By on August 31, 2011

Everybody agrees that the Volkswagen GTI is a great car. Except for the US-market MkI, which was underpowered. And the Mk2, which was really underpowered. Don’t the forget the Mk2 16V, which was wayyy overpriced and over-complicated. And the MkIII, which had no business calling itself a GTI, not with that chunky VR6 under the hood and the super-soft factory suspension. The Mk4? I heard it was a bit of a wallowing pig, and everything fell off it. That Mk5 seemed to be a hell of a car, except it was down on power compared to everything else in the segment and it had a large magnet in the front bumper which inexorably dragged it to the nearest VW service department.

If I understand the conventional wisdom, the only GTI which everyone seems to like is the original round-light German-market MkI GTI. And since almost nobody in North America has driven one, it’s possible they are just fooling themselves.

When exactly was the GTI great, anyway?

Five minutes in this MkVI GTI will show you the answer to that question, so come along with me as I enter the fast portion of VW’s Virginia press loop. This is from memory, not from video, so I apologize if I leave anything out.

We’ll start with a 150-degree off-camber right-hander. Too hot! The GTI plows for a moment until we remove all brake input and let the outside edge of the tire catch. Now it’s full-throttle along a long sweeping downhill left-hander. The end of the turn is blind but keep your foot in it. At the bottom of the hill there’s an odd dip that completely upset the Beetle and caused the Golf R to compute ferociously as the four driven wheels argued amongst themselves.

The GTI, on the other hand, just doesn’t care. Whomp down just before the bumpstops. This feels like a world-class shock tune, the steering stays straight, and we stay compressed up a short, steep, full-throttle hill before cresting and heading downhill right, then left. Rebound damping is outstanding, so much so that I want to find the people who engineered the CTS-V and make them drive THIS Volkswagen on THIS route. Turns out you can beat computer shocks with plain ones…

…except these are computer shocks, too, as this GTI has some kind of three-way adjustment and I have it set to “Sport”. We’ll make a mental note to drive one without the fancy stuff. (Note: This is the result of me misreading my post-drive notes. The Golf R had the adjustable shocks, the GTI and GLI did not. However, I’m not a fan of post-release editing so I am leaving the mistake in. – JB)

Speaking of fancy stuff, note that the DSG has been flawless so far, holding the right gear when needed and seamlessly helping the engine along despite just being left in “S”. Why waste time paddling the wheel shifters when the transmission is so smart on its own? The exhaust note is multi-dimensional and it stutters almost like a boxer engine before blipping, F1-style, into the next gear without a whiff of flywheel effect. It may be one of the first dual-clutch transmissions, but it’s still perhaps the most appealing one.

Now we have a series of fast switchbacks down a hill. The guys from Bigtime Magazine who were tailgating us on the state highway a few minutes ago aren’t even visible in the mirror. This is an excellent place to try going flat in third, and we’re on the way to doing it ARRRGGGHHH THERE IS AN ELDERLY WOMAN PLANTING FLOWERS BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD well the brakes, honestly, could stand a little more pad area or a more aggressive compound. The calipers from the Golf R would be nice to have.



Now there’s some soft, heat-related travel in the left pedal but it doesn’t matter. Stomp the ABS a bit for a sharp 120-degree left. Too hot again. Would be nice to have just a slightly more aggressive tire on this thing. Unless we make a change here we will hit a mailbox at about fifty mph, so brush the brake left-footed and roootate just a touch. The computer allows for a second or so of left-foot braking before entering Sudden Acceleration Mode and cutting spark/fuel/whatever. That’s nice to have, and remember that the real advantage of DSG isn’t the shift speed but rather the ability to balance the car on both pedals.

Now we have a long straight followed by a wide-radius blind right-hander and sharper left-hander running beneath an overpass. In the R and Beetle this wasn’t really flat-out, but in the GTI you can hold your throttle/breath/nuts all the way to a late entry of the second turn. Doing so requires that you grind the outside tire to the squealing semi-limit very close to gravel. There’s plenty of feedback through the steering, and the level of effort involved is an accurate reflection of the number of small stones beneath the tread block closest to the shoulder. It inspires confidence. We could pick up 1 or 2 mph next time.

Now it’s time to hustle up and down a narrow road before hanging it out for a third-gear downhill leftie. All the way down, the GTI responds to mild throttle adjustments by pointing the nose in or out just a touch. If we get a bit ham-handed with the wheel, the DSC light will come on but it’s not inclined to get involved until we do.

The Golf R didn’t really feel fast enough on this road, since the binary stop/turn/go technique demanded by its weight and drivetrain showed up the engine’s deficiencies. The GTI, on the other hand, is more than fast enough. If anything, it’s brakes that we need back here; the 2.0T can push the little car just a bit faster than it can stop. On a racetrack, the problem would be even more pronounced.

Take a look around the interior. It’s standard VW fare, available with a few extras if you so desire. The cloth seats are, to many people, an indispensible part of the GTI experience, but some people will insist on leather. Your humble author is not qualified to judge the minute distinctions between different Volkswagen plastics the way that many Euro-fans are. I had two Phaetons and compared to them the GTI sucks. I also had a 1990 Fox, and compared to that it seems quite nice. In between, I had a 2000 Golf GLS 1.8T four-door, which I bought for invoice and sold with 23,000 miles for a grand under invoice, and that seems about the same as the GTI, interior-wise. So there you go.

