2008 Volkswagen GTI Expert Review:Autoblog
It's easy for a car maker to take one of its econoboxes, shoehorn in a more powerful engine and call it sporty. It's another thing entirely to make it enjoyable to use with minor touches like the 2007 Volkswagen GTI's leather-covered owner's manual stored out of the way on a shelf above the glove box, or the lighted door lock switches, and the little plastic flap that covers the greasy hatch mechanism (right). None of these things alone would get much attention in most car reviews, but add them up and they take a starring role in this one.
If you read John Neff's GTI 2-door review, you know all the statistical stuff about VW's new pocket rocket, but let's run through them anyway so we're all on the same page. The turbocharged 2.0 I4 engine pumps out 200 hp and 207 lbs. ft. of torque in a four-door car that weighs just over 3,100 pounds and does it getting decent mpg. Its modestly handsome good looks aren't easily distinguished from lesser vehicles, a good thing when attempting above-legal speeds on public roads. Not that we would encourage that, of course.
Continue reading Autoblog's review of Volkswagen's five-door GTI after the jump.
So let's take a good look at those good looks. To make a GTI, Volkswagen starts with a humble Rabbit, and, on the outside, adds special 17" wheels with low-profile performance rubber, a rear spoiler and a cute little dark red smile below the grille. It's a look that says German sports car more than boy-racer and, like we said, should help you fly below the local radar. Our tester wore optional 18" alloys, which nicely showed off the car's red brake calipers.
Inside our 2007 4-door tester, the Rabbit's already above-par interior got the full GTI treatment with optional leather, sport front seats, dual climate control, sunroof, in-dash DVD navigation and CD changer. Options on our very nicely-equipped VW totaled a whopping $6,060, which helped put an intimidating $29,290 price tag on the window.
Though we thoroughly enjoyed those supportive, side-bolstered seats and one of the most rocking OEM automotive stereo systems we've ever heard, if you're just shopping for a German-engineered, MazdaSpeed3 alternative, the base GTI's got ya covered. Lose the luxuries and you can bring the price back down to a more reasonable base of $22,600.
Our car, to our utter delight, had the 6-speed manual instead of the much-praised DSG automatic transmission. Running that little 4-cylinder up to redline, punching the clutch, hearing that turbo blowoff valve open and taking the shifter to the next gear was more fun than unlimited lives on Ms. Pac Man. This car, we swear, can cure baldness. No, really. After driving the GTI for a week, my hair was thicker, fuller and more manageable. I'm not sure if it's a by-product of the turbocharger or if the car somehow induced my body to make more testosterone, but I do know I'm in need of another treatment. We put it through turns and corners and twists and turns and, wow, it just kept pleasing. Highway ride is just rough enough to remind you there's a sport suspension below, but was not unbearable at all. Turbo lag, as well, was near non-existent.
Anyone hearing the initials G, T, and I together can safely assume it's in reference to a fast, fun VW. But how is it as a car? A family car. That's much tougher to pull off, and the GTI does it really well. In fact, I think I could have convinced my wife how badly our family (and my hairline) needs one, if only we'd had an automatic. The 5-door's hatch swallowed our Graco stroller with room to spare and with all the seats upright. We couldn't get the child seat installed in the preferred center position because of a stubborn head rest. The manual says it's removable, but we tried everything short of a crowbar and it didn't budge. So we stuck our child seat on the driver's side and our little one seemed quite happy back there even during some of the more, uh, spirited highway exit ramps. My wife liked the ride, interior and exterior, as well as my thicker head of hair. So, yeah, this quick little hatch could easily be Mom's baby buggy during the week and Dad's choice for Sunday's SCCA Autocross.
We did have one big surprise, though. The car's sticker boasts EPA mileage numbers of 23 city and 32 highway. Yeah, right. Those are, of course, EPA's old numbers and, under the new system changes to 21 city, 29 highway. That's pretty good in a premium-swilling, souped-up car like this, even more so when you consider the 5-speed, non-turbo Rabbit claims updated EPA numbers of only 19/28. Even with the GTI's sixth gear, we found those numbers quite doubtful. That is, until the end of the week when, after what some might call overly-aggressive (but legal, mind you) driving, we got an amazing 22 mpg combined. This car was just too much fun for us to drive like a grandma, so we think we can say with assurance that real-life numbers will be much closer to EPA estimates.
