2011 Volkswagen GTI
2011 Volkswagen GTI Expert Review: Autoblog
In 1983, Run-DMC was fresh (which meant dope), Volvo 760 Turbos weighed 3,300 pounds and the 2,200-pound Volkswagen GTI made its U.S. debut. In 2010, the Rabbit-turned-Golf entered its sixth generation and attempted to draw a clear line to the first-generation car. The historical link has been made especially clear in the 2010 Volkswagen GTI, though it's gone through the typical changes you face when you hit your 30s. The GTI is now 1,000 pounds porkier, but it's still as slick as a greased pig when it comes to handling.
Inside, there's plaid seat upholstery and higher-quality materials. Just like it was back in '83, the underhood motivation is only available from a four-cylinder, a change from recent generations that could be stuffed with Volkswagen's VR6. At a glance, the 2010 model promises to be more visceral than its direct predecessors, but does it come anywhere near the primal magic of the original, or is it just playing dress-up? Click through to the jump to find out.
Photos by John Neff / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
By the time the GTI came Stateside, with its square headlamps and NHTSA-approved bumpers, the sharply-creased hatchback was no longer in the business of breaking any new stylistic ground. That much holds true for the 2010 Volkswagen GTI as well. It's handsome and smoothly styled with the instantly-recognizable profile of a Volkswagen two-box.
In truth, this latest generation of GTI doesn't appear hugely different than its predecessor. The front and rear light clusters are revised, with less startled-looking headlamps and more horizontal taillights. The front fascia and grille are also redone on a more horizontal theme and red stripes at the top and bottom of the new grille are a touch deftly lifted from 1983. While evolutionary, changes wrought between MkV and MkVI are successful in smoothing and modernizing the GTI.
Inside, it's more of the same updated-retro theme. The standard seats fitted to our tester arrived finished in Interlagos Plaid upholstery. Tartan fabric still carries echoes of the 1970s and is as polarizing as the Bacon Explosion. Some love it, but if you don't, VW offers upgraded sport seats with partial leather upholstery as part of the $2,185 Autobahn package, which also adds a power sunroof.
Very few people will complain about front seat space in the GTI, though anyone who has to climb into the back might gripe about the hike. In two-door form, that means climbing in and over the sill, so carpoolers or family users would do best to choose the five-door version, although it costs around $600 more. Once gluteals are planted on the cushion in the second row, passengers will find it relatively comfy back there, but claustrophobes will definitely want the extra doors. The 15.3 cubic feet of cargo space is useful and accessible thanks to the GTI's classic hatch profile; this a well-rounded little hellraiser that can haul both people and cargo at ascot-flipping speeds.
Build quality both inside and out is typical Volkswagen – meticulous. The materials inside feel like what you'd find in a car costing $40,000 versus the $24,414 entry fee on our test car. The design is clean and uncluttered, with a center stack that puts an emphasis on symmetry. There are twin HVAC outlets at the top, with the touchscreen for the audio system just below. The switchgear feels high-quality and without slop, and the chunky, flat-bottomed steering wheel is wrapped in leather, carries redundant controls and feels purposeful underhand. Simple, clear analog gauges keep drivers informed at a glance.
The center stack's ergonomics are first rate: there are three simple knobs for the HVAC, and the control relationships are just right. Even if you don't opt for the navigation system and its attendant Dynaudio-sourced stereo upgrade, there's still a big 'ol touchscreen for the audio controls. For our money, the standard system sounds darn good already, and nav might be anathema to the GTI's mission, anyway, especially as it drives nicely enough that you won't mind getting lost. Since it starts as an Everyman errand-runner, the GTI doesn't earn many demerits in terms of visibility, or even cupholders and cubbyholes. Despite being easily goaded into rowdiness, the GTI knows how to hold your large coffee during the morning commute, too. For a starting point under $25,000, the GTI is comprehensively equipped and materials and fit-and-finish are significantly better than vehicles like the MazdaSpeed3 and Subaru WRX.
Niceties aside, how's it go? That is, after all, the point of a GTI. Though this VW kicks it with 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque sent through the front wheels from its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, it's not a torque-steering monster. Available power is well down vis-à-vis the frothier 'Speed3 and WRX, though the resultant 6.8 seconds it takes to get to 60 mph isn't exactly leisurely. Taken as a whole, the GTI outclasses most comers: It's plenty quick, and with the new XDS differential that gets subtle brake application into the action, you can get yourself out of corners with more speed and less understeer.
The standard GTI without the optional adaptive suspension is tossable and supple, feeling like Volkswagen sent this car off to a weekend handling seminar at BMW. Since we didn't have the opportunity to sample the different modes of the upgraded package, we can't comment on any improvement that setup brings, but the standard car is plenty satisfying to wring out. Planting your right foot brings a snarl and a tug from the engine bay, and the chunky wheel rim lets you in on what the tires have to say.
While the modern way to play racecar driver is to get the dual-clutch DSG and its attendant wheel-mounted shift paddles, the standard six-speed manual gearbox is no downgrade. Action is solid and slick, and pedals allow heel/toe shifting without double-jointed ankles. Despite being a relatively small powerplant with a turbocharger, lag isn't so much an issue with peak torque available from 1,800 rpm. The way the GTI launches with aplomb, only mildly afflicted with wheelspin, may be due to some initial softness until the turbo comes up to full wail, but that works to your advantage.
Of course, nobody would turn down a GTI with thirty or forty more horsepower, and given the chassis' good manners in town and poise on curvy roads and highway strafing runs, the platform is certainly up to the job. All-out horsepower or even superior track numbers aren't everything, though, as driving the GTI shows time and time again. It's a polished package that may sprint a little less fleetly than its peers, but the VW's popularity with aftermarket tuners should quickly remedy any output deficiency for less than the price of those leather seats, anyway.
A stomp of the middle pedal brings easily modulated rapid deceleration. This car's reflexes are the stuff of hot-hatch daydreams, and while 3,000 pounds isn't featherweight anymore, neither is it as portly as most mainstream cars. The GTI feels nimble because of this, and while older VR6-equipped GTIs may have been more rapid, the six-cylinder certainly exacted a weight and handling penalty. The other demerit to the bigger engine was thirst, and the 2010 GTI provides relatively cheap thrills with fuel economy of 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway. We're happy to see that the old first-generation frisky/frugal dichotomy has once again found its mojo.
Since its inception, the Volkswagen GTI has never been the least expensive car in its class. The iconic first-generation has proven to be a tough act to follow, though, and enthusiasts have rightfully worried that with each successive generation, Volkswagen was losing its way a little more. The 2010 GTI restores our faith that the GTI can still do the things that made the original one of the all-time enthusiast greats.
The competence and sheen of careful assembly might prod you into an excitedly Ron Popiel-esque "Now how much would you pay?" The answer to that boomingly voiced question would be a surprisingly reasonable twenty-five large. Just like the Jetta TDI is five grand cheaper than you'd think, the 2010 Volkswagen GTI strikes us as a bargain for the refinement and performance it offers.
Photos by John Neff / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Performance Icon. That two-word phrase is bandied about so often there's hardly any meaning left in its 15 letters. After all, if a Porsche 911 is rightly referred to as a performance icon, can we call a Honda Civic Si the same? And are we talking any old 911/Civic Si, or just certain years and models? For instance, there is no doubt that the B13 Nissan Sentra SE-R, with its killer SR20DE engine, is a performance icon, but what about the current B17 Sentra SE-R? How about the Spec V? No way – the Versa has a better chassis.
We mention this problem with the Performance Icon label because Volkswagen described the all-new 2010 MkVI GTI to us as the "performance icon of the brand." As you may have noticed, Volkswagen's been delving pretty deeply into its past for marketing purposes as of late. First they tried reintroducing the Rabbit name much to the chagrin of Golf fans nationwide, and now they have Max, the black 1964 Beetle telling you that VW is "Das Auto." On a smaller scale, it's attempting to remind potential GTI buyers that the new model is both a direct descendant of and flag bearer for the original 1983 MkI GTI. Here comes the begged question: is it?