Let’s return to the drive. The GTI can do what the Beetle and Golf R can’t. It can make you want to go faster. It can involve you. It can be steered, braked, and accelerated in a linear, predictable, but still joyful fashion. The controls are properly weighted, the rest of the car doesn’t distract from the mission, and it feels like a high-quality piece. These cars are no longer exactly cheap, but they are a good value.

Most importantly, the obvious speed gap between this GTI and some of the competition doesn’t matter so much when the experience of driving the car is so delightful. Yes, a Mazdaspeed 3 is faster; no, I wouldn’t dream of buying an MS3 instead. It would be nice if the GTI were five hundred pounds lighter, but we live in a world where something like that simply isn’t going to happen. No time soon, anyway.

If the GTI is so wonderful — and it is, it truly is — why doesn’t it win first place in the Intramural League? The obvious answer is that the GLI ended up being more satisfying for me, and we will discuss the reasons for it in the final article. In the meantime, however, at least we have the answer to “When, exactly, was the GTI so great?” That answer is: Right now.

This article is dedicated to my friend Kathy, a fast and furious little Mk5 GTI street racer from Houston who fearlessly reaches for top gear on downtown freeways and then reads Ross Bentley in bed, or so I’m told, anyway.

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103 Comments on “Volkswagen 2.0T Intramural League, Second Place: GTI DSG Four-Door...”


  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Best GTI is/was MK2 1.8 16V. First German mass produced engine with 4-valve head. It was almost comparable to rev-happy Japanese counterparts (4A-GE and D16A1) at the time.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 for Mr. Landers. I had one of these. It was light, quick and fun to drive. Downsides were most parts were 16v only so you HAD to go to the dealers, who knew that, so simple parts were quite expensive compared to the real world and/or other vw engines. There wasn’t much aftermarket for it. I recall plug wires being $120 a set compared to $35 for “non 16v” vw. Everything was like that.

      Two folks came by when I sold it. One was a musician who liked the looks of the car, the other a hardcore VW guy who showed up in a Corrado and we had a long conversation about G-Lader replacement.

      The G-Lader guy got the car-it wasn’t a bad car or unreliable, but a non enthusiast would have a horrible time of it….

      On another thread, in our family….

      2 VW Diesel Rabbits, one German one PA….German car lasted longer.
      1 VW Scirocco, Callaway Turbosystem- Proof that Colin Chapman was right about adding lightness.
      2 Jettas, one German, one Mexican…German car lasted longer.
      1 Passat, German VR6-decent, sold at 100k, still running around town.

      I think the German cars have higher quality parts/rubber/plastics.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    I have a 2008 GTI, with DSG, 52K miles and I love it. VW fixed the issues with the FSI engine in 2009 with the TSI engine. I have the old engine but it’s been fine. Would I buy a new GTI? I would, if I didn’t want a bigger car. The GTI is a great car, I dread the day that mine goes away due to old age or some dummy t-boning me at a intersection.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    ¿Dónde está el Golf R o GTI de tres puertas? Cinco es cojo. Tres es mejor. Más pequeños. Más ligero. Más fácil de manejar.

  • avatar

    Hilarious and accurate. Lines and Fluid were my first mod and I will definitely be putting a more aggressive pad on when the originals wear out.

    Surprised that the GLI won out, I am looking forward to seeing why.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      +1, Bender

      I for one would like to replace the lines/pads and wheels on my MkVI, but in every other metric: comfort, thrill, utility; this is the perfect car for those of us who weren’t born into wealth.

      I’m guessing that the GLI’s longer wheel base may have made it more planted, hence the numero uno with the intramurals. We’ll see tomorrow.

      Went back up to the mountains last weekend with my lil brother. Compared to the drive up to Canada by way of your neighborhood earlier this month, my driving wasn’t particularly spirited. But hitting some of the sweeps and dips, I do believe lil bro nearly soiled the passenger-side plaids.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    VW and Toyota seem to be the only two makes left that understand how to make simple controls. Everyone else is all about the beautifully crafted arrays of totally indecipherable, randomly placed buttons** but these two seem to be sticking to simple, logical, big and well-grouped.

    ** or, in the case of Ford, no buttons and a propensity to crash and/or stop responding randomly

    • 0 avatar
      fly2low

      I agree with you with you. That’s why my 2 purchase this year were a VW and a Toyota (Lexus).

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I noticed that in the newer Audis.

      I suppose it can’t be helped when you’re trying to play in that game; Lexus gets dinged for having “plain” and “dour” controls that “look uninspired” and “dated”.

    • 0 avatar
      laphoneuser

      @psarhjinian (first post):

      I could not agree with you more, which is ONE of the reasons my ’03 Jetta will be replaced with either another Jetta (or GTI), OR the new Camry SE.

      I’m just so turned off by the complicated controls in cars of late. Even my Odyssey confuses me, and we’ve had it for four years!

  • avatar
    ExplodingBrain

    I have one of these cars (2010 GTI with DSG) and the article is a long (and well-written) way of saying this car is FUN TO DRIVE. Every day when I drive to work, I look forward to every minute of the drive.

    And I don’t care if the GLI is better, as I prefer hatchbacks anyway. :)

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Nice review!

