is the shifter. Some of our staff prefer a traditional round knob over the squarish shape of this one.

With the manual, Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 23-City, 32-Highway, and 27-Combined. We averaged a fine 30.2 miles-per-gallon of regular. That’s an average Energy Impact Score of 11.0-barrels of yearly oil use and 5.5-tons of CO2 emissions.

VW no longer sells the standard Golf in the U.S., just Golf R and GTI versions. But, there are three GTI trims to choose from, starting with S at $31,625, SE at $36,425, and $40,165 for the top Autobahn.

Much like the original did for us all those years ago, the 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI demonstrates just how fun and practical a front-wheel drive hatchback can be. While we can pick at a few minor things about the latest Mark 8 GTI, it’s still glued to the original “Sport Golf” concept.  It’s the car that introduced so many Americans to the pure joy of driving, and that joy continues, as we’ve learned to never underestimate the VW GTI.


  • Engine: 2.0L I4 Turbo:
  • Horsepower: 241:
  • Torque: 273 lb-ft :
  • 0-60 mph: 6.0 seconds :
  • 1/4 Mile: 14.5 seconds at 100 mph :
  • EPA: 23 City / 32 Highway / 27 Combined MW:
  • Fuel Economy: 30.2 mpg:
  • Starting Price: $31,625: