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Roomy and Zoomy: 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE Test Drive

The second and final morning of the Texas Motor Press Association’s first annual Texas Off-Road Invitational, Volkswagen had one of its 2019 Golf GTIs delivered to me. I had driven the manual and automatic versions of the flagship Golf R before, but never the GTI, so I was eager to get behind the wheel of it.

I had another reason to jump into its driver’s seat and start the roughly 4-hour journey from General Sam’s Offroad Park in Huntsville to Austin: A family emergency required me to get home as soon as possible so that my girlfriend Eli and I could go to the airport and catch a flight to El Paso. I needed a car with power, sharp responses, and enough space to fit all of my luggage and camera gear. The Golf GTI had all of those characteristics and a nice bonus: It was also incredibly fun to drive.

Volkswagen has updated its Golf GTI lineup for the 2019 model year in several ways. In addition to the S, SE, and Autobahn trim levels, it’s available in limited-edition GTI Rabbit Edition form that pays homage to the GTI’s long history. That comes in four colors and offers features such as black mirror caps, black 18-inch wheels, LED headlights that can turn to illuminate curves, and Rabbit-badged seats. The S model is available with a Driver Assistance Package that adds an array of safety features that are standard on other trims. Volkswagen has upgraded the Golf GTI SE’s standard and optional equipment. All Golf GTIs get a slight increase in power (more on that in the Performance section below).

Volkswagen Golf

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE Exterior

Volkswagen has produced small, sporty cars for decades and my GTI SE test vehicle was proof that the company has making a hot hatch down to a fine art. It looked aggressive without appearing as if VW’s design team tried too hard.

A thin strip of red fanned out from the front VW badge and connected to and ran through the LED headlights, which featured the Adaptive Front-lighting System. Black horizontal strakes simultaneously made the lower front fascia look more aggressive and drew attention to the deep-set fog lights. The blade-like 18-inch wheels seemed ready to cut through the air. I had no problem letting them do that. The sooner I got home, the better.

Volkswagen Golf

After the invitational was over, I fired up the GTI and heard its pair of round chrome exhaust tips fire out a distinctive raspy blat. Then I flipped up and pulled up on the rear VW badge between the pointy LED taillights to lift the rear hatch and started loading the car for my trip home.

Volkswagen Golf

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE Interior

According to VW, the GTI provides 22.8 cubic feet of cargo space. That was more than enough for me to fit my suitcase, tripod, camera bag, and gimbal case. Once I got in the driver’s seat, I got a better idea of how VW differentiates the GTI from regular Golfs. It wasn’t dark enough for me to see the red ambient lighting, but it was there.

Volkswagen Golf

I definitely noticed the GTI’s special instrument cluster, metallic pedals, unique shift knob, and racy flat-bottom steering wheel. Red stitching on the seats, wheel, and shift gaiter added a pop of color to the otherwise black cabin.

Volkswagen Golf

The Composition Media unit’s 8.0-inch touchscreen was quick to respond to my inputs and gave me access to SiriusXM satellite radio and HD Radio, as well as the ability to send and receive text messages through my Bluetooth-connected iPhone. I could also hook my iPhone up to the GTI through the standard Apple CarPlay interface (MirrorLink and Android Auto are additional no-cost features).

Volkswagen Golf

The GTI is one of those cars that’s bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. I took a few seconds to sit in the second row and discovered that it had enough room for me to sit behind the driver’s seat after I had it adjusted to my 5’10” build.

Volkswagen Golf

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE Performance

I made it back to Austin with plenty of time to spare. Eli and I took the 2019 Lexus UX 250h F Sport to the airport and flew to El Paso without incident.

A day or so after we returned home, I took the GTI out on some back roads near our place. I already liked the GTI, but after I fired it through miles of Texas Hill Country twists and turns, I absolutely fell in love with it. I didn’t want the Golf R’s extra power. The 228 horsepower (an increase of eight compared to previous model years) and 258 lb-ft of torque from the GTI’s turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine was more than enough to put a smile on my face, especially when I set the GTI’s Driving Mode Selection system to Sport mode. If I had behaved myself, I would’ve been able to hit the EPA’s fuel economy estimates of 25 city, 31 highway, and 27 combined mpg.* I didn’t. The optional 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic wasted no time in downshifting to give me all of the grunt I wanted exactly when I wanted it.

VW paired the GTI’s gutsy power plant with a “VAQ” limited-slip front differential that could proactively send up to 100 percent of available torque to either wheel to reduce understeer and – an affliction many powerful front-wheel-drive cars suffer – torque steer. The GTI exhibited none of the latter, even when I jammed the throttle pedal down from a dead stop. In curves, the GTI felt absolutely solid and planted. That was impressive, especially considering what a relatively small car the GTI is. All its composure did was make me want to go faster. No matter how high my speed went, the GTI was unflappable. Its 13.4-inch front and 12.2-inch rear brakes (courtesy of the Golf R) were easy to modulate smoothly and helped me reduce my speed with quickness and confidence. I didn’t enjoy using them, though. I just wanted to keep flying forward in the GTI.

Volkswagen Golf

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE Safety

I covered a lot of miles in the GTI so it was comforting to know it protected me (and Eli) with safety features which included six airbags, Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution, and Hydraulic Brake Assist. Except for the S model, all 2019 GTIs also come standard with Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring, Blind Spot Monitor, and Rear Traffic Alert.

Volkswagen Golf

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE Overall

Even though I spent several days with the GTI, that wasn’t enough time for me. I wanted to keep it and put several more hundred miles on it as quickly as possible. You can get one just the way you like it at an AutoNation Volkswagen dealership. The base price for the 2019 VW Golf GTI is $27,595.** If you want to go home in a GTI SE configured just like the one I tested, expect to sign on the dotted line for a price of $33,790. No matter which GTI you get, make sure you set aside plenty of time for driving it on your favorite road. Just don’t be surprised if you wind up getting home a lot later than you planned to.

*Based on 2019 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.

**MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

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