    The only thing we need to know about how a modern car handles is it’s weight. The weight will let us know how quick it will respond in a emergency maneuver or and autocross setting and idea on how the weight will work the tires.

    • 0 avatar
      benzaholic

      WTF?

      The only thing we need to know is weight?
      OK. Here’s one for you.

      A currently available in the US two seater car weighs about 1,800 pounds.
      How do you like that handling and performance?
      Oh, it’s a smart fortwo.

      Weight is one of many factors.
      Suspension tuning, which Jack believes VW did an outstanding job on with this car, might be considered another somewhat important factor.

      • 0 avatar
        SunnyvaleCA

        The Lotus Elise weighs about 2000 pounds. I’ve heard that handles pretty well.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Normie’s right, and it’s not just the beer talking. I happen to have considerable experience in the realm of race car driving and the Smart will actually complete an autocross track in about 40% of a modern M5′s time. Performance is inversely proportional to weight, you guys. There are mathematical studies on this subject to prove it. I’ve personally delivered some of these documents.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      The lightest car I’ve ever driven weighed under 1,600 pounds.

      It rode like a rickshaw, turned like the Titanic, had body flex you could actually see with your own two eyes and started to overheat if you so much as thought about going over 50 mph.

      Weight is a factor, but almost every generation of car that has gained weight in the crash structure has cornered with much more stability than the previous generation.

      Now if they could only cut out the extra poundage in noise insulation they’ve added along with the stiffening.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    I’m very interested to read why Baruth puts the GLI in first place. That said, I’ve been somewhat lusting after a GTI for the past few months after driving one on a lark back in the spring. Damn, that car was *fun*.

    Count me in as one of the people who think the plaid seats are pretty retro-cool. I just shudder at the thought of dealing with the hair of my golden retriever and labrador retriever on cloth seats: at least with pleather it’s pretty easy to brush/vacuum up.

    I said in my comments about the Golf R that the MK VI GTI makes me smile like my MK IV R32 did – with the one exception being the missing beautiful exhaust note of the VR6. That said, every other facet of the MK VI GTI is so much better that I can gladly overlook it.

    The Autobahn packaged GTI is too pricey, but for me the Nav+Sunroof package at around $28k is reasonable. Would be great if they’d include the DynAudio system on that package – that’s about the only reason I’d step up to the Autobahn. ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      Regarding the plaid seats: Right or wrong, one could argue these seats unnecessarily tie this car to the young buyer, and scare away the late 20s mid-level managers who are looking for a sporty ride but don’t want to be pegged boi racers.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      As an original owner of a Mark I Rabbit GTI (square headlights for the US), I don’t get the plaid seat thing, either. My GTI had a midnight blue interior with red striping down the center panel of each seat. I guess the plaid was a feature of the European GTI, but VW’s insistence on its heritage here in the US always has struck me quite odd. Oh well, it’s not big deal — either you like it or you don’t. I had a Mark V GTI with the plaid, and now have a Mark VI with black leather. I prefer the latter, but will admit that the cloth seats are more comfortable.

      • 0 avatar
        bill h.

        I had one of the Mk 1 Rabbit GTis as well, with the midnight blue interior. Nice seats for long drives.

        The other feature of the interior (besides the American spec Rabbit dashboard) that I do miss was the golfball-dimpled gearshift knob. Not so much: the gear lever boot, with was made of cheap vinyl that cracked every other year or so, necessitating replacement.

      • 0 avatar
        mikedt

        my first car, a 1979 Scirocco S, had the plaid seats so I’m quite enamored with the current seats.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      RE: labrador hair and the plaid, my 95 lb black lab’s fur bounces off the plaid with no problems. On the other hand, whenever I’ve dog-sat/road tripped with other people’s fair-coated dogs (goldens, yellow labs, yellow mixes) their fur seems to fuse with the fabric that requires industrial shop-vacs to only begins to remove.

      That said, I’m kicking myself for owning a large dog and a sedan prior to my hatch. Hatches seem to be immune to the destructive capability of a large dog.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Its true about light haired dogs… my Pug was banned from my GTI after one trip. Even her hair thats on my clothes gets stuck in the seat fabric like glue! I have to vacuum weekly.

  • avatar

    I love the fact that the US finally got a 4 Door GTi a few years ago (I think it was the MkV) and this latest review seems to help the case for buying one of these over an Accord. Now if I could just get my wife to like this better…

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    The GLI may win after 30 minutes behind the wheel, but I’ve owned both mexican and german built VW’s and will go with the one will win after a few months behind the wheel. I’ll go with the german ones every time. I know a lot of people say that’s bunk, but the number of assembly errors in my Jetta was unforgivable. I don’t know what’s going on down in Puebla, but I’ll never buy anything they build again. Maybe Tennessee will work out better.

  • avatar
    vbofw

    Nice review. Certainly looking forward to the GLI writeup. If the GLI offers that engaging a drive, has upgraded plastics, and also offers that ree-eediculously sized Jetta backseat, it seems like quite the value proposition.

  • avatar
    tedward

    Great review of one of my favorite cars. I’m fascinated to see why you rank the GLI higher, I haven’t seen any comparo’s featuring it yet, but it makes sense. The new Jetta should be a better platform for a performance tuned car, wider, longer, cheaper, lighter in the right places and without the stiffness compromised hatch setup. I’m still a hatchback guy, but the GLI should be the performance bargain in the VW lineup, not the hot Golf.

    I understand why you rate the DSG so highly btw, especially given your performance oriented driving reviews, but I think that at these weights and power levels having a stick is still rewarding enough to be the preferred choice. Also, I think the MkVI manual is the best yet in a modern VW, certainly better than the similar 6-speed in the tdi’s.

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      The potential repair costs alone would scare me away from the DSG, even if I wasn’t a manual fan. You have the initial $1100 for it up front and then google searches seem to indicate dealers don’t repair them, they just bolt in a new ones. Which after warranty is up will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000. Ouch.

      • 0 avatar
        Robstar

        I’ve heard the same thing about the DSG repair costs. This is the thing that keeps me away from CVT’s as well. I’ll take a standard stick or standard 4/5/6 speed automatic on history/reliability & repair costs….

        This is important to me as I drive cars into the ground.

      • 0 avatar
        dingram01

        I had the same butterflies in my stomach when I was about to pull the trigger on my 09 TDI Sportwagen. But it seems the early bugs in DSGs have been ironed out — few complaints from more recent model year owners on TDIClub forums.

        There are certainly enough conventional automatics that don’t live long lives to erase any supposed idea of innate reliability advantages there.

        Not taking anything away from a manual transmission — fun!!! — but wanted to note that VW’s DSG does seem to have achieved much better reliability of late.

        (I got mine because other family members aren’t stick drivers and I wanted a car everyone could drive. Not that I let them.)

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        VW dealers dont repair the trans because VW corporate doesnt want them to, the item is a replaceable service item under warranty. But thats just the main tranny, the mechatronics unit is replaceable… mine was replaced under warranty. That $5k price is only at the dealership, and I think by now every TTAC reader knows to avoid VW dealer service departments out of warranty like the plague.

        But do some research on them, tuners have already cracked them and rebuilt them with better parts, new clutch packs, etc, to handle more power. Supposedly they are not that much more complicated than a regular manual. My mechanic said he would tackle it if/when it breaks after the 100k warranty runs out. Or swap it out for a manual! :)

  • avatar
    Quentin

    This review makes me miss my MKV GTI (4door, 6MT, plaid seats, 18″ huffs, factory aero kit). It was amazing how that car could bring so much joy and rage.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    So the original US-spec Mk I GTI (83-84 for you young ‘uns) was underpowered? The car magazines of the day didn’t seem to think so. Road & Track called it the “best automotive news” of the year, and even dowdy Consumer Reports said “it was the fastest car we’ve tested in years”. The Mk II GTI 8V (85-91) had 10-12 hp more, but slightly taller gearing and 100 lbs made it slower under 50mph. However, it was an exceptionally well-balanced car.

    Cars are ‘relative’ not absolute. And relative to the other cars on the market during the mid-80s, both VW GTI’s stood out. They really stood out. Another example, today’s Ford Fusion is a better car than a 25-yr old Ford Taurus V6. But in 1986, the Taurus V6 stood out compared to other cars on the market.

    Today’s GTI is a great car–but priced in the hi-20s, it should be–it is close to BMW pricing. The 80s GTI’s cost a lot less than BMWs…

    So, this columm should be called, “TTAC as I see it”

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Tom,

      I haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about. All of the Big 3 car mags complained about the Rabbit being significantly down on power compared to the Euro car, and up on weight. If CR thought it was the fastest car they’d tested in years, they must have failed to have tested any of the contemporaneous V-8 American cars, six-cylinder BMWs, Benz V-8s, or any number of other cars which were faster. A Citation X-11 would give a GTI a run for its money. The turbo Chryslers were quicker as well. Actually, a Rampage 2.2 would run neck and neck with a GTI, and that was a pickup truck.

      You might also want to take a look at what a Rabbit GTI cost in 1983/4. It wasn’t cheap.

      I acknowledge and appreciate what you are saying about relative virtues in automobiles over the years, but in this case I believe you are overstating the case for the MkI GTI.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        This site has solid performance data for the Rabbit GTI:

        http://www.rabbitgtipage.com/stats.html

        1982 Charger 2.2 performance data:

        http://www.edmunds.com/dodge/charger/history.html

        Effectively identical to the GTI. The Charger Shelby non-turbo carbed car was quicker still.

      • 0 avatar
        bill h.

        Yup, with only 90 hp on tap, even with close ratio gearing and about 2000 lb, you could do just so much with the original Rabbit GTi. My top speed seemed to be around 105 mph. The Euro cars (including the 1st issue ones from the mid-70s with the 1.6 liter) could crank up around 110 hp and top out at 180 km/hr (112 mph), but that was said to be at the expense of off-the-line torque.

        A grad school friend had an Omni GLH at around the same time–his car was definitely more powerful and faster, but the refinement question was very much advantage GTI. The overall fun factor (as a package) was definitely figured out by VW. And then, they only came in the two-door hatches–if I bought one today I’d still forego the extra doors, which tend to thicken the C-pillars too much and change the styling balance.

      • 0 avatar
        retrolab

        So I’m just going to imagine then that my us-spec mk1 rabbit with 1.8t swap has covered the bases (original engine was in fact pretty underpowered)

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      As stated above, I had an ’83 Rabbit GTI. It cost me $8400 brand new (at 17.98% interest — ouch!), weighed a little over 2000 pounds, and had a whole whopping 90 HP. It was slow by most standards of the day: 0-60 in 10.6 seconds according to Road & Track. That was slow even back then, but it was still incredibly fun to drive and felt fast because its excellent outward visibility, short hood, and almost no sound deadening.

