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The hatchback configuration makes the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI a practical choice.
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The sporty interior of the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI features an upscale design.

According to many automotive journalists, if you mash every imaginable new-car virtue into a ball you'll get something approximately like the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

That's not to say the performance version of VW's Golf hatch is the best at anything. It's not the fastest Volkswagen, not the cheapest, not the most luxurious and certainly not the biggest. Hello, Atlas.

But what the hot hatchback delivers is a fun-first driving experience with sporty styling, a reasonable price tag and enough interior space to rationalize it as family transportation.

FAST FACTS

Model: 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T SE

Exterior color: Deep Black Pearl Metallic

Interior color: Black

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Horsepower: 220

Transmission: six-speed manual

Fuel economy: 33 mpg highway, 25 mpg city

Local Dealer: Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga

Price (as tested): $32,060

Whipping it around Chattanooga for a week was enough to make this 60-year-old feel 25 again. Anything that breaks the tyranny of the SUV format is OK by us. After testing a string of plain vanilla SUVs, driving our Deep Black Pearl Metallic Golf GTI tester this week was as tasty as a hot fudge sundae.

Hot hatches like the Golf GTI are right in VW's go zone, with zippy power-trains and sporty interiors that encourage spirited driving. The Golf's dash wraps around the driver, with gauges and controls positioned perfectly at arm's-length and eye level.

Fortunately, our tester came with the standard, six-speed manual transmission, which made rowing gears up the W Road a blast. (The flip-side was getting caught in a stop-and-go construction zone for 30 minutes one day on Signal Mountain Boulevard, and wearing my left leg out on the clutch in a process.) A dual-clutch, automatic transmission is a $1,100 upgrade.

Late this week, Village Volkswagen (6001 International Drive) had three 2018 Golf GTIs in digital inventory, all at significant discounts.

WHAT IS IT? The VW Golf GTI is the performance version of Volkswagen's compact Golf hatchback. It seats five and has 22.8 feet of cargo space behind the second row of seats.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Our mid-trim SE tester has a sticker price of $32,060. A base S model starts at $26,415 and a top-of-the-line Autobahn-trim model begins at $35,070. SE models feature such upgrades at LED headlights, an 8-inch touchscreen and blind-spot monitors. The Autobahn adds such premium features such as adaptive cruise control, Fender audio and factory navigation.


View other Test Drive stories by Mark Kennedy



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DRIVING EXPERIENCE: The 2018 Golf GTI is powered by a high-revving 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with direct fuel injection. It boasts 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. If you really want to go nuts, opt for the 292-horsepower Golf R.

For sheer driving pleasure — in a vehicle that won't break the bank — the GTI is hard to beat. Car & Driver calls it "the practically perfect performance car for every driver."

WHAT WE LIKED: The black-on-black color scheme, modernistic 18-inch alloy wheels, well-bolstered (and heated) front seats, and the car's built-for-fun attitude.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The rear-view camera clouded up in the rain, and the exterior styling could use a few more flourishes (although I'm sure hot-hatch purists like the minimalist look).

BOTTOM LINE: My 12-year-old son has already told me that he wants a Golf GTI as his first vehicle. I may not agree that this is the right car for a hormonal 16-year-old, but I genuinely admire his good taste.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

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The hatchback configuration makes the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI a practical choice.
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