Photos copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
Looks-wise, almost. In this case it's hard to argue with an icon, and let's not forget that the original Golf (called Rabbit in the U.S.) was a Giugiaro design, perhaps his best ever (he also did the OG Scirocco, which we also like very much). That first GTI, with its big rectangular headlights and grille is, for all intents and purposes, a classic. It even managed to make giant Seventies-era bumpers look good. On the other hand, the new GTI is simply a good looking small car. And in a lot of ways, it owes its looks to the MkII GTI, not the MkI. But remember, the MkI is the performance icon, so that's what VW's trying to sell us.
Besides having red striping like the MkI, the front end of the new MkVI GTI accomplishes two very important tasks. The first is a big, "We're sorry" from Volkswagen to America for not bringing over the new Scirocco. They want to, but they can't. The other task accomplished by the GTI's schnoz is saying auf Wiedersehen to VW's gigantic goatee-like grilles, a seemingly never-ending trend introduced to the mainstream by none other than VW's own Audi brand and now being carried out to silly extremes by Mazda and Lincoln, to name just a couple. Volkswagen had the good sense to realize that this particular cliché has finally jumped Billy the Big Mouth Bass. Also, the little chin spoiler is not only slimming but quite slickly integrated.
As far as the rest of the car is concerned, changes over the MkV GTI are subtle. Quickly, the cutline is deeper, the mirrors are tricker, the C-pillar has been slimmed down dramatically, the taillights are squished flatter and the rear end is fitted with twin-pipes (another trend that's gotten out of control). From a driver's perspective, the most important change is the increased greenhouse area. Again, since the introduction of the Chrysler 300C, almost every new car has been gaining metal and losing glass. Hopefully this trend has peaked with the new Chevrolet Camaro, a car you actually can't see out of. We can't tell you how refreshing it is to be able to see the road when you peer out the side windows. But the real changes happen both under the skin and inside it.
Starting with the interior, the GTI's cabin is decidedly more upscale than the outgoing model. The materials are noticeably finer and the flat-bottomed steering wheel is worlds better. Even the air vents look great. In fact, the MkVI's cabin is almost identical to the VW CC, minus the fancy CC-only pleated leather seats. But who wants leather when you can get VW's sharp plaid cloth seats? We drove GTI's equipped with both the cool-as-all-get-out cloth pattern and the optional leathers, and we have to advise you to save the money and go cloth. Not only are they more comfortable (and less sticky), but they weigh a little less. And you get those throwback Euro adjuster knobs. Tech geeks might be put off by the good-not-great nav-radio unit, but it's totally passable. In the interest of truth we should point out that we had but a few hours with the car and were less interested in the radio and more interested in wringing the GTI out.
Now we get to what lies below – the real point of any GTI. There might be some consternation – if not outright groans – regarding the fact that the engine is unchanged from last year's MkV GTI. One might be led to believe that in 2010, 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque from a 2.0-liter turbo four just isn't enough gumption to keep up with the Subaru WRXs and Mazdaspeed3s of the world. After all, even the Chevy Cobalt SS comes with 260 hp. In one sense, you might be right. But, in a more factual sense, the MkVI has plenty of power.
There are couple of reasons why – the first being refinement. Introduced four years ago in the 2007 GTI, Volkswagen's FSI (direct injection) 2.0-liter mill feels as smooth as 1,500 thread count sheets. There's no perceivable lag, no shortcomings and the engine is ready and willing to rev all the way up to its 6,250 redline (remember – turbo engines don't need lofty redlines to produce their power). Another reason why the carryover engine works so well is that the new GTI weighs less than the old one. Eighty-six pounds less to be exact, but less is less. True, over in Europe the MkVI sports an all-new engine, but it makes just 210 hp. Volkswagen didn't feel the increased cost of a new mill would justify just ten ponies. We'll go ahead and agree with 'em.
