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The Golf GTI is the progenitor of the hot-hatch genre, and age has not dulled its abilities—and so we name it a 10Best winner. The base engine is a 210-hp 2.0-liter turbo four with a six-speed manual. A six-speed automatic, an extra-cost option, is almost as much fun as the manual. Choose the Sport model for 10 more horses as well as upgrades to brakes and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential. GTI’s classic plaid seats come standard, as do agile handling and hatchback practicality.
Loaded up as it was with all the bells and whistles (save for the $995 Lighting package and the $695 Driver Assistance package), our test car weighed about 110 pounds more than our newly arrived long-termer. Still, the DSG proved to be a half-second quicker to 60 mph, at 5.6 seconds. The DSG also beat the GTI we tested last year, which hit 60 in 5.8 seconds. Credit the transmission’s lightning-quick shifts and its launch-control program. To enable the latter, first turn off traction control, move the gearshift to S, select the Sport driving mode, then brake torque until revs peak at 3000 rpm or so. Then jump off the brake and hold on. After very little wheelspin, you’re off to a sub-six-second zero-to-60 run, which you can repeat all day long. Around town, though, turbo lag hampers one’s efforts to some effect, evidenced by a 6.5-second 5-to-60-mph time that’s nearly a second longer than the standing-start result. On the other hand, the brakes did not disappoint in any way, producing stops from 70 mph in the 159-foot range with truly delightful, firm pedal feel.