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2021 Volkswagen GTI Review

Thrilling handling, solid acceleration, and a refined, spacious cabin combine to help propel the 2021 Volkswagen GTI toward the top of our compact car rankings.

Pros & Cons

  • Deft handling
  • Muscular engine
  • Impressive passenger and cargo space
  • Nice interior quality
  • Unimpressive fuel economy
  • Infotainment system can be slow

Rankings & Research

The 2021 Volkswagen GTI's #1 ranking is based on its score within the Compact Cars category. Currently the Volkswagen GTI has a score of 8.4 out of 10, which is based on our evaluation of 48 pieces of research and data elements using various sources.

8.4

Overall

Scorecard

Critics' Rating: 9.8
Performance: 8.7
Interior: 7.8
Safety: 9.2
Reliability:
J.D. Power Ratings Logo

Thinking of leasing a Volkswagen GTI?

The U.S. News Best Price Program saves users an average of $3,206 off the MSRP, and a lower price equals lower monthly lease payments. That means you could see a savings of $90 a month on a 36-month lease.

Is the Volkswagen GTI a Good Car?

Yes, the Volkswagen GTI is a good car. With a spunky turbocharged engine and athletic handling, it's one of the most fun-to-drive vehicles in the class. The cabin provides a classy atmosphere, and there’s comfortable and roomy seating in both rows. The GTI has a massive cargo hold to boot. Its negatives aren't too worrisome: Fuel economy is subpar for a compact car, and the infotainment system can be a bit sluggish.

Why You Can Trust Us: 48 Reviews Analyzed

We analyzed 48 Volkswagen GTI reviews – along with reliability ratings, fuel economy estimates, and more – to help you decide if the 2021 GTI is the right new car for you.

This 2021 GTI review incorporates applicable research for all models in this generation, which launched for 2015.

U.S. News Best Cars has been ranking and reviewing vehicles since 2007, and our staff has more than 75 years of combined experience in the auto industry. To ensure our objectivity, we never accept expensive gifts from carmakers, and an outside firm manages the ads on our site.

Should I Buy the Volkswagen GTI?

If you're looking for an engaging but easy-to-live-with car, the GTI should be near the top of your list. Its high base price may give you pause, but you'll get plenty of standard features. That said, you may also want to consider the Mazda3, which costs several thousand dollars less than the VW but provides just as much fun behind the wheel.

Find a 2021 Volkswagen GTI for sale near you »

2020 vs. 2021 Volkswagen GTI: What's the Difference?

There are no major differences between the 2020 and 2021 Volkswagen GTI. VW will fully redesign the car for the 2022 model year, starting the GTI's eighth generation.

Compare the 2020 and 2021 GTI »

Here are the key changes for the Volkswagen GTI over the last few years:

  • 2017: Sport trim introduced
  • 2018: base model’s horsepower increased from 210 to 220; refreshed interior and exterior styling; added standard rain-sensing windshield wipers; gained an available 8-inch touch screen and LED headlights; Sport trim and two-door model discontinued
  • 2019: horsepower increased from 220 to 228; available seven-speed automatic transmission replaced six-speed automatic; limited-slip differential became standard; Rabbit Edition trim introduced
  • 2020: forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert added to standard features list; Rabbit Edition discontinued
  • 2021: last seventh-generation model before full redesign

If you're considering an older model, be sure to read our 2018 GTI, 2019 GTI, and 2020 GTI reviews to help make your decision. Also, check out our Best New Car Deals and Best New Car Lease Deals pages to learn about savings and great deals you can find on new vehicles.

How Much Does the Volkswagen GTI Cost?

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI has the highest starting price in the compact car class: The base S trim retails for $28,695. The midlevel SE starts at $32,665, while the top Autobahn model is priced from $36,945. All models come with a manual transmission; an automatic adds $800 to the price.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Volkswagen dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Volkswagen deals page.

