3. 2017 Volkswagen GTI Sport
Market segment: Compact car
Body style: Four-door hatchback
Base price: $29,915
Price as tested: $29,915
Key options: None
For: Handling, acceleration, passenger and cargo space
Against: Driver-assistance safety features unavailable
Next big change: Freshening for model year 2018
Volkswagen’s Golf-based GTI is the prototypical hot hatch and today’s generation is the best ever. Starting with the remarkably sophisticated Golf engineering, this front-wheel-drive five-seater packs more fun than you’d suspect possible into a roomy and practical package. Visually understated outside and ergonomically sophisticated inside, it takes a keen eye to notice the racy alloy wheels and discrete trim and badging that differentiate it from a regular Golf. But with handling-optimized steering and suspension, the GTI delivers where it counts. It hugs the road without beating up its occupants over bumps and rough patches.
The entry-level GTI is available in a two-door body style, but our budget tolerates the more practical four-door, and in nicely outfitted Sport trim, the second rung on the four-rung model ladder. Added to the line for 2017, this value-packaged model comes with the Performance Package that’s newly standard on the $30,000-plus SE and Autobahn models. The package adds 10 horsepower to the GTI’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine, for a total of 220, while keeping a healthy 258 pound-feet of torque. It also adds beefier brakes and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential. Note that we’ve specified VW’s excellent dual-clutch automatic transmission; go with the standard six-speed manual and you’ll trim the base price by $1,000.
Dialed into the enthusiast, the Sport forgoes niceties like the leather upholstery and a power moonroof included on the SE and Autobahn. And unfortunately, it isn’t available with the latest driver assists, such as autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitor, which are exclusive to the SE and Autobahn. But it does come with extremely supportive heated front seats with the GTI’s classic Clark Plaid inserts, Bluetooth connectivity, heated mirrors, and keyless entry with pushbutton start. Sport buyers also get 18-inch “Nogaro” alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, and unique floormats.