So what's new for 2010, then? The suspension for one, though not massively so. Stiffer springs have been attached to all four corners and the rear sway bar is two millimeters thicker. There's been a bit of damper retuning, too. The dual exhausts allow the installation of an H-pipe, though you shouldn't expect to hear anything from inside the car – the new GTI is spooky quiet. In fact, the only sound you hear is produced by a resonator box fed off the air intake, which is a little odd. The big news is the electronic limited-slip differential, or XDS in VW-speak. This "Cross Differential System" uses the GTI's existing ABS and stability control program to limit front wheel slip in corners. Once again, Volkswagen cited cost concerns as the reason why they went with an electronic as opposed to a mechanical LSD.
So what's it all add up to? Turns out that less weight, a sportier suspension and the XDS does make for a remarkable new GTI, one that you'd be hard pressed to confuse with the MkV. Volkswagen turned us loose on some of the finest driving roads exurban Atlanta has to offer (Wolf Pen Gap, for instance) and the GTI lived up to its task admirably. We're typically fond of front-wheel drive hatches on tight and twisty mountain roads because in those situations rear-drive cars can be a handful. The GTI reconfirmed our bias, but with a little asterisk.
Because of the MkVI GTI's new electronic limited slip, you can get on the power incredibly early when coming out of a corner. We're talking pre-apex here. And this is fantastic, allowing you to attack turns the way you might in an all-wheel drive car. The XDS partnered with the revised suspension means you're at full power more often than not, taking big speed into (and more importantly) out of bends faster than we were expecting given our impression of the outgoing GTI. However, and this is big, driving this way shortens the useful life of the brakes considerably when you push the GTI hard. Remember, electronic LSDs use ABS to stop the wheel from spinning so fade comes on fast.
Even when we would downshift into a turn and blast our way out, the car was still using its brakes, which provided an unwelcome surprise when suddenly we got on the brakes and the pedal (*gulp*) sunk almost to the floor. Be advised that we were really pushing the car, so much so that we arrived at our destination 40 minutes ahead of the next GTI. Could you fit better pads? Sure. Stouter brakes? Maybe, but doing so might foul up the XDS and then where would you be? Just think of the new GTI as a part-time performance ride instead of a track toy and you'll do just fine.Then there's the new eternal argument, DSG versus plain old manual. A couple of facts we learned about GTI transmissions: Interestingly, unlike most cars sold in the U.S., a full 50% of GTI buyers opt for the manual (as opposed to the 90% slushbox rate in VW's other offerings). The fast shifting dual-clutch unit weighs 22.4 pounds more than the manual. That might seem like nothing (in fact, other journalists laughed at our question once the answer was given), but remember that people pay big $$$ for a Porsche GT3 RS fitted with a lithium-ion battery that saves... 22 pounds.
While largely carried over from the old GTI, the DSG now features launch control, and it's incredibly easy to use: Disengage the traction control. Flop the transmission over into Sport. Push the brake pedal in with your left foot. Floor the throttle with your right and watch as the tachometer climbs to 3,200 rpm. Then, simply dump the brake. You are treated to a bit of wheelspin and a slightly faster jaunt to 60 mph. It should be noted that you can get a whole bunch more wheelspin by dumping the clutch with the manual, though Volkswagen claims this way is slower.
So, which transmission to get? Call us Luddites if you must (Luddites!), but if your desire is a satisfying driver's car, then there is no question that the six-speed manual is the box to get. It's just more fun. Oh yes, we know that the DSG can change gears faster (VW claims 1/10 of a second) and all that, but it feels artificial. While there are dual-clutch transmissions that float our boat (hello, Nissan GT-R), in the case of the MkVI GTI, the manual transmission is the enthusiast's way to go. Which is no doubt why Volkswagen sells so many row-your-own GTIs. It's cheaper, too.
