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Auto review: Payne: All hail the '24 Golf GTI, the last of the manuals

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

DETROIT — My 2024 Volkswagen GTI tester is loaded with state-of-the-art wireless Android Auto, voice recognition and a head-up display so I can bark my destination (“Navigate to Home”) to Google Maps, then keep my eyes on the road using the directions projected onto the windshield (“5.7 miles then left”) while a soothing female voice prepares me with more detailed instructions (“in a quarter mile, you’ll take a left at Exit 16”).

But the part I REALLY like about the GTI is the old-fashioned stick shift in the middle of the console.

Leaving the airport, I downshifted into a cloverleaf onto I-94 — VROOM, VROOM — with old-school, double-clutch shifts from 5th to 4th to 3rd. Pedals perfectly placed for heel-and-toe. Lovely notchy shifter. WAAAUUGGHGHRG! I wound the RPM to redline at 7000 RPM as I exploded onto the interstate.

Cruising along I-94 in 6th gear in my state-of-the-art GTI, I toggled Adaptive Cruise Control on the left side of the steering wheel and set my speed to 75 mph. The digital instrument display tracked the vehicles in front of me, lane-keep maintaining my position between the painted lines. I toggled the haptic button on the steering wheel spoke to adjust speed by 1 mph faster or slower. With a longer hold, I could electronically adjust speeds in 5 mph increments. Pretty cool.

But the part I REALLY like is the VAQ limited-slip front differential.

At a stoplight, I shifted into first gear and floored the accelerator. Remarkably, the ferocious 273 pound-feet of torque (from a 2.0-liter four-banger!) doesn’t grind the tires to dust. Instead, the LSD manages the torque to the front wheels and rockets me forward, 60 mph flashing by in less than 6 seconds as I snatch second gear in the beautifully-calibrated transmission. Wheeeeee!


What does VAQ mean, you ask? Vorderachsquersperre (liteally front-axle cross lock) if you want to brush up on your Deutsch.

As the moon rose and rain began to fall, Volkswagen electronics went into automatic mode. Automatic high beams switch on, then switched off when traffic approached. On. Off. I didn’t touch a thing. Automatic windshield wipers came on — slowly at first, then speeding up as more rain fell, then turning off altogether as the rain stopped. Auto blind-spot assist as cars whizzed by. Auto temperature control. Auto wireless charging pad for my phone.

But the part I REALLY like is the big VW logo on the rear hatchback.

Circling the Golf from the rear when I got home, I simply pushed the logo and the rear hatch opened instantly. No searching above the license plate for a hidden button, no standing there waiting for a sensor to automatically open the hatch. Just a simple mechanical push. Once the hatch was agape, it provided be protection from the spitting rain while I organized my belongings.


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