Review: 2010 Volkswagen GTI

Don Gammill Jr.
by Don Gammill Jr.
review 2010 volkswagen gti

During a recent visit to Houston’s Johnson Space Center, I stood at the business end of the mighty Saturn V lunar rocket and contemplated many things. On the surface, I found myself excited and awestruck at the spectacle of the raw power represented by this engineering landmark, but introspectively, I also felt a twinge of sadness, realizing that I was now an adult and quite obviously not the astronaut I one day hoped to be.

It’s funny how reality sometimes smacks you like that. My youthful (space) flights of fancy also included plans to own a daily driver capable of an 11-second quarter mile, but today I drive a car capable of pulling a trailer and carrying six adults. I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s never accelerated to sixty in under nine seconds. Time, along with an inconvenient concept called “real life,” end up teaching us that raw power isn’t really everything. In the end, we often find ourselves settling for many things that would have sorely disappointed our younger expectations.

However, before I blast off into a fit of nostalgic anomie, I should mention a fabulous little coping mechanism called the 2010 Volkswagen GTI. Yes, the original hot hatch and its segment-founding “you-can-be-responsible-and-still-have-fun” formula remain thankfully intact—when you get behind the wheel, your life will almost assuredly suck less. Unless you are an astronaut. Who owns a Ferrari.

The new-for-2010 “Mark VI” version of the GTI continues the evolution of Volkswagen’s original concept by injecting a smidge more visual excitement into the rowdy runabout. Slightly more aggressive than its immediate predecessor, the Mark VI version doesn’t return to the sharp, boxy edges of the original, but instead hides those edges under a virtual sheet of cleverly contoured plastic and sheet metal. Visually, it’s a little more captivating than the Mark V, and the prominence of sculpted sides, the trademark red line framing the grille, and an altogether less Audi-like headlight treatment all help transfer more rhetorical weight back to the left side of the term “sport compact.”

The aesthetic satisfaction continues inside, with an interior that belongs in an [insert Audi of your choice here]. Top-tier materials and buttery smooth switchgear complement an open, airy cabin that forgoes the popular claustrophobia-inducing, massive center consoles that make newer/taller/heavier cars look and feel less spacious than older/lower/lighter cars ever did. Retro-plaid seats look and feel great with bolsters that provide butt and torso-stabilizing lateral support without making ingress and egress too difficult. And the rear seat is pretty roomy, too. An excellent 600-watt stereo (a separate unit from the climate control system) sounds great when you’re blaring Queen’s greatest hits, though the GTI’s fabulous tiller will have you singing about a “Flat-Bottomed Steering Wheel” that makes your rockin’ world go ‘round. “Bottom” line: this GTI’s cockpit is so sporty that you’ll never again want to get on your bikes and ride.

But what about the “raw power” your youthful memories long for?

Uh, did I mention how great the interior is?

No, you won’t find F-1 rocket engine-levels of power (or even Mazdaspeed3-levels) emanating from the Mark VI’s holdover TSI four-banger, but as a consolation, you get what power there is in a fun, unique way. Who needs a big Hog and its loud V-Twin to remind them of their coolness when they can have the same flat torque curve in a practical, thrifty (and weatherproof!) little hatchback? At 30 MPH, I dropped the GTI’s excellent 6-speed manual into sixth gear at the bottom of a long incline and floored it. To my surprise, the little turbocharged VW gathered steam smartly and never once lugged. No, 207 pound-feet doesn’t sound like that much torque (and it’s not), but when you have it continuously from 1,800 to 5,000 RPM, it can be a real hoot. Turbo lag doesn’t exist here, and neither does any perceptible driveline shudder. Turns out, Finesse + Power X Refinement > Just Raw Power, after all.

Speaking of finesse and refinement, the driving dynamics of the Mark VI are what really make you forget about all that power and the 911 Turbo you’ll never own. All the ingredients are present in this recipe, and in just the right amounts. Although the electric power steering is a bit numb, it sidesteps the oft-related sin of being rubbery and still manages to do a terrific job of communicating with the H-rated (yes, H-rated) 225/40R18s. Credit the tires’ mild speed rating with a beautifully compliant ride that feels less like a hot hatch and more like a 5-Series

Bimmer. Although steering response could be faster with rock-ribbed, Z-rated rubber, the car still handles stupendously due to well-chosen springs and dampers that are perfectly suited to the GTI’s balanced persona. The brakes, like the tires, are much less aggressive than you might expect (especially given their substantial through-the-wheels appearance); even though they might not coax you to rush-hour hoonery, front-to-rear bias is so neatly worked out that front-end dive simply doesn’t exist (not even under “soil-your-underwear” braking).

When I was a kid and fantasized about limitless power beneath my feet and had career aspirations involving NASA—while piloting my darty go-kart around our property—I was generally frustrated with the constraints of being 10 years old; I figured that everything would be better, more exciting, and more fun when I was older. Now I realize that I should have lived in the moment more back then.

Trust me, downhill four-wheel drifts on dirt in a five-horsepower go-kart are a lot more fun than