Volkswagen Golf GTI SE Vs Autobahn: Which Trim is Right for You?

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee

The popularity of the Volkswagen Golf GTI is undeniable.

With a cult-like following, there’s good reason this hot hatch is so popular. Simply put, it’s a fantastic car. Blending performance, comfort, refinement, and utility, not many other cars on the market match its far-reaching appeal.

For those thinking of joining the ranks of Golf GTI owners, but don’t know which model to get, we’re here to help. Below, we’ve compared the Volkswagen Golf GTI SE vs Autobahn over eight key categories.

As the top two trims of the car, both come loaded with features and performance. But which one is the correct choice? Read on to find out.


Style wise, there isn’t much that sets apart the Volkswagen Golf GTI SE vs Autobahn. On the exterior, both trims come with LED lights all around including fog lights, a panoramic sunroof, and a front light bar. The SE has 18-inch polished aluminum alloy wheels as standard with optional black painted wheels available for a price. The Autobahn comes standard with larger 19-inch wheels.

Inside, both vehicles have a black roof liner, red GTI accents, ambient lighting, and sport front seats. The front buckets are finished in cloth on the SE but can be upgraded to leather for an additional cost. The leather seats are standard in the Autobahn.

Volkswagen Golf GTI SE vs Autobahn: Cabin Space

When it comes to cabin space, both the SE and Autobahn are identical. There’s 41.2-inches of legroom for front seat passengers and 35.0-inches for those in the rear. When it comes to headroom, riders up front receive 38.5-inches of space while back seat occupants get slightly less at 38.1-inches.

In real world testing, the front seats are spacious for various body types and sizes. Although the numbers may seem tight, most adults will fit in rear seat area as well thanks in large part to the Golf GTI’s boxy shape.

Powertrain, Suspension, Tires

Mechanically there are a few notable differences when comparing the Volkswagen Golf GTI SE vs Autobahn. But first, let’s cover the similarities.

All Golf GTI models come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 241 hp and 273 lb-ft. of torque powering the front wheels. All trims also offer a choice of transmissions, either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. As well, the brakes are the same for the SE and Autobahn, measuring 13.4-inches for the front rotors and 12.2-inches for the ones in the rear.

Where things differ are with the suspension and tires. The Autobahn comes with the multi-mode DCC adaptive damping suspension while this system is not offered on the SE. The Autobahn also gets wider, stickier summer tires measuring 235/35R19 in size. The SE makes do with 225/40R18 all-season tires.

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is officially rated the same for both trim levels. For manual transmission equipped models, it pegs in at 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. Golf GTI’s with the dual-clutch automatic get slightly better fuel economy figures, rated at 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.

Although the ratings are the same, with larger wheels and tires, we think the Autobahn may return fractionally worse mileage in real world use, but it would be very minimal.

Cargo and Towing

In terms of cargo space, both trims have the same 19.9 cubic feet of hatch area behind the rear seats. With those back seats folded, that capacity expands to 34.5 cubic feet.

No version of the Golf GTI is recommended for towing, so we’d suggest not to try it. The car can carry upwards of 904 pounds of people and gear inside though.

Volkswagen Golf GTI SE vs Autobahn: Safety

As is the case with most vehicles on sale today, both the SE and Autobahn come well equipped with safety features. They include forward collision warning, emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, lane keep assist, travel assist, parking sensors, road sign display, and more.

The only real differences between the Volkswagen Golf GTI SE vs Autobahn in terms of safety comes down to two features. The Autobahn adds steering park assist and automatic high beam control.

Tech and Features

Being the top two trims in the Golf GTI lineup, both the SE and Autobahn come well equipped. Starting with the SE, standard features include a dual zone automatic climate control, leather wrapped steering wheel, heated steering wheel, heated front seats, keyless access with push-button start, a 10.0-inch infotainment screen, a 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster, a Harman Kardon sound system, wireless phone charging, and wireless Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto.

There’s an optional seating package on the SE that includes a power driver’s seat, ventilated front seats, and leather seating surfaces. The Autobahn trim level includes those seat upgrades as well as the features not available on the SE like a three-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, and a head-up display.


The SE trim level starts at a price of $35,330 for manual transmission equipped models, or $36,130 for those with the automatic transmission. The two optional SE packages mentioned previously come in at a price of $1,125 for the leather power seat with ventilation, and $395 for the black painted alloy wheels.

Being the top-of-the-line model in the Golf GTI portfolio, the Autobahn commands a higher price point. It lists at $39,070 for vehicles featuring manual transmissions, or $39,870 for those with the dual-clutch automatic.

Volkswagen Golf GTI SE vs Autobahn: The Verdict

When comparing the Volkswagen Golf GTI SE vs Autobahn, the price gap is sure to come into play. An extra $3,740 for the Autobahn over the SE is significant. But so is the amount of extra equipment that comes on the Autobahn trim level.

If it’s outright performance one is after, the Autobahn is the easy choice as it’s the only model to feature the upgraded tires and adjustable dampers. On the features front, add the leather power seat package to the SE model and the price gap shrinks enough that we feel the Autobahn is still worth the extra cost for the added features and performance. Ultimately, the Autobahn is our choice here.

If the cost of the Autobahn is too steep it might be worth taking a look at the entry-level S model. It lacks some comfort, convenience, and safety features found on the SE trim, but does have the same level of performance. More importantly, at a price of $30,530 for manual equipped vehicles or $31,330 for those with automatics, it’s a great value.

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Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

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