The archetypal hot hatch, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, will no longer be available with a manual gearbox come 2025. Sky, meet pavement. An angel is taking off its halo. To commemorate more than four decades of shift-it-yourself enjoyment, Wolfsburg is doing something mildly special and trotting out the 2024 Volkswagen Golf GTI 380. Every single manual 2024 GTI will be a 380 model, and that number has a special meaning. Just like how the Mk4 Golf GTI 337 referenced the original GTI’s project number, the name of the 2024 Volkswagen Golf GTI 380 references the Mk8 GTI’s internal project number. It’s a nerdy little runout car for those in the know that comes wearing the effects of a gym routine and eyeliner.
So what makes the Golf GTI 380 special? First on the list, a set of 19-inch alloy wheels borrowed from the Golf R and painted black. They comes wrapped in summer tires, Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3s that will probably serve owners fine for a few thousand miles and can then be replaced with stickier stuff. In the Golf GTI 380’s 235/35R19 tire sizing, off-the-shelf versions of the Hankooks sport a treadwear rating of 340, which seems reasonably competitive. Helping those tires stay in contact with the road is Volkswagen’s DCC adaptive damping system, variable dampers with a wide range of stiffness that never truly grows harsh.
Of course, those alloy wheels aren’t the only gloss black accents on tap. The mirror caps and roof on every Golf GTI 380 will be painted black, contrasting the brighter and lighter exterior colors on offer. Sure, you can still order it in Deep Black Pearl for a monochrome look, but colors like Kings Red Metallic and Atlantic Blue Metallic stand out from the greyscale sea of today’s roadscape. There is an exclusive color for the GTI 380, but I’m afraid it’s not particularly exciting. Whose heart races when they hear the words “Graphite Gray Metallic”? Actually, don’t answer.
Volkswagen has also revealed that 2024 will be the last model year in which a manual Golf R is ever offered, meaning this is the end of the line for stick-shift German hatchbacks in America. The shifter in the current Golf certainly isn’t the greatest Volkswagen has ever offered, but thanks to manual shifters being mechanical linkages, aftermarket companies like Deutsche Auto Parts and Boomba are there to fix it. Clutch bite upon swift re-engagement isn’t immediate, but you can pull the clutch delay valve implemented to smooth out shifts. You can tweak a manual gearbox yourself to better suit your tastes with a basic set of hand tools, something most people can’t do with an automatic.
Likewise, the nature of manual transmissions is malleable. You are the transmission control module, you decide when and how to shift. A manual gearbox adds that last little bit of engagement that makes you want to pick a hot hatch up by the scruff of its neck and see what’s what. Volkswagen’s DSG is one of the best automatic gearboxes on the planet, but a manual is something different. Something special. Something more.
The number of new manual cars is dwindling drastically, so if you’re in the position to buy a new car and enjoy driving stick, tick the box for three pedals. We won’t truly appreciate what we’re losing until it’s finally gone, revealing a new frontier of performance that seemingly puts headline figures over driving engagement. California is banning new combustion-powered cars in 2035, which means we have a few months more than 11 years, or not quite two seven-year model cycles, until a considerable chunk of the country loses the option for new combustion-powered cars altogether. I have a suspicion that an incredibly small number of manual cars will hold on until that date.
Knowing the gravitas of the situation, the Volkswagen Golf GTI 380 almost seems mildly disappointing. Volkswagen could’ve gone ballistic with a U.S.-market manual-only 296-horsepower GTI Clubsport, or even rummaged around the parts bin and factory paint offerings to make the 380 feel a bit more special. However, it feels like we should be glad for getting a last crack at a manual GTI at all, and summer tires are a solid bonus. Welcome to the end of the world we grew up in. Savor it while it lasts.
(Photo credits: Volkswagen)
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