      Close to BMW pricing? Spec out a 128i with the same equipment a GTI has today and it is nearly $10,000 more. Watch that gap widen with a 135i, which will go over the 40,000 mark quickly.

      Why was the Mark I GTI fun and legendary? Because like how “Citizen Cane” changed everything regarding motion pictures when it came out in 1941, the GTI was so fundamentally different from everything else in the landscape that it invented a whole new genre. The Pony cars of the time were emasculated, and all other vehicles were reflective of the terrible economic conditions seen because of the Arab Oil embargoes and galloping inflation of the late 70s that spilled over into the first years of the 80s. The GTI was different in that it focused on driving dynamics — the clutch was wonderful, the engine willingly screamed at high RPMS instead of grated, the suspension was sublime, the seats came from Recaro, it came with 60-series Pirelli P6 tires on handsome alloy rims, and it rewarded the driver in ways that almost any other car of the day, other than perhaps Porsches, could.

      Dodge developed the Omni GLH as a domestic response to the success of the GTI. It was certainly faster, but very, very crude in execution.

      GTI aficionados mourned the continuing bloat of the Mark II and III, and were dismayed at the terrible reliability of the Mark IV. It’s only the re-invention of the GTI in the Mark V variant that the original spirit, if not quite with the same level of friskiness that the Mark I at least was acknowledged by VW.

      • 0 avatar
        Atomicblue

        LeeK – You hit the nail on the head! I owned an ’84 Omni GLH. It was the first year (mid year introduction)of the GLH and had the non-turbo HO 2.2 making 110 HP. I discovered autocross and had a blast with the car. The GTI was in the same SCCA stock class at the time and the cars were closely matched on the track but felt very different. I swapped cars for a run with one of my GTI rivals. When he got out of my GLH he was impressed with the power and said “if I had that kind of power, I’d never loose”. I was equally impressed as a young 19 year old kid with the refinement and quality of the GTI.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        @LeeK:

        Don’t forget the turbo compacts that GM did in the mid-80s. I got one for a graduation present – a Buick Skyhawk T-Type turbo. It was rated at 140 hp, which was a load of BS, much like the HP ratings for the Grand National.

        Trust me, that car would damn near smoke any contemporary Trans Am or Z28 of the day…that car made me a lot of money. Too bad the turbo blew up at 30,000 miles. I haven’t voluntarily owned a GM product since.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        VWs have gotten a LOT more expensive relatively speaking. I had an ’84 Jetta GLI, it was just about exactly 1/2 the price of an ’84 318i new. It had pretty much the same performance envelope, but was nowhere near as tank-like in build quality. The German-built GLI was far better than the American-bult GTI though. A good bit mroe expensive too.

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    I really want to like this car, but I can’t quite seem to balance it’s merits with my personal experience of VW’s attitude towards building decent cars. Give this new one 2 years, see how many horror stories emerge, and then I think we will have a better picture of the relative merits of VW’s supposed new push towards quality.

    That said, I do like the overall styling quite a bit, and the interior seems nice enough in a generic sort of way. But no plaid seats, please- I’m not into intentional body rusting, air-bag suspensions, or buying new Radiohead releases on vinyl.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      I think the MK6 has been out for 2 years, already

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      Pinto-

      I don’t think you’re going to read too many horror stories about the MK VI GTIs, to be honest. I have several friends with MK V Golfs and GTIs with few issues, and I know of two personally with 2010 GTIs that have been bulletproof so far.

      As I’ve stated in earlier threads – something changed in Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt in mid-2008, because there is a marked improvement in overall reliability from that point forward.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      The previous-gen MkV’s had TSI engines out for model years 2008.5/2009. The MkVI is a very incremental change from the MkV’s, and has been out for over two years.

      My ’10 has put down ~25k flawless miles, and the plaid seats kick ass.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      I had a Mark V GTI and it was flawless in the 18 months I owned it. I now have a Mark VI GTI and it too has been flawless in 15 months of ownership. I know that isn’t a long enough term to convince those who are VW-shy, but the statistics at True Delta and even Consumer Reports have shown that VW is slowly improving. The Mark IV debacle really hurt the brand in the US.

      And to be fair, I traded in the Mark V for a 2008 R32 which was a lemon. Seven dealership visits for a check engine light that turned out to be the impetus for a total recall of all 5000 US-spec R32s for a evaporative capture system problem which unfortunately they never could fix in my car.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    I had a Mk II eight-valve GTI, an ’86. It was one of the last Westmoreland cars, and I sold it at 60,000 miles after losing count of its defects at about 60 (honestly). But after I sold it in disgust, I missed it.

    That car went out the door for exactly $9800 plus tax, etc. It had air, 5-speed and manual steering. But everything from the handling to the steering feel to the engine note was so communicative, so trustworthy — ironically, so GERMAN. After that experience, I went Japanese ever since. They don’t break, but they don’t feel the same either.

    If only VW could BUILD what they design (with a nod to the favorable recent True Delta numbers), and if only they bothered to support it after the sale. Unfortunately, I need my car to provide transportation.

