The Volkswagen GTI is one of the best-known budget performance cars sold in America. For more than 25 years, Volkswagen has been taking its entry-level, economy car-based two-door hatchback model and turning it into a GTI by adding a more powerful engine and brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, and special interior and exterior trim pieces. The result is a practical car that’s also fun to drive and desirable.
The original Volkswagen Rabbit GTI stormed onto American shores for 1983 and has been frequently credited for creating the niche-oriented “hot hatch” market segment. Though many of the original GTI’s specs don’t seem particularly great by modern standards (its 1.8-liter engine made just 90 horsepower, for instance), it was a lightweight and agile revelation for many consumers used to bulky and underperforming American sport coupes.
Since then, there have been five more generations of Golf- or Rabbit-based VW GTIs, and some have been more highly regarded than others. The latest model is a refinement of the previous generation, which was considered a return to form for the nameplate. Shoppers interested in a used GTI will likely want to do some research in order to determine which model year is best suited for them.