Is That A Rocket In Your Pocket? – The 2020 Volkswagen GTI

Queer4Cars YouTube Video on this 2020 VW GTI

The VW has always stood as the people’s car, inexpensive, simple and to the point transportation. From the early days of the beloved VW Beetle to today’s fancy Areton and Atlas models.  I thought about that when Volkswagen USA sent over a 2020 GTI in Autobahn trim form me to test out. While I am not a VW Fanboy, this little pocket rocket got me pretty excited. 

2020 VW GTI at historic White Post VA Sinclair station
The 2020 VW GTI at the Historic Sinclair Station in White Post Virginia


1976 VW Golf GTI in red color

Volkswagen’s original GTI was first introduced in 1976 with a fuel-injected 1.6-litre liquid cooled engine capable of 180 km/h (110 mph). And was just one of the many variety of the Rabbit/Golf body.

When the first Golfs, or Rabbits, as they were known here in the USA, came into being they were replacement for the long-standing air-cooled VW Bug. Back in the mid-1970’s when VW moved their cars from being air cooled powered to the first water cooled this was considered the end of the brand. Now that we look back and know that time and technology demanded more modern power trains than what VW had been building.

And younger buyers had their sights set on performance cars, the era of fuel crisis had killed cars that were not getting high mpgs. Thus cars like the GTI became a cult icons. VW also made waves with their diesels, long before it there were emission scandals. And their often forgotten mini pickups. These VW’s developed a loyal following as they were small fuel efficient, and well priced.

Now here 44 years later, the Golf has been awarded more than there are shelves to hold the trophies. And in doing so, selling 35 million Golfs around the world. And if you look at the golf’s styling, it has changed little since it was introduced, morphing in size, adding four doors. It is still an small an affordable runaround that has a universal appeal.

Twenty-First Century Volkswagen

Now it is the year 2020 and VW is producing the eighth generation Golf. The GTI is just one of many VW’s and Audi’s are built on the versatile MQB platform.

2020 VW GTI Left

MQB platform you ask? MQB, which stands for  “Modular Transversal Toolkit” or “Modular Transverse Matrix”. There is a German term for it, but I don’t speak German. The MQB platform is the company’s strategy for shared modular design construction of its transverse, front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout automobiles. A way of building cars in the VW Audi line that has been employed starting in 2012

GTI Exterior Has Changed Little

VW lists the GTI and its Golf siblings as compact on its website. The outside design is as simple and as clean as it has been from the first days. Today’s version is a little beefier with more stance, though really not significantly bigger, though, like all cars are today, it is larger than its first generation.

2020 VW GTI Left Front Side

This is the eight generation 2020 Volkswagen Golf TI 2-litre Turbo Autobahn in Dark Iron Blue Metallic with a Titan Black Leather interior with red stitching.   It rides on an updated version of the MQB platform. 

Inside the GTI

Look and feel of the interior is top notch, and of course the contrasting stitching gives it an upscale look. While there are some holdovers from days gone by, like the electronic door lock displays a little red light on the top of the door. No doubt to say to thieves, this is locked and loaded don’t touch.

2020 VW GTI Center Console Right side view
Center Console of the 2020 VW GTI

Seats are attractive, and sporty, comfortable for short trips, but not something that I would want to spend a long time sitting in for longer trips. Storage is at a premium, there is a glove box, map pockets and a very small center console. Located just ahead of the gear shift and behind a door, where in the 70’s would have been an ash tray, is a place for a phone, complete with a USB port. I found it snugly fit my Samsung 10 and OtterBox case perfectly. Speaking of ash trays what looks like a cigarette lighter is a 12-v outlet, so you could insert additional USB power outlet plug if needed.

2020 VW GTI USB Port Front center console
USB ports are limited in the GTI

While this test vehicle in Autobahn trim came with an automatic, you can get a manual in the lower trim levels. The GTI has a real shift lever that has the feel of moving-controlling something. Not just a dial or buttons to select gears. And it has a manual mode, with paddle shift, more about that later.

2020 VW GTI CD and SD Card Player and SD card storage
Hidden at the top of the glove box is not only a disk player but two SD card slots and more SD storage slots.

I am always impressed on Audi vehicles to find a CD player in the glove box, and here in this VW there was one as well. It came with a disc to keep navigation up to date. Also two SD slots and places to store those pesky small things. I did not try to use it for audio, as who still has CDs?

Of course Android Auto and all are part of this car, and once connected via the wire your maps show up on the screen, no navigation CD required. The cord also charges your phone, as there is not a wireless charging pad in this car.

Big kudos to the Fender premium audio system that is standard in this car. In my mind it is one of the better sound systems in modern cars today. This trim came with a nice sized glass sunroof, standard, though I would like the screen to be more solid than just a heavy fabric, and the fabric panel did work its way open over the course of driving.