  • avatar
    handplane

    Jack, you’re a youngster. Tom makes a good point. In 1983 I bought a NEW Stanton GTI, and I would maintain that, normed for its era, it was certainly not underpowered. Sure, you can dig-up some old test results and find some faster, not-so-expensive cars, but day-in, day-out the GTI was a winner in the suburban shuffle.

    To this day I feel that car was the most enjoyable of all I’ve owned, edging out my 2000 Civic Si, which I happily revved for 8 years until it was stolen (what a surprise!) Today I drive a 2003 GLI, which has a much different character than either the MkI GTI or the 6th Gen Si. Although I like my 24v VR6, I’m looking forward to Jack’s final installment to see what he says about this latest incarnation. Will terminal understeer ruin the experience?

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m really hoping that Baruth’s GLI review is not as predictable as I am expecting.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s predictable about the GLI ending up in first place, seeing as it’s based on the new, much-criticized Jetta?

      Changes made to cut weight and cost do, intentionally or unintentionally, lend the car a more direct feel, based on my time in a 2.5. But still I would never have predicted first place for the GLI.

      Jack’s “Mr. Euro” would never believe that a Jetta designed for cheapskate Americans and built in Mexico would win out over the made-in-Germany-for-Germans GTI and Golf R.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        @MK:

        I don’t mean it’s predictable that the GLI won. I’m thinking “predictable” more in the way that Charlie84 wrote.

        I don’t really want to criticize before it’s even posted, but I’m worried that the review will focus less on why the GLI is the best and more on why auto journalists and “basement-dwelling” enthusiasts are out-of-touch, no girlfriend, can’t drive worth a d@mn morons for not liking the new NCS.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Michael – I have looked on true delta and the 2011 Jetta is 50lb heavier than the 2011 Golf/GTi. So I went on VW’s website and the Jetta is 2804lb and the GTi 3024lb, so you are right. Can you update truedelta? I find the dimension info on truedelta very interesting especially as it goes back to 2006 models so it lets me compare my current car with those I am looking at.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      I certainly find it surprising that a de-contented US spec Jetta, so maligned in the automotive press, can rise above all the other VWs that Jack drove with the GLI edition. The GLI returns the independent rear suspension and upgrades the interior with some soft-touch plastics. But being a bit heavier than the GTI, I am eagerly looking forward to Jack’s comments as to how and why it came out on top.

    • 0 avatar
      Charlie84

      Predictable? As in “predictably contrarian”? I always enjoy reading Jack’s reviews, but he’s becoming sort of a one-man Pitchfork Media of auto journalism.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Personally, I’m hoping for some lively stories about chasing girljournos, waking up in teenage girls’ beds along with the now-required hoonage. Bonus points for doing it all while texting.

      Great review, Jack. You’ve really captured the plain old driving fun this car encourages.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Doesn’t the new Jetta have a pretty good suspension, despite all it’s other faults?

    • 0 avatar

      I enjoyed it. But the GLI has a totally different rear suspension, multi-link in place of the regular Jetta’s beam axle.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        So, given the already-excellent ride and the IRS, and that the NCS Jetta (don’t know about the GLI) is much lighter than the Golf, should we be surprised that it’s, well, more Baruthian?

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      From reviews, it seems the suspension is as capable as the MkV, despite losing the independent rear setup. Steering, on the other hand, is receiving criticism for losing feel and on-center precision. Few reviews ever complained of the steering in the MkV.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        from what I understand a lot of the steering feel differences in modern vw’s (those with electromechanical racks) is down to software tuning and not a physical limitation. Complaints in this department should be fixable at a pretty low cost.

  • avatar
    MikeInCanada

    I’m 40(ish) and I think that I’d probably really like this car – my wife however associates it with the boy racers in the neighborhood.

    I guess that’s why they make the A3 FWD – for people like me – and their wives….

    • 0 avatar
      pg123456789

      I just got rid of a 2 year old FWD A3 S-Line Manual for a VW GTI Manual. Jack’s right. The GTI’s suspension tuning, ride and handling is better than an A3 (which has brittle ride, lifeless steering and uninspiring handling). Shame Audi! The GTI is also quieter and interior definitely matches an Audi interior. Don’t waste your money paying for the badge … you look silly.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Boy racers drive Civics… the GTI is too pricey for them these days! Almost everyone I see with a GTI is pretty much like me… 35-45yo in some type of engineering field, usually married with kids too since they need a usable back seat. The 4-dr GTI is downright practical!

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    I’d take an 1800 lbs Mercedes over 3600 lbs Mercedes anyday. :)

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    VW used to offer the Jetta Sportwagen with the 2.0T. If they brought that engine back to the Sportwagen and gave it the GTI’s steering and suspension components, I can’t think of a car I would want more as a daily driver. I’m guessing I am one of the few, though.

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez

    What made the MK2 16v gti overcomplicated (see first paragraph)? Just wondering, as I once had a 16v gli.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The contemporaneous reviews blasted the cost, weight, and lack of performance from the 1.8 16v. The 2.0 16v addressed some of these issues, but I can still recall C/D droning on about the “nose-heaviness” of the car.

      • 0 avatar
        Charlie84

        And I can recall a recent episode of Fifth Gear in which Tiff Needell drove a rather tired example of a MK2 16v and got out of the car raving about how beautifully balanced it is.