We live in the U.S. of A., not Heaven, so naturally we found some things not to like. The biggest complaint has got to be VW's choice of navigation system. Ours worked just as it was supposed to, but only by pushing a bunch of little buttons on both sides of the screen to get what we wanted. It was not very intuitive and took lots of practice to get the hang of. Just give the GTI a touch-screen system like any number of other manufacturers and things will be right.
Another annoyance was the car's Bluetooth mobile phone syncing. We never got it to work. Not once. There's a button on the steering wheel that, when pushed, should bring up a prompt on the navigation screen to set up a Bluetooth enabled phone. Didn't work. So we e-mailed our VW contact who confirmed that yes, indeed, it didn't work. At all. He said something about VW not procuring the rights to the software in U.S. vehicles or something, but they left the button on the steering wheel anyway. I suggested at least a mention of that in the manual.
One more negative was the car's electronic fuel economy estimator. We know not to trust them, and you shouldn't either. Most are rather optimistic and should never be a replacement for keeping track of the gas you pump and miles driven. One or two mpg plus or minus can be forgiven, but at one point, our car was consistently claiming 86 mpg. We have no idea how the car thought it could get away with a lie that blatant. We caught it and thoroughly punished it with a hearty blast down our favorite mountain road. Its little red smile never wavered. Neither did ours.
So yeah, Dad. You can have your cake, eat it and look and feel younger at the same time providing your family with safe, roomy transportation. And if you can swing another $6,000, you can make the Volkswagen GTI a luxurious cake with leather icing.
All Photos Copyright 2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Lowered ride height for improved handling.
The Volkswagen GTI demonstrates how much fun a small, practical car can be. The GTI offers sporty handling, quick and precise steering, and spirited acceleration performance.
Yet it's a practical car, based on the VW Rabbit, and available in three-door hatchback and five-door hatchback versions. The GTI gets an EPA-rated 21/29 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission, or 22/29 mpg with the Direct Shift Gearbox.
For 2008, the GTI suspension has been lowered a half-inch for a sportier stance. A lower ride height lowers the center of gravity, which usually improves handling. Sirius satellite radio is now standard.
A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers the power, rated at 200 horsepower. The GTI can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 7.2 seconds, says Volkswagen. With 207 pound-feet of torque holding steady from 1800 to 5000 rpm, the GTI responds quickly to the gas pedal at any engine speed.
The Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG, is bit a of F1 wizardry that can be left in a fully automatic mode or can be manually manipulated via paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Selecting Launch Control allows the engine to rev up before the DSG clutch engages for controlled wheelspin as you leave the line.
The 2008 Volkswagen GTI comes in one trim level with a choice of two body styles: a three-door hatchback ($22,730) or five-door hatchback ($23,230). Each comes with a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic Direct Shift Gearbox ($1,075).
Standard features include eight-way-adjustable front seats with Interlagos plaid cloth inserts; air conditioning; a 40/60 split folding rear seat; HID headlights with washers; fog lights; cruise control; trip computer; remote unlocking; power windows that can be opened or closed with the key fob; aluminum alloy pedals; a 10-speaker audio system with 6CD changer and MP3 playback; a tilt and telescoping steering column with audio controls on the steering wheel. Tires are 17-inch summer performance tires on alloy wheels; all-season tires are available as a no-cost option.
The Autobahn package ($3,020) upgrades with sport seats with partial leather seating surfaces, a power sunroof, heated front seats and washer nozzles, and an audio amplifier. The optional DVD-based navigation system ($1,800) displaces the CD changer from the dash, but VW offers the choice of either relocating it to the center console, or deleting it in favor of an iPod adaptor. (The Navigation stereo will not play MP3 CDs.) Options the sunroof ($1,000), the audio amplifier ($325), the iPod adapter ($199), the heated seats and washer nozzles ($225), and 18-inch Hufeisen alloy wheels with 225/40HR18 all-season tires ($750) or 225/40YR18 summer performance ($890) tires. Also available are 18-inch Vision V wheels with all-season tires ($1,699). Dealers can install a set of rubber floor mats that includes a trunk liner ($185); and a lower-body aero kit ($1,650).