Behind The Wheel

2020 VW GTI Interior Left
A very functional cockpit for the driver of the GTI

Inside you are given a very functional driver’s car. Nothing is more German that Function, and the GTI fits that right there.  I love the tight size of this little car, it is very easy to park, and yes indeed it does have parking steering assistant and park distance control front and rear. And more to the point it is a blast to drive, as the car is perky and very responsive.

There is a mode button that sets the transmission: Comfort; Eco; Sport; Custom. While they made the GTI respond differently, it is the sport lets you hear a lot more engine growl. I was not a fan of the paddle shift, it was not as responsive as I would like the to be. Or maybe because I just have not learned to use them on the GTI as I have on others. Plus they interfered with how I like to hold the steering wheel, at the center points. Honestly, I perceived the sound level to change more than the throttle response.

Normally I find the electronic readouts on perormance and efficency sor of fluff, expecially when I find G-Force meters in SUVs. Though I feel the built in lap timer and dash display down under the many drill down menus will indeed be something that a driver of the GTI will use, as no doubt they will occasionally track or autocross this car.

Trunk/Hatch Space

2020 GTI Hatch open
With the rear seats down there is an amazing amount of cargo room in the back of the GTI

While the hatch is not enormous, there is space there and with the rear seats down the space doubles. Do not expect to hid anything underneath the cargo floor. It is filled with a doughnut spare, basic tools, and the Fender Audio Sub woofer

GTI is Powered by a 2.0 Turbo

This GTI wanted to go, and go fast. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbo gasoline engine that runs on regular. This little runner was the first off the line out of the starting gate anytime I was first at a stop light.  his little car is quick and spirited, and my lead foot picked up on that!

2020 VW GTI 2.0 liter engine
The GTI’s 2.0 Turbo 4 cylinder engine

The GTI’s Engine s a 2 liter four-cylinder turbo charged one with direct fuel injection and start stop system, which is easily defeated by a switch beside the gear shift on the console, though do note if you change drive modes you revert to it being activated.

The 228 Horsepower  is easily feel-able as you quickly pull out from a stop even if you are not really trying. The limited slip front differential and front wheel drive are superior, never is there any spinning of tires. The 7-speed automatic with triptronic transmission is fine, though occasionally it lagged and I had to use the paddle shifters to down shift for more response.

You Can Go Higher Performance

A basic stripped-down VW Golf GTI starts at just over $23 K and for that you get a four-door hatchback powered by a 1.4-liter gasoline engine with six-speed manual transmission. You can add any variety of accessories to that, but you get amenities like key-less access with push-button start, VW Car-Net® Hotspot, and Blind Spot Monitor and Front Assist for more confidence on the road For that price

2020 VW GTI Sticker

Ours is the VW GTI and that one starts at $28.595 for the S $32, 195 for the SE, and $36,495 for the Autobahn which is the model VW sent us for a week for review. This one did not come equipped with any additional options, most of which are dealer installed, and just a 900-dollar delivery charge.  And honestly this car needs very few options. As it is pretty much a complete package. Check with your local VW dealer to see what discounts and deals you may qualify for.

And for those who want more Power there has always been an even hotter hatch, the higher performance R with a much higher price point. $41 K GOLF Type R. Though that seems pricey for a Golf with a manual transmission.

What There Is To Like About This GTI?

Pretty much everything. The GTI is great for someone who wants performance fun in sensible form. For someone who needs to occasionally carry more than one passenger, while the rear seats are a bit tight, they are usable for adult passengers, though don’t expect a lot of creature comforts. The cargo area is equally as tight, there is space there if and when needed.

2020 VW GTI Left Front Wheel Red brake caliper

Speaking of Tires, take a look at these Beefy 18 inch summer performance Bridgestone tires mounted on alloy wheels. The Autobahn edition comes with performance tires, which means it would be wise to have an extra set of winter or all seasons one if you will be driving this in less than summer weather. All season tires are standard on lower trim levels of the GTI.

Would I Buy This Car?

YES! While I have always known about this little pocket rocket, I never knew until know what I had been missing. Turns out, I missed a lot by not paying attention to this exceptional car. While it does not meet my current transporation needs, this is for sure a fun driving car.

Anyone who is looking for a good roundabout car, that you don’t need to carry a lot of passengers or cargo, think about a GTI or even a golf.  This is a driver’s car, and in today’s one occupant, maybe two, world, this is a great car for someone who wants performance fun in sensible form.Though the GTI will get your automotive performance heart to beat a little faster, and the extra niceties that the Autobahn edition provide is a nice touch.

William West Hopper with the 2020 VW GTI
William West Hopper with the 2020 VW GTI

Words and images by William West Hopper. Mr. Hopper is President Emeritus of the Washington Automotive Press Association and has been an automotive enthusiast all his life. He started to autocross and track at age 40 and has not looked back since. You can find him on Instagram at DCCarGuy and Twitter at WWHopper


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