Volkswagen GTI Versus the Competition

Volkswagen GTI vs. Subaru WRX

Though the Subaru WRX offers a few advantages over the GTI – including standard all-wheel drive and a more powerful base engine with 268 horsepower – the VW is the superior car. The WRX has a poor predicted reliability rating, middling interior quality, and even worse fuel economy estimates than the GTI. The Subaru also lacks the cargo space that you’ll find with the Volkswagen.

Compare the GTI and WRX »

Volkswagen GTI vs. Mazda3

Available as both a sedan and a hatchback, the Mazda3 challenges the GTI for a top spot in our compact car rankings. The Mazda matches the VW's corner-carving athleticism, and it does so for several thousand dollars less. It's also available with all-wheel drive, while the GTI is not. Both cars have an upscale interior, but the Volkswagen has more passenger and cargo space. When it comes down to it, each makes an excellent pick for a fun small car.

Compare the GTI and Mazda3 »

Compare the GTI, WRX, and Mazda3 »

GTI Performance: Lively Hot Hatch

GTI Engine

The beating heart of the Volkswagen Golf GTI is its 228-horsepower turbocharged engine. It provides spirited acceleration as soon as you hit the gas pedal, and power continues to come on strong as you move faster. Some reviews mention a split-second delay as the turbo spools up, but it's not much of a concern overall.

Your transmission choice is a standard six-speed manual or an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The manual enhances the car's sporty character with an easy-to-modulate clutch. The automatic goes through the gears with precision and is an excellent choice as well.

GTI Gas Mileage

While the 2021 GTI offers exceptional power for the class, its fuel economy estimates are poor for a compact car. When equipped with the standard manual gearbox, it gets 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Automatic models are rated at 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

GTI Ride and Handling

The front-wheel-drive Golf GTI is a small, nimble hatchback. Steering is razor sharp, and the brakes offer excellent stopping power. A standard limited-slip differential provides great road grip.

Three drive modes (Normal, a customizable Individual mode, and Sport) allow you to adjust the GTI’s steering feel, throttle response, and settings for the limited-slip differential. The top Autobahn trim comes with an adaptive suspension system and an additional Comfort mode.

Read more about performance »

GTI Interior: Get Comfortable

GTI Cargo Space

The hatchback Volkswagen Golf GTI serves up 22.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. You can fold those back seats completely flat to secure 52.7 cubic feet of storage room.

Along with the related Volkswagen Golf, the GTI beats out nearly all other compact cars when it comes to cargo volume. This sporty five-door even has more cargo space than many subcompact SUVs.

How Many People Does the GTI Seat?

The GTI seats five people. The driver's seat provides good outward visibility, and both front seats deliver pleasing amounts of comfort, support, and adjustability.

The second row has 35.6 inches of legroom, which compares well with classmates. With more than 38 inches of rear headroom, the GTI has one of the most accommodating back seats in the segment.

GTI and Child Car Seats

There are two complete sets of LATCH connectors for the rear outboard seats. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave this setup the highest rating of Good for its ease of use.

GTI Interior Quality

The Golf GTI's build quality is superb. Everything looks and feels upscale, and even plastic materials are soft to the touch. Base models have plaid cloth upholstery, which adds a unique touch and has been a common site in GTI interiors over the years.

GTI Infotainment, Bluetooth, and Navigation

This VW hatchback provides a user-friendly infotainment system. Both the standard and available touch screens offer easy-to-decipher menus, but response times can be slow. Additionally, some critics think the graphics are a little dated.

  • Standard infotainment features: a 6.5-inch touch screen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, VW’s Car-Net telematics system, a Wi-Fi hot spot, a USB port, a six-speaker stereo, and Bluetooth
  • Available infotainment features: an 8-inch touch screen, navigation, satellite radio, an additional USB port, wireless smartphone integration, and an eight-speaker Fender premium stereo
  • Other available features: a panoramic sunroof, proximity keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror

Read more about interior »

GTI Reliability

Is the Volkswagen GTI Reliable?

The 2021 GTI has a predicted reliability rating of three out of five, which is about average.