Safety equipment includes front airbags, front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, three-point harnesses for all seating positions (wear them), and LATCH child seat anchors. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) also come standard, along with Brake Assist, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control (ESP), and traction control (consisting of anti-slip regulation and electronic differential lock, plus engine-braking assist). The four-door offers optional rear-seat side-impact airbags ($350).
While not as stylish as a Mini Cooper, the Volkswagen GTI has come quite a way from the square-cornered hatchback of yore. And though its creases may have been softened, its face has been made bolder. Plus, there's just enough of a muscular bulge to the fender wells filled by 17- or 18-inch tires, and just enough lip to the rear spoiler to hint at the performance potential.
The classic GTI emblem is displayed like a well-earned badge against a black honeycomb grille that features a red accent stripe in the shape of a slightly devilish smile, all traditional GTI styling cues.
The shape of the headlamp covers, which have an almost winking eye form, accentuates this mischievous attitude. Three large, black honeycombed air vents in the lower fascia enhance the strength of the front end, with large fog lamps housed in the outboard intakes.
Viewed in profile, the windshield rakes quickly back over the front of the passenger compartment and the roofline ends with a wind-cheating spoiler above the back window. This view also gains visual strength and a sporty stance from the way the car's waistline rises and the side windows taper above the rear fenders. Also noticeable in the profile view are the red-colored brake calipers that show through all of the various wheel choices and proclaim that this is an all-around performance car, designed to stop as well as it goes.
Even with the airy wheels and showy brakes, however, the five-door can't help but look a bit more utilitarian than the three-door. It's still undeniably sleek and handsome, but it surrenders some of the three-door's youthful chic.
Like the profile, the rear view is clean, with large tail lamps mounted high on the car's haunches with twin exhaust tips peaking out from the lower left side of the black bumper.
The Volkswagen GTI may look compact on the outside, but there's an amazing amount of room inside. The GTI offers passenger and luggage space on par with the Passat, VW's mid-size family sedan. Interior dimensions for the four-door GTI are identical to those for the two-door.
The GTI's cargo area is fully carpeted, and cargo can be secured via four tie-down hooks. There's also a cargo cover to hide your gear. The cover can be removed when carrying taller objects.
The rear seat can hold three people. It's best suited for two, however, who can get more comfortable by tipping out the wide center armrest. Those sitting in the back get cup holders and storage cubbies, and plenty of rear legroom if those in the front seats aren't tall.
In the two-door model, access to the back seat is easy because of a feature that VW calls Easy Entry. Here's how it works: You tip the front seatback forward until it snaps into a locked position, then you can slide the entire seat forward to open a good-sized path to the back seat. Slide the front seat back and it stops in its original position, and the seat back also returns to its former position, so the driver or front-seat passenger can climb in without having to make any readjustments. It works well.
The front seats are nicely bolstered so you won't slide around while exploring the car's dynamic capabilities. However, this is not a car for everyone. The seats may be too snug for some, and others won't like the black, gray, white and red-striped Interlagos plaid pattern in the seating and back area between the bolsters. GTI faithful will love these seats, however, and consider the Interlagos plaid an iconic part of the original GTI. It's named after the racing circuit used for the Brazilian Grand Prix. Those who don't like the plaid can opt for black leather seats with a small GTI emblem stitched into the upper part of the seat back. The front passenger's seat offers good legroom and easy access to climate and audio controls.
Drivers will like the way the three-spoke, leather-covered and flat-bottomed (like a racecar) steering wheel both tilts and telescopes to enhance steering control and comfort. The alloy pedals with rubber grips are nicely placed for heel-and-toe shifting, and there's a large dead pedal for your left foot when it isn't depressing the clutch.
The steering wheel houses audio and trip-computer control buttons. On cars with the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission, racecar-style paddle shifters are on the steering wheel right at your fingertips.
