Volkswagen Golf GTI DSG Reviews

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

I don't know about you, but I've been feeling sorry for Volkswagen for a while now. VW didn't so much lose their mojo as strap it to the nose of a Titan IVB and fire it into deep space. No disrespect to the world's fifth most populous country, but was anyone really surprised when a Brazilian Golf turned out like German bobo de camarao? Now that Vee Dub's got THAT out of their system, here comes the new, Wolfsburg-built Golf GTI. It's an Old School hot hatch with a Masters in Engineering. Viva VW!

For reasons best left to The International Museum of Marketing Doublespeak, Volkswagen decided to begin their mission-critical US Golf refresh with a two-door. More's the pity. The fifth-gen four-door is a far more handsome beast than the coupe– if only because the Golf's rear portals soften the enormous disparity between the front windscreen's bottom edge and the side windows' lower boundary. This bizarre asymmetry pisses on the Golf's 32-year history of two-box harmony. The resulting rear end trades brand recognition for something vaguely Japanese– as if the Golf suddenly decided to play the Accordian. And then there's the front end's unresolved echo of Audi's unconscionable house snout…

If you're offended by the new GTI's jarring, over-reaching modernity, open the door and clock the retro-plaid seating surfaces. You can almost hear David Hasselhoff burning-up the German pop charts. The rest of the GTI's interior keeps faith with VW's noble history of crafting car cabins so dark they make Citizen Kane look like a romantic comedy. Thankfully, brushed aluminum accentuation abounds, and the quality of the polymers almost makes up for their dour demeanor. The switchgear's flimsy imprecision and the stereo's ectomorphic timbre are the last remaining vestiges of the Golf's multi-decade mediocrity.

Wrap your mitts around the GTI's squashed crown steering wheel and you'll soon know that beauty is in the right foot of the beholder. Fire-up the uber-Golf's in-line four and the delightful zizz blatting from the modest twin pipes foreshadows the hoonery to come. The GTI's 2.0-liter powerplant is a high-tech handbag, complete with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, inter-cooled turbo, drive-by-wire throttle and FSI direct injection. And here's the kicker: Wolfsburg's de-pimpers have bestowed its Dual Sequential Gearbox (DSG) upon America's mid-market motoring madmen, placing the reins to 200 horses in the GTI driver's fingertips. This, folks, is what the Brits call a serious piece of kit.

Serious as in seamless. With 207 ft-lbs. of torque from the basement (1800 rpm) to the penthouse (5000 rpm), and six gears available for your dining and dancing pleasure, the VW GTI DSG is an express elevator from any speed A to any speed B. We're talking Johnny Bravo quick; zero to sixty in 6.3 seconds and 14.8 seconds for the quarter. Whoa Mama! (OK, that's no better than a MINI Cooper S, but I don't remember anyone calling the other German brand's hot hatch slow.) The Vee Dub's power-on-demand paddles are an electro-mechanical all-areas VIP pass if ever there was one, facilitating the kind of instant-on maniacal acceleration normally reserved for $70k and up thoroughbreds.

The GTI's cornering is equally phenomenal. This time 'round, VW didn't skimp on the fundamentals; laser welding makes the GTI tight, a fully independent four-link rear suspension, coil springs, telescopic shocks and stabilizer bar make it right. While BMW's electro-mechanical steering system has about much feel as a phantom limb, the GTI's similarly-assisted rack-and-pinion helm delivers an endless stream of road info, excellent on-center feedback AND tightens the rack at speed to avoid paddle-disconnecting hand movements. When it's time for the madness to stop, the GTI's brakes are powerful, fade-free retards.

Bottom line: you can blast the new Volkswagen GTI DSG through a tight bend almost twice as quickly as you'd imagine possible– at least at first. Once you get used to the GTI's adhesive tenacity, once you accept the fact that the understeer slide justain'tgonnahappen.com, only the cleanliness of your license, children on board and the stupidity of fellow road users prevent you from endless adrenal indulgence. Although the GTI rides a bit like a proper sports car tied down with rubber bands, it's comfortable enough to enable a daily fast.

A combination of balls-out fun, affordability and everyday practicality made the original GTI a working class hero. In that sense, June's four-door GTI will be the better– and better-looking– bet. And while there's no question that the new GTI represents a welcome return to form for cash-strapped pistonheads, the jury is out on the reliability part of the practicality equation. If that's an issue, I strongly recommend that you do NOT test drive the new Golf GTI DSG until AFTER you've read Consumer Reports.

[VW provided the vehicle tested, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.]

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Stevegti Stevegti on Nov 15, 2007

    "yuppie wannabes who can’t quite afford a BMW or MB." Quite the contrary actually, I bought mine out of positive choice. The 1 series looks like a bread van with no room in the boot and the 3 series is about as bland as a bowl of porridge. The MB's are for butchers and taxi drivers. The GTI is fast, cool and well executed. This wannabe just loves it for what it is.

  • Thebigmass Thebigmass on Feb 06, 2008

    My wife and I both have one (which I suppose is as lame as it sounds), and I couldn't disagree with nozferatu more. Our last car was a Saab 9-2x (which was awful, but I got it cheaper than a WRX due to incentives) and we considered (test driving almost all of them) a 350z, a Magnum RT, a 325i, a G35, an RX-8, a Legacy GT, a TSX, a TL, an Audi A4, a Crossfire SRT-6, and a Mazdaspeed 6. We could have afforded any of them and yet we chose the (admittedly goofy-looking) GTI. In real world driving, the GTI is just as much fun as any of those we drove, the interior is nicer than all of them save perhaps the BMW (though it's debatable, and I drive in one of those every month as well) and with the hatchback it is more practical than any of them. This is truly the best car for the money in America, so long as you don't mind condescending fools thinking you a "yuppie wannabe who couldn't afford a BMW or MB."

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  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.
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