The 2010 Volkswagen GTI MkVI has a lot going for it. As far as hot hatches are concerned, none of the competition offers the same mix of refinement, sophistication and driving good times that the GTI does. The price – starting at $23,290 and hitting $29,030 with all the boxes checked – is right, too. Yes, you can get faster cars for the money. Slightly better handling ones, too. But then again, GTIs have never been about flat-out performance. They're too civilized, too – dare we say – nice. In that regard, the 2010 GTI is a worthy successor to the original 1983 GTI, and we wouldn't regret owning one. Besides, if big time power and performance are what you're after, the upcoming Golf GTI-R/R20 is right around the corner. As it stands, the MkVI GTI is a practical albeit fancy little hatchback that's up to the occasional back road burn.
Photos copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Newly redesigned hot hatch is practical and fun.
The Volkswagen GTI combines performance, fuel economy, driving enjoyment and hatchback versatility in an understated exterior and nicely finished interior. The current sixth-generation version was introduced for 2010 amidst a raft of awards and lists: GTI won Automobile magazine's automobile of the year for 2010 and is the only car to have won that award twice.
Nearly 40 years ago GTi helped spawn the hot-hatch segment of the market, economy car staples given the tuner treatment for driving fun (VW called it Fahrvergnugen) and extra performance without making it useless for daily tasks in the process. Now a GTI with a capital I, the GTI is based on the Volkwswagen Golf compact but gets different suspension, brakes, engine, transmission, seats and body trim.
GTI was all-new for 2010.
The 2011 Volkswagen GTI carries over largely unchanged but gets some significant technological upgrades: new audio, navigation, Bluetooth with audio streaming and phonebook download, a new smart key system, and 18-inch wheels as standard equipment. Other changes are aimed primarily at packaging simplicity to keep costs down, and therein lie our two minor criticisms: If you want something in the Autobahn package, like the Dyanudio sound system, you have to get every other option. Also, rear-seat side airbags, which aren't appropriate for hauling kids around anyway, are no longer offered.
One of a handful of performance hatchbacks to do so, the GTI offers a choice of two or four doors. The four-door (aka five-door) offers more convenience but the rear seat and space is the same in both. With folding rear seats and big hatch opening you can get a lot of odd-shaped items into this sub-14-foot car, and four adults fit quite comfortably.
A turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine generates 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque over a wider range than anything in its class. The only choice in mechanicals is a 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. Tight suspension, rubber-band tires, big wheels and stout brakes are built in.
The GTI competes primarily against the faster, edgier, front-drive MazdaSpeed3; the more powerful, all-wheel drive Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and Subaru Impreza WRX; the less-powerful, front-drive non-hatch Civic Si; and the similarly quick, rear-drive, trunk-equipped Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T. The GTI gets better fuel economy than any of them, and is less expensive than all but the Genesis Coupe which has a comparably small rear seat and trunk.
The 2011 Volkswagen GTI comes in two-door ($23,690) and four-door ($24,290) versions with a 6-speed manual gearbox standard. A 6-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) automatic is available for both the two-door ($24,790) and four-door ($25,390).
GTI comes standard with Interlagos cloth-upholstered eight-way manual heated sport seats, climate control, power windows and locks, tilt/telescoping steering column, fog lights, heated power mirrors with signal repeaters, heated windshield washer nozzles, rear wash/wipe, iPod/MP3 input, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shifter, 40/60-split folding rear seat, trip computer, cruise control, 225/40HR18 tires on alloy wheels, rear spoiler, and no-charge carefree scheduled maintenance for 3 years/36,000 miles.
The sunroof package ($1,750) adds a power moonroof, multifunction steering wheel controls and an upgraded stereo with 6CD changer and SD card reader. The sunroof and navigation package ($3,185) has all the aforementioned and adds five-inch touch-screen navigation system and adaptive bi-Xenon headlights.
The Autobahn package ($5,315) includes everything above plus leather seats with V-Tex trim, 8-speaker 300-watt Dynaudio sound system, keyless entry and pushbutton start.
