Make no mistake, the Volkswagen GTI is the original hot hatch. First introduced in 1976 in Europe, those of us on the other side of the Atlantic had to wait until 1983 for a taste of what was destined to be an icon. The GTI proved that buyers on a budget could enjoy snappy acceleration and sharp handling wrapped in a practical package.
As years and generations of the GTI passed, the car became increasingly more sophisticated, luxurious, and heavy. GTI purists found the VR6 engine out of sync with the original purpose of the GTI. The Mark V GTI, introduced here in 2006, is heralded as a return to the original carÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s roots, and the new for 2010 Mark VI GTI is considered even more faithful. It was time for The Garage to see for themselves.
The GTI is a great car-the complete package. It is not by accident Automobile Magazine named the GTI their Automobile of the Year-it really is that good. Despite the title of a Mark VI, the Ã¢â‚¬Å“newÃ¢â‚¬Â GTI isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exactly an all-new car, as the engine, transmission and chassis are essentially carried over. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a bad thing, as those were the best parts of the car. It is the improved interior and exterior that put the exclamation point on what was already a great car.
The GTI is a sharp dresser, and forgoes a lot of the boy racer add-ons some of its competition is known for. Our tester, a four door finished in a subdued United Gray Metallic was surprisingly refined, but serious in appearance. No giant wings or hood vents here. The body is clean and tight, and the blacked out grill outlined in red instantly identifies the car as a GTI, at least to those in the know.
Motivation for the GTI is provided by VWÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s familiar 2.0L turbo four, rated at 200hp. This is the same engine that powered the Passat CC we just tested.Ã‚Â The CC was reasonably quick, but you do feel some extra oomph in the smaller and lighter GTI. The engine has a seductive snarl, with a killer induction sound that makes you want to punch the accelerator whenever the opportunity shows itself. The GTI is quick, but I hesitate to say fast. It is safer to compare the GTI to a Mini Cooper S, in the sense you get the satisfaction you are extracting the most you can from the engine.
The GTI chassis is remarkable. Think BMW solid in a four-door hatchback. Nothing upsets this car. The ride is fantastic, and blends the firmness you expect with just enough compliance to make the car livable on a daily basis. The meaty steering wheels is just a joy to use, with excellent weight, but feel was just a bit more isolated than I had expected in this car. The brakes offer a reassuring, firm pedal feel.
Our car had the optional twin-clutch DSG 6-speed transmission (a $1,100 option) that the press has been raving about. I must be missing something. The DSG works great when you are pushing the car. Shifts are lightning fast and smooth. But stuck in downtown traffic, at times it felt a bit clunky. The strangest bit happened while driving on some of my favorite country roads. Coasting downhill at 50mph, the car inexplicably downshifted. The tach is at 3,000 rpm now. I upshift to get back to the gear I wanted to be in the first place. I get that the DSG is a tenth of a second quicker to 60mph and delivers 1mpg better fuel economy, but the computer doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what sort of road IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m driving on.
The DSG gives you two options-you let the transmission do all the work itself, or you can decide when you want to shift. There are two smallish buttons attached to the rear of the steering wheel to up-shift or down-shift. Having tried both options, I preferred to keep the car in automatic mode. I just cannot derive any pleasure changing gears by pressing a button.Ã‚Â Even from a tactile point of view, the shift paddles in the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart were more satisfying. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll take the six-speed manual in a heartbeat, and I am thankful that VW offers one.
Inside the GTI, the car is leagues ahead of the competition. The look, the feel and the quality of the materials lead the class here. The seats are comfortable and offer excellent support.Ã‚Â It only takes a moment to hop into the GTI and know where all the controls are. Our car had the Autobahn package, which included leather sport seats and a power sunroof. The leather was of good quality, and I particularly liked the red stitching on the steering wheel and shift boot. The heated seats worked well during New England winter days. One minor complaint-the dial for where air is directed into the car is small, and the icons almost require a magnifying glass to decipher. Worse, there are no detents to confirm you’ve changed the setting. You are practically required to take your eyes off the road to figure it out.
The GTI is an excellent car by nearly all parameters. It is quick. It is comfortable, refined, handles great, fun to drive, well-built, and practical. Even in subdued dark grey, the GTI drew compliments for its looks. But excellence comes at a price. Our GTI four door, with the Autobahn Package, DSG tranny, and Bluetooth connectivity gave us a sticker price of $28,684USD. The problem with the GTI is power versus price compared to its competitors. The GTI’s 200hp is on par with the Honda Civic Si and Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, but these cars cost much less than the GTI. On the flip side, the GTI costs more than the diabolical MazdaSpeed3, and is on par with the 265hp Subaru Impreza WRX.
But neither of the aforementioned cars can hold a candle to the GTI’s class and refinement. Frustrated at the price of the GTI, I was mindful that I could never forgive VW for ‘dumbing down’ the GTI to make it more affordable. This car is simply too good to be cheapened in any way. So, yes, it does cost a bit more to enjoy the GTI, but that has always been the case. If the Chevy Cobalt SS is Budweiser-good fun and inexpensive, the Volkswagen GTI is Spaten-clean and clear, with a hint of class, and with a higher price tag. In the end, the pocket rocket of your choice comes down to what flavor and price point works for you.