        I suspect that a Mk2 with a freshened suspension and a light sprinkling of mods, could easily live up to the legend and possibly even make for a great poor man’s E30 M3.

  • avatar
    Charlie84

    A lot of the MKVI GTI’s virtues can also be found in my daily driver MKVI Golf 2.5, minus that wonderful turbo four (in fact, the 2.5 5-cyl is probably the main reason I leased instead of outright purchased my Golf). It’s amazing what simple attributes like great outward visibility, great seats, a manual gearbox and a well-damped suspension can do for a car.

    I tested it against a Mazda3 hatchback and while the Mazda had a more “sporty” (yes, in quotation marks) feel to it, I was immediately comfortable driving the Golf considerably faster.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    This car is definitely still in the running when I shop for my second car/commuter car next year. The Mustang V6 and Genesis Coupe, and New New Beetle Turbo are also on the list and it will be interesting to compare. Automatic transmission will be a requirement and the lack of paddle shift or DSG in the Mustang is kind of a let down considering the performance on tap from the new V6. This is an area where the GTI has a huge advantage with it’s DSG even though it is significantly down on power and acceleration compared to the Mustang/Genesis.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Well, a GTI with a DSG isnt down on acceleration from those cars, especially if you are comparing auto-to-DSG. I have seen a few tests that put the GTI with DSG at 5.8 secs 0-60, which is about the best I have seen for a stick shift Mustang or Gen coupe. Dont let the 200hp rating fool you, the gearing helps a lot, and a chip will bump it up nicely too.

  • avatar
    Loser

    I remember new car shopping with a friend back in 1985. He had narrowed it down between a GTI or a Corolla GTS. They were both great cars but I thought the Toyota was a better package and it was rear drive. He went with the Toyota for the same reasons. It’s a shame Toyota doesn’t still build these.

  • avatar
    Rada

    Sadly VWs are still quite a bit porky. Why can’t they just build a car that is at least mid-pack in terms of weight?

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Great review, I am glad you enjoyed the GTI and the DSG so much!!
    Sounds to be that if the GTI had stickier tires and maybe slightly better brakes it would have been about perfect. With a stage-1 tune it would probably really clean up.

    My bet is that the GLI will win this because it has a regular stick shift, which would appeal more to Jack’s skill level as a driver. No doubt the 6-speed will be more engaging regardless of the ultimate performance.

  • avatar

    Nice review ++driving reflections!

    I think I might need you to be the Editor/John Frankenheimer for the car chase scenes in the book I’m working on.

  • avatar
    pg123456789

    I just got rid of a 2 year old FWD A3 S-Line Manual for a VW GTI Manual. Jack’s right. The GTI’s suspension tuning, ride and handling is better than an A3 (which has brittle ride, lifeless steering and uninspiring handling). Shame Audi! The GTI is also quieter and interior definitely matches an Audi interior. Don’t waste your money paying for the badge … you look silly.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      pg -

      I drive an ’06 A3 Sport that I beefed up a bit with a rear sway bar and better tires…but you’re absolutely right on the money with your description. The ride is brittle (great way to put it, btw), the steering is flat and until I put in the rear sway, tires and a front dogbone the handling was piss poor. It’s not great, but it’s better than it was.

      I would actually argue that the MK6 GTI interior bests the Audi in several ways: softer materials, better steering wheel, far more comfortable seats (the A3 seats are my least favorite part of the car) and for some reason, I think there’s more width in the foot wells.

      I love my A3, but damn, the GTI is a lot of fun. I’m really hoping that Audi kicks it up several notches with the upcoming MQB A3. Sadly, we won’t get the Sportback, but if it looks close to the A3 Sedan Concept both inside and out and improves the chassis dynamics, I’ll be sold.

      • 0 avatar
        pg123456789

        I’m glad someone agrees. I loved it by A3 for a short while, then it started annoying me with how bad it felt and handled. I even drove others to make sure it wasn’t the car. But the brittleness of the ride and wooden handling became clunky and crashy as the car got to about 2 year. I can put up with a hard ride, but couldn’t forgive the steering and handling. Audi isn’t really the quality that everyone makes it out to be. Actually, I needed a small wagon, and the A4 and A6 Avants didn’t impress me either.

        Yes, the seats and driving position was terrible too. I could never get comfortable in it. I could never get the so-called S-Line leather seats with all the extra bolstering adjusted right with the steering wheel and the pedals that were too offset to the right. Jason Plato from Fifth Gear summed it up nicely in this video of an Audi RS6, exactly how I felt ….. http://fwd.channel5.com/fifth-gear/videos/shoot-outs/shoot-out-mercedes-e63-amg-vs-audi-rs6

        Did Audi upgraded the A3′s EA113 to the EA888 engine or improved the driving mechanics since the Mark VI came out? Did they just add the diesel? It could still be a generation behind the Golf. The Mark VI GTI really impressed me after a drive, although a touch smaller. Superior in every way, especially value … although how it looks is arguable and depends on the person. If you want a cheap FWD Audi, buy a VW. If you want a cheap VW, buy a Skoda or Seat (not avail in the USA).

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        The ride is brittle (great way to put it, btw). . .

        That description also works well for similar generation A4s that I’ve driven.

      • 0 avatar
        hreardon

        pg -

        Yes, Audi did upgrade to the FSI as a 2008.5 changeover, but other than that the rest of the car stayed more or less the same.

