The Volkswagen ID.GTI: The Electric Rebirth of a ‘Hot Hatch’ Icon
One of Volkswagen’s most iconic cars has a post-gasoline future.
Porsche salespeople, college girls, horsepower-obsessed tuners, lawyers, journalists, avowed street racers, moms and dads, and wealthy businesspeople — all are folks I’ve met in my travels who have owned Volkswagen Golf GTIs. It’s rare to see such a radically diverse group of car owners. But the GTI has spent nearly 50 years delivering driving joy in a surprisingly affordable and practical package, so its appeal has stretched far and wide.
Now, this automotive icon will have a future beyond gasoline as well, and that’s worth getting excited about.
This weekend at the IAA Mobility Show in Munich, Volkswagen debuted the ID.GTI Concept: essentially a preview of an all-electric GTI to come soon. While “concept cars” in the automotive world can often represent wild ideas or meager previews of far-flung things car companies might want to do, VW has confirmed the ID.GTI will go into production in a few years. And like the gasoline-powered GTI’s relationship to the Golf, the electric ID.GTI is essentially a faster, better-handling, better-equipped version of the Volkswagen ID.2all unveiled a few months ago. For fans of exciting cars that don’t command six-figure price tags, it’s hard to overstate what a big deal an electric GTI would be.
An image of the ID.GTI Concept.Courtesy of Volkswagen
It’s also hard to overstate the importance of the GTI to the automotive landscape. If you want something fun to drive, but need some actual trunk space or have to get the kids to school on time, the so-called “hot hatchback” — essentially a practical, roomy economy car given a more powerful engine and other enhancements — is a great way to go. And the GTI is the O.G. of the hot hatch world, the car that started it all. Launched in 1976 as a powered-up version of the humble Golf, the GTI was an immediate hit that helped VW move past the ancient Beetle and Microbus and into a modern, safer and more efficient era of driving.
Even as the GTI launched the hot hatch segment and inspired a raft of competitors from nearly every car company, over the decades it has consistently racked up awards from motoring journalists, built up a huge community of loyal fans, and became a car-modifying scene unto itself. At almost any given car show, you’ll see a GTI (or even just a Golf) that’s been painted wild colors, covered in stickers, lowered, fitted with outrageous wheels, received an unhinged engine transplant, or all of the above; people do crazy stuff to these cars.
Or they just drive them to the office and have a spirited drive on the weekends. That’s the magic of the GTI; it’s an “all of the above” option in ways that cars like the Mazda Miata and Chevrolet Camaro can’t match.
All the while, the GTI has kept its relatively humble price tag — the current one starts at a very reasonable $30,530 — and its focus on fuel economy. It’s always offered thrills with a high-tech four-cylinder engine (and briefly, an unusually small V6 option), eschewing the huge gas-guzzling motors typical of other performance cars.
But times are changing. Good fuel economy doesn’t cut it anymore. Emissions rules are getting tougher globally as the end of internal combustion can be seen on the horizon. Partially in penance for its diesel-cheating sins, VW is going all-electric in the coming years. Plus, attitudes are changing, too; this year, the Austrian town that for decades hosted a massive GTI meetup (think a giant music festival, but for modified Volkswagens) canceled the event out of environmental concerns. VW had to save the day by moving it to its headquarters in Wolfsburg.
The ID.GTI might be a far more welcome sight instead. Though no specifics around power (or range) have been released yet, as an electric car the ID.GTI will almost certainly be the quickest GTI ever. VW says it can even electronically emulate the driving feel and noises of the vintage ones. In other words, if you owned a GTI in the ‘80s or 2000s, this one can sound just like it. The concept keeps a number of must-haves from past GTIs, too, like the tartan plaid seats, red trim on the grille and the “Golf ball” gear shifter — here, that’s a control module that lets you adjust how the car drives.
The ID.GTI likely won’t go on sale until 2027, Car and Driver predicts. But Americans may have reasons to mark their calendars whenever we get an official date. Earlier this year, Volkswagen gave a hard “no” when asked if the ID.2all would ever come to our shores. You can thank the U.S. car market being overwhelmingly dominated by large trucks and SUVs for that.
But will the ID.GTI come to America? “The answer is … we’re looking into it,” a VW spokesperson told me. That fits with past precedent. The base Golf was discontinued for America a few years ago, but the GTI (and its more powerful, more expensive big brother the Golf R) remains on sale here. That’s because there’s still a market for VW’s fun hot hatches here; I’d wager the GTI has eclipsed the Golf itself in America in terms of popularity and prominence.
I believe there’s absolutely a market for a fun, affordable electric hot hatch in America too, especially if VW can find ways to get battery and production costs down over the next few years. Look at the great sales year the Tesla Model 3 is having; same with the soon-to-be-discontinued (and then revived) Chevrolet Bolt, or the considerable hype around the ultra-compact Volvo EX30. Americans would drive cheap EVs if we had the chance, and if we want to lower emissions across the board, we can’t count on $60,000 SUVs to do it. There is no reason to believe that an electric GTI couldn’t be a hit just like the original one was, even if its Golf sibling doesn’t make it here.
But for me, there’s an even deeper appeal to the ID.GTI. I try to draw a line between car culture — traffic-clogged cities, long commutes, no public transit, the prioritization of driving over biking and walking — and car enthusiast culture. The latter is something that, while far from perfect, is a force that drives diverse communities, creates lasting bonds and is filled with people eager to help each other out. I don’t want to see car enthusiast culture die with gasoline; rather, I’d like to see gearheads lead the charge for a cleaner, better, smarter future.
And if the Volkswagen GTI — the ride of choice for everyday people who want occasional backroad fun and the “Yes, this should have 1,000 horsepower and sit just three inches off the ground” crowd alike — can help make that happen, it deserves an electric future.