Like Tom, I recently tested a 2010 GTI though mine was a 2 door DSG with all of the same options plus navigation. Perfect for my recent drive to Detroit for the NAIAS. My full review will be posted over in Driven Wheels, but Tom made a few comments that I wanted to address myself.
Given that I’ve done all of my competitive driving in small front wheel drive cars, you could say that I am a lover of the little car. In fact, my GTI experience began way back in 1981 as I was involved in building a ’79 Rabbit that emulated the Euro car a year before we got the real GTI. Yes, we got it in ’82 in Canada. So with all that time playing with pocket rockets, it might come as a surprise that I have a craving in my nether regions these days for the rumble of a V-8. The raw, primal feelings that second gear in a muscle car creates have overcome my being.
So why is it then that I am so in love with the GTI?
I really want a new Mustang, but the GTI makes so much more sense. First off, while the generous torque and magical exhaust note almost negate any quibbles about the pony, the Mustang really isn’t a very practical ride. It only seats 4 and the back seats aren’t all that comfy, even for the kids. The trunk is quite small and the opening is tiny. No hockey bags for you! Fine for a 3rd car that will see track duty but not so useful for a family.
The GTI on the other hand seats 5 comfortably. That’s right, our 3 kids not only fit but found the space comfy! We were actually able to fit 5 people and 2 hockey bags in the GTI! While it may not have that V8 rumble, the 2.0 turbo blats out a solid belch through the twin pipes on high rev shifts. It is pretty cool. As I’ve mentioned before, the GTI is an absolute howl on the race track which means the 2010 might be the ultimate compromise between small family car and weekend warrior. I’m pretty sure that it will also consume less tires than the Mustang on track days too.
As a long time enthusiast, I suppose it will come as no surprise that, like Tom, I prefer to shift my own gears. Manushift automatics bore me to tears and I just don’t see the point, especially when they are installed in minivans and CUV’s. The GTI is very far from a minivan though, and the DSG tranny in the GTI is far from a traditional automatic transmission. The DSG twin clutch gearbox in the GTI is just that, a gearbox with 2 clutches. Where a traditional autobox has a series of friction clutches that engage with different fluid pressures, connected to the engine through a fluid coupler, the DSG unit is all mechanical just like a regular manual transmission. Sort of. In fact, it is really a sequential box like a modern race car. The biggest difference is that it has 2 clutches. The first engages the drive gear while the second engages the next gear. The result is lightning fast shifts.
What it does not do is create silky smooth shifts that you can’t feel like a traditional automatic. That fluid coupler, called a torque convertor, takes any shock out of the shift. The DSG is a direct connection, just like the driver shifting. That means that it has limitations. In cold weather, the DSG is rough & clunky until it warms up, just like a normal manual. If you vary your throttle position as it shifts, it will stutter, just like regular manual. On the downhill that Tom experienced, the computer likely was trying to induce engine braking for whatever reason.
If one thinks of the DSG tranny in terms of what it actually is, it is really pretty cool. Honestly, it is the only car I’ve driven on the street and actually used the paddle shift. I love the fast, crisp shifts along with that blat from the pipes on upshifts. Of course those lightning fast shifts are perfect for more spirited driving like the inevitable track days! Would I option one for my own GTI? Probably not, but I’m also not your typical consumer. Most consumers don’t want to spill their coffee as they sit in the stop and go commute to work.
In my title, I ask if the GTI is the best pocket rocket ever. Of course the answer to that depends on your individual needs and wants. For me, the GTI is priced more reasonably than a Cooper S and has similar build quality. It is just as much fun on the track as the Mustang or the Mini yet has more daily life flexibility. Are both of those true pocket rockets? Mini yes, Mustang no but in my eyes these are the cars I would consider along side it. I told you I’m not typical. For my wallet, the GTI is absolutely the best compromise between fun and practicality out of those three. Just don’t let me hear the V8 while my wallet is out!