Safety features include front, front-side and side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control with traction control and antilock brakes.
The GTI comes solely as a hatchback. It sits squat and square, like it wouldn't be easily taken out literally or figuratively, and has a purposeful look void of tacked-on parts or extraneous wallpaper. This sixth-generation version, introduced as a 2010 model is just seven inches longer than the original.
A horizontal theme dominates the front with a wide, level honeycomb-grille aperture along the bottom, a narrower slot above with GTI-trademark red trim stripe, and slats leading to the only vertical element, the very effective fog lamps. The slope of the hood helps both aerodynamics and close-in forward vision.
Four-unit headlamps are standard in black housings, with bi-Xenon turn-following units available that resemble beady little eyes. Turn-signal repeaters in the mirrors help cross-traffic sort your intentions, while wraparound tail lamps do the same for following cars. The rear center stop lamp is mounted in the integral spoiler so it never bathes the rear window in a red glow.
This is a clean shape with enough curve to keep it interesting and minimal creases to show it off. Ornamentation is minimal, with chrome badges and tailpipes lurking below and red brake calipers hiding behind 18-inch alloys and low-profile rubber. The two-door is slightly slicker looking with just two side windows, while the four-door has an extra window pillar in the rear door and the same forward-leaning rear pillar; four-doors look better in dark colors that better hide door openings.
The hatch opens to bumper level by pivoting the top half of the VW logo inwards (also by pushbutton inside) and cargo doesn't require a big lift to clear the painted surfaces. A rear wiper sits at the bottom of the glass out of mirror-view but sweeps almost all the glass one looks through.
Curb weight is approximately 3,050 pounds.
The GTI cabin is businesslike without being austere, a place the driver can appreciate and passengers will find quite accommodating. It's nicely trimmed and well-assembled, the level of fit and finish better than you might expect for the price knowing money also got spent on the engineering. You might argue the instruments and switches benefit from Audi influence, or the other way round since VW owns Audi.
Heated sport seats are standard up front with a fair range of adjustment, long cushions for long-legged support, excellent bolstering that contains you without restricting movement or entry and exit, and comfort for all-day drives. Leather is available yet we find the standard cloth better breathing and a bit less slippery if you're of slender build.
The rear seats are designed for three-across seating, but as usual this is better for slim adults or children; more bolstering might be beneficial for some passengers but would compromise flexibility. There are three adjustable headrests, reading lights, cupholders, and storage bins, but the side windows open only on four-door models (the seats and space are the same). It may not be a long car but it is roomy; we put four 6-plus-footers in a moonroof model with no complaints thanks to the hatchback roofline.
Both front seats slide forward for entry/exit and with big side doors make the two-door a realistic proposition. With the narrow part of the split-folding rear seat behind the driver, a tall driver with the seat well back can still carry longer loads and two rear passengers, or one passenger in back and really long things over a reclined front seat.
A tilt and telescoping column with a flat-bottom, heavily contoured steering wheel, a good dead pedal and nearby brake and shifter allow anyone from 5-foot to 6-foot, 5 inches to find a comfortable driving position. Any option pack adds controls to both wheel spokes and automatics have shift buttons behind, so it's rare to need to remove a hand from the wheel.
Gauges are basic white-on-black analog with large engine and road speed, and 270-degree sweep fuel and temperature inside them. A central display handles trip computer and radio data, exterior temperature, door-open warnings and so forth. The audio and navigation systems are new for 2011, MP3/iPod compatible, most touch-screen and Bluetooth controls are roof mounted. Climate control is three-ring simple and unlike many cars each of the center vents can be closed independent of the other.
Storage is reasonably good. The sides of the bin ahead of the shifter double as places to brace a knee, door pockets have good space and bottle holder contours, but the center-console under-armrest room is good for little more than a smartphone and pack of smokes.
Outward visibility is very good. Outside mirrors are low and the inside high enough that neither blocks any vision even on climbing switchbacks. The bottom of the windshield is unobstructed the full width of the dash and the top is high for an excellent view forward, and the rear pillars are so far away they don't compromise quarter views.
