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The Volkswagen GTI has been the quintessential hot hatch since the first-generation model was introduced in Europe in 1975. The seventh-gen model follows the path blazed by its predecessors by combining the versatility of a hatchback with a punchy engine, a buttoned-down chassis and an air of refinement that one expects to find in a German car.

The latest GTI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder TSI engine tuned to generate 210 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 258 lb-ft. of torque from just 1,500 rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a short-throw six-speed manual transmission, but buyers can order a quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch DSG unit at an extra cost.

In spite of its performance credentials, the GTI returns 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway when equipped with the six-speed manual. Opting for the DSG model lowers highway mpg to 33.

Looking the Part

Offered as a four-door and a two-door hatchback, the GTI wears a discreet look that only stands out from the more plebeian Golf thanks to minor trim pieces. The front end features honeycomb inserts in the radiator grille, a deep bumper with a large air dam and an elegant strip of red trim that runs through both headlights and across the grille.

The low-key treatment continues out back with a small roof-mounted spoiler and dual chromed exhaust tips. GTI emblems on both ends and 18-inch alloy wheels mounted on all-season tires wrap up the look.

Life Aboard

The GTI shares its well-built and distinctively Teutonic dashboard with the Golf but it gains exclusive features like Volkswagen's signature "tartan" upholstery and a golf ball-shaped shift knob (only available on cars equipped with a six-speed manual).

Other upgrades over the GTI's family-focused sibling include a black headliner, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminum-look pedals, sport seats for the front passengers and a GTI-specific instrument cluster that consists of two easy-to-read analog gauges and a configurable thin-film transistor (TFT) screen.

All GTIs come standard with a 6.5-inch touch screen that runs Volkswagen's MIB II infotainment system. MIB II integrates the hatchback's entertainment, navigation (if equipped) and climate control systems while offering crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location assistance. It also features remote vehicle access, speed and boundary alerts, and it can provide a vehicle health report upon request.

The GTI offers 22.8 cubic feet of trunk space with five passengers on board. That figure goes up to 52.7 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded flat.

Standard and Optional Equipment

Volkswagen offers the GTI in three trim levels: S, Sport, SE, and Autobahn.

S models come standard with the aforementioned 6.5-inch touch screen, Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera, Sirius XM Satellite radio, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, ambient lighting, LED fog lights and heated front seats. Notably, the S is the only trim available as a two-door.

The value-focused Sport model comes standard with a Performance Package that bumps the engine's output to 220 ponies while adding beefier brakes borrowed from the Golf R and electronically-controlled limited-slip differential. It also features 18-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, keyless entry, a push-button ignition, special floor mats, and black mirror caps.

Stepping up to the SE trim brings a power panoramic sunroof, leather seats, a Fender audio system, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

Only offered as a four-door, the Autobahn trim level adds a SD card-based navigation system, automatic climate control and a 12-way adjustable driver's seat. It also gains forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights.

The list of options includes summer tires, parking sensors on both ends, a Lighting Package and an adaptive suspension system. Additionally, the optional Driver Assistance Package adds a long list of safety features such as blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control.

Occupant Safety

All GTIs regardless of trim level come standard with six airbags, electronic stability control and an Automatic Post-Collision Braking system that applies the brakes after a collision in order to reduce kinetic energy and lower the risk of additional impacts.

Key Competitors

Performance-focused alternatives to the GTI include the Ford Focus ST, and the 268-horsepower Subaru WRX.