        As for size – if you do a comparison you’ll actually find that the GTI has more interior room, especially rear passenger headroom, than the A3. Where the A3 comes out ahead is in hatch/trunk space because it is more of a wagon.

        @ RPN’s comment about the previous (B7) A4, I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve driven quite a few B7 A4s and while they feel more planted due to the better suspension setup and quattro, they still had a tendency to crash a bit on bad pavement and get somewhat unsettled.

        IMO, the only viable step up after a GTI is a B8 S4. That car is fabulous in just about every way. Not quite as “fun” as the GTI, but a great, great vehicle.

  • avatar
    itanibro

    As a 2011 4-door GTI owner, I have to agree with this article…for the most part. The car is indeed a hoot to drive, but what’s even better is the gas mileage. I have the manual transmission as well.

    When I’m simply cruising to work at 55 mph, I average 36.4 (on slightly hilly roadways too). Cruising at 65 mph gives me 33 mpg, and 74 mph brings 31 mpg. All of this for a car that drives, looks, feels, and sounds amazing.

    Interior quality is first rate, as are fit and finish. All in all, I am very pleased with this car and plan on driving it for years to come. Highly suggested!

  • avatar
    lhx

    Great review of the GTI. I just bought a 2011 2door DSG with sunroof and touchscreen stereo. No nav or leather or HID lights.

    I was coming from a 2005 RX-8 6speed. I’ve owned a 98 Integra GSR, 99 LS1 Z28, a truck, the RX-8, and this little gem.

    Every single time I get behind the wheel of my GTI I just start GRINNING. The right amount of torque, an auto gear box that turned a die-hard manual fan into a believer, and much more practicality than the RX-8. And great gas mileage considering my lead foot.

    I just LOVE this car.

  • avatar
    dwight

    Hilarious and fun review. Now I’m going to stay away from the car as I have driven one and know that I can’t afford the additional cost of speeding tickets on top of the car and insurance payments.

    Uh, just for comparison, when will you be getting your hands on a 2012 Civic SI?

  • avatar

    I loved the GTI when I test drove it, and the pricing is quite reasonable for what you get. Great build quality too.

    In the end I bought a 2011 Miata.

  • avatar
    donatolla

    “it had a large magnet in the front bumper which inexorably dragged it to the nearest VW service department”

    So *that’s* what it was.

  • avatar
    svan

    Please make this intramural thing an official category. It’s a great idea.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    A question: why wasn’t the A3 or TT included?

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Great car, but am I the only one who HATES the design of the wheels? The car is heavy enough without adding wheels that, to my eyes, makes it look even heavier and flat-footed.

    Then again, I drive a 2010 Golf 2.5 with a manual trans that has plastic wheel covers but tires with enough sidewall to actually help absorb bumps during my long daily freeway commute… so what do I know about styling?

    I used to have a 1991 Jetta GLI 16V. It was indeed a fun car and the Recaro seats and BBS wheels did ad some nice flair at the time. Without the haze of nostalgia, the new cars, even my base Golf, are superior in nearly every way. The GLI 16V had such short gearing and was so loud that at 65 mph one couldn’t even hear the radio. The interior looked pretty good at the time, but they rattled even when brand new. The Bosch fuel injection was total crap and if the car was hot it would surge and hunt for idle… considered “normal” for the time. The transmission was also quite weak. Freakin’ huge trunk, though, and I still remember those seats longingly. I drove the car from Ann Arbor to Nashville with nearly all of my worldly possessions in the trunk and while by body felt great from the seats my ears were nearly bleeding by the time I got there.

  • avatar
    littlehulkster

    The GTI is still way down on power compared to it’s competition and I will only believe it’s as reliable when I see the stats to back it up.

    I’m sorry, but there is no reason besides moronic VW fanboyism to take this car over a WRX or Mazdaspeed 3. When you delve into the used market, you find even more cars that would blow the doors off the GTI and shit on it’s hood.

    VW fanboys will bring up mods, but for the same price, you could have a WRX that would destroy this GTI on any street or track anywhere, and the rex wouldn’t spend half of it’s warranty period in the shop.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    littlehulkster -

    I don’t disagree with your points per se, but the beauty behind the GTI and one of the reasons for its success over the years is because it is a very refined, very adaptable car. It has a pretty broad appeal. You’re correct – it is not as hardcore as the WRX, but then again, VW never intended it to be.

    So I guess the one word I can use to explain why i would pick a GTI over a WRX is: refinement. I could live with a GTI as a daily driver. WRX – not so much.

  • avatar
    Hans B

    Sat in a 2011 WRX sedan today. Very nice but surprised that it had a 5-speed manual, when so many cars in this price range offer 6-speeds.

  • avatar

    I want my 1985 VW GTI “SunBurst”.

  • avatar
    jw304

    I bought a 2012 GTI about a month ago. It’s my first manual transmission car and I love it. I looked at most cars in this genre and liked the GTI the best. A major deciding factor was that I’m 6’6″ tall and fit the best in the GTI. I actually don’t even have the driver seat all the way back. I have been driving a 4cyl auto Accord LX for two years that I’ve now passed on to my wife. I know a WRX or MS3 is faster, but the GTI just felt the best to me, and in my opinion the interior was on another level. I also preferred the more conservative exterior styling vs the MS3.

    27, Engineer, Married, No kids


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