Volkswagen GTI Warranty

Volkswagen covers the Golf GTI with a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Read more about reliability »

GTI Safety

GTI Crash Test Results

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI an overall safety rating of five out of five stars, with five stars in the side crash test and four stars in the frontal crash and rollover tests.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2021 GTI the highest rating of Good in five crash tests and the second-highest rating of Acceptable in the passenger-side small overlap front test. Headlights in the SE and Autobahn trims earned an Acceptable rating for forward visibility, while those in the base S trim got the lowest rating of Poor.

The IIHS uses a different scale for grading collision avoidance features. It gave this hatchback the highest rating of Superior for its standard vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention system and the midtier rating of Advanced for its standard vehicle-to-pedestrian system.

GTI Safety Features

Standard advanced safety features:

  • Forward collision warning
  • Pedestrian detection
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Blind spot monitoring
  • Rear cross traffic alert
  • Rearview camera
  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers

Available advanced safety features:

  • Adaptive headlights
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Lane departure warning
  • Lane keeping assist
  • Automatic parking assist
  • Automatic high-beam headlights
  • Front and rear parking sensors

Read more about safety »

GTI Dimensions and Weight

The VW GTI is 14 feet long, and its curb weight ranges from 3,133 to 3,210 pounds.

Where Is the 2021 Volkswagen GTI Built?

Volkswagen builds the 2021 GTI in Mexico and Germany.

Which Volkswagen GTI Model Is Right for Me?

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI comes in three trims: S, SE, and Autobahn. All models feature a 228-horsepower turbocharged engine, a six-speed manual transmission, and front-wheel drive. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters is optional for $800.

The base model should be a good fit for those who view the Golf GTI as a driver's car above all else, though it does have a decent list of convenience and safety amenities, including smartphone integration, automatic emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring.

If you have room in your budget, strongly consider the midlevel SE trim, which adds leather seats and an upgraded infotainment system. Several advanced safety features are limited to the top Autobahn trim.

Volkswagen GTI S

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI S starts at $28,695. Standard features include cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch touch screen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, VW’s Car-Net telematics system, a Wi-Fi hot spot, a USB port, a six-speaker stereo, and Bluetooth.

Standard driver assistance features include forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, a rearview camera, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Volkswagen GTI SE

The VW GTI SE retails for $32,665. It gains leather upholstery, an 8-inch touch screen, navigation, satellite radio, an additional USB port, wireless App-Connect smartphone integration, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, and proximity keyless entry.

Volkswagen GTI Autobahn

The VW GTI Autobahn has a price tag of $36,945. This trim features an adaptive suspension system, summer-only performance tires, a 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and an eight-speaker Fender stereo.

Additional active safety technologies include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, automatic parking assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and front and rear parking sensors.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Volkswagen dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Volkswagen deals page.

See 2021 Volkswagen GTI specs and trims »

The Final Call

Though its priority is sporty performance, the 2021 Volkswagen GTI is a very well-rounded compact car. It melds good engine power and lithe handling with a comfortable cabin. This is a great partner for a half-day trip of spirited corner carving, a long road trip, or a five-day-a-week commute.

Don’t just take our word for it. Check out comments from some of the reviews that drive our rankings and analysis.

  • "The Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of the all-time greats, spending seven generations in the sweet spot between daily usability and an old-fashioned good time. In its final year before the introduction of an all-new eight generation, the Golf's hot-hatch variant continues to remind us why it remains a darling of critics and car geeks alike." -- CNET
  • "Volkswagen has ensured this hot hatch provides nimble handling and communicative feedback. … Although its staid styling and above-average price won't appeal to everyone, the GTI's holistic approach to performance and undeniable versatility make it the ultimate sport compact." -- Car and Driver
  • "It's a comprehensive package that combines agility, comfort, practicality and sophistication into a very affordable offering. In a lot of ways, it's the perfect car." -- Autotrader (2020)

Buying

Expert Advice

Last Updated: January 22, 2021

Plunging Sales: Sales of the Volkswagen Golf family (which includes the GTI) declined by 30.8 percent in 2020 compared to sales posted during 2019. The entire Golf family was outsold by the compact car segment leading Honda Civic by more than 10 to 1 last year. 

Research more buying advice »
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