Behind the seats there is 15 cubic feet of trunk space; a bit less below the cargo cover. Folding the rear seats expands that to more than 40 cubic feet bettering some SUVs. The cargo area also has tie-down loops, grocery bag hooks, three baby-seat tethers, a multitude of cubby holes underneath and a surprise below: the spare tire and wheel are identical to the other four so you avoid temporary-spare or run-flat speed limits and wondering where the flat tire will go.
The GTI is a hoot to drive, whether ferrying kids about or resorting to hooliganism. The synergy makes it balanced, capable and a great blend, even if other cars have more speed or higher handling limits.
With a small turbocharger on the 2-liter four-cylinder, response is immediate and the power is gratifying at any speed. Peak horsepower is 200 hp and maximum torque 207 lb-ft, both inferior to the MazdaSpeed3, Mitusbishi Ralliart and the Subaru Impreza WRX. Those cars are quicker but rate about 20-percent lower fuel economy, and the all-wheel drive Ralliart and WRX are heavier. Honda's Civic Si non-turbo matches horsepower but falls behind on torque and economy. Hyundai's rear-drive Genesis coupe 2-liter turbo is slightly more powerful and less economical, and not quite as refined as the GTI.
Underway, that refinement counts for a lot. All 207 lb-ft is available from 1800 rpm to 5000, and max power from 5100-6000, so there is virtually nowhere on the rev band without plenty of urge. Officially, the engine goes to 6500 rpm, smoothly and with a pleasant snarl from the tailpipes, but on more than one occasion the tach needle on a DSG car sailed right off to 7000 rpm under full throttle. The abundant torque and flexibility make it easy to drive, the willingness and lack of torque steer makes you enjoy it.
A 6-speed manual is standard and properly setup for the car's use and broad powerband. The double-clutch DSG, essentially a 6-speed automated manual (no clutch pedal, shift only if you wish) is available, cracks off gear-changes faster than humans, dropping the 0-60 time by 1/10 of a second. It even has the ubiquitous launch control but you don't want to make a habit of using it. We tend to prefer manual gearboxes with small turbocharged engines.
Fuel economy for the GTI is an EPA-estimated 21/31 mpg City/Highway with manual gearbox, 24/32 mpg with the DSG transmission.
There are few drawbacks to either gearbox. The manual might give up one real-world mpg. The DSG requires a sensitive right foot: the combination of electronic throttle, boost and gearbox control means a fine line between asking for a little more power and instead the car downshifting, going on boost and delivering substantially more power than you wanted.
MacPherson-strut front and coil/link rear suspension, both with hollow antiroll bars and sticky summer tires ensure the GTI sticks to the ground. In this respect, the GTI gives up nothing in performance to the competition and generally delivers a more civilized, compliant ride, in part because it's lighter than anything but the Civic Si. You can make it louder, make it stiffer, or add your own 19-inch wheels (an option in Europe where road surfaces are better) but you risk giving up some civility that makes the GTI an everyday driver or interstate cruiser.
Although the GTI is front-wheel drive, it does not suffer from torque-steer like the MazdaSpeed3. The GTI seems able to put down full power under almost any circumstances. The steering is direct, nicely weighted and transmits a good idea what the front tires are doing, and the brakes are responsive and stable. Some of the competition may post higher cornering limits or braking distances but the margins won't be substantial and they all cost more.
The sixth-generation Volkswagen GTI returns the driving fun of the first two iterations while retaining the practical versatility of a hatchback, decent operating economy, and a compact footprint. For enthusiasts with a budget for just one car that has to do everything you'd be hard-pressed to find fault with it.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com following his test drive of a GTI near Los Angeles.
Volkswagen GTI 2-door ($23,690); GTI 4-door ($24,290).
Options As Tested
Sunroof package ($1,750).
Volkswagen GTI 2-door ($23,690).
2011 Volkswagen GTI Information
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