The instrument panel features VW's blue-lit gauges with red indicator arrows as well as a trip computer to track miles to empty or to display redundant navigation system instructions within the driver's line of sight. The gauge cluster is very readable, even in bright sunlight when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses.
Not only are the seats height-adjustable, but so is the arm rest on the center console, so you can put it high for comfortable cruising or lower it so it won't interfere when you get assertive with the six-speed manual shifter. Cup holders are positioned on the center console so they don't interfere with gear changing. And there's a grab handle on the center console so the front-seat passenger can hold on.
Cargo space is listed as 14.7 cubic feet of trunk space for the four-door and 15.1 for the two-door. Curiously, this is one of the few dimensions where the two body styles differ. Either number would do credit to a mid-size car. And that's before you fold down the back seat and double the cargo capacity.
The Volkswagen GTI is fun to drive and that's where it shines. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is responsive and offers a broad plateau of torque. Maximum torque is available from a mere 1800 rpm up to 5000 rpm, so you can putter comfortably around town in fourth gear without having to overwork your right arm searching for the engine's sweet spot as you maneuver in city traffic. While the car operates on regular unleaded, premium fuel is recommended to achieve maximum performance.
When you want to downshift for curves on mountain roads or to make a pass on a two-lane in the country, the clutch is very light with easy pickup, the shifter has short and sure throws, and the engine spins into gear immediately. On winding pavement, we preferred the six-speed manual, which allowed us to feel truly connected to car and road.
The DSG automatic functions essentially as a computer-controlled manual that shifts at the speed of electrons. With two clutches and two countershafts, it can literally engage the next gear while simultaneously disengaging the last; which is not possible with conventional manual or automatic transmissions. Volkswagen claims acceleration performance is better with the DSG than with the manual gearbox; 0-60 mph takes just 6.9 seconds with the DSG, vs. a 7.2-second 0-60 with the manual. The DSG allows manual shifting using shifter paddles on the steering wheel.
We've found the DSG a marvelous device, especially in heavy, stop-and-go traffic.
Fuel economy for the DSG-equipped GTI is an EPA-rated City/Highway 22/29 mpg; slightly better than the 21/29 mpg of the manual-shift car.
Steering is quick and precise, and the suspension is responsiveness personified. The GTI benefits from MacPherson struts in front and a four-link suspension in the rear. We found the response of even the all-season Continental tires to be up to enthusiast standards, though we think that serious enthusiasts will want to consider the larger 18-inch wheels and high-performance summer tires. A 35.8-foot turning circle makes the GTI maneuverable in tight quarters.
Even though nearly 60 percent of the car's 3100 pounds is supported by the front wheels, the GTI does not exhibit the tendency to understeer so prevalent in most front-wheel-drive cars. To help the driver keep the car on course, the GTI comes with electronic stability control (ESP) as well as traction control.
Big disc brakes stop the GTI quickly and surely. ABS comes standard, helping the driver maintain steering control while braking. Brake Assist helps the driver maintain full braking pressure in an emergency stopping situation. Electronic brake-force distribution balances braking front to rear for quicker, more stable braking.
The Volkswagen GTI boasts sporty handling and more power than either the Honda Civic Si or Mini Cooper S. The GTI offers either its short-throw six-speed manual or fast-shifting DSG automatic with shifter paddles. With its subtly Teutonic styling, the GTI may not look like a performance car, but those inside will have no doubt about its dynamic capabilities. They also will enjoy the room, comfort and cargo capacity of its versatile interior. They may even come to like that Interlagos plaid upholstery. We do.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall drove the new GTI in the Phoenix area.
Volkswagen GTI two-door with manual transmission ($22,730); 2-door with automatic ($23,805); four-door with manual ($23,230); four-door with automatic ($24,305).
Options As Tested
Autobahn Package ($3,020) includes power sunroof, sports seats with partial leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and washer nozzles, audio system amplifier; navigation system with six-CD changer ($1,800); all-season performance tires (no charge).
Volkswagen GTI two-door with manual transmission ($22,730).
FIND A GREAT USED CAR
Great Auto Loan Rates
Low Rates on New and Used AutosPowered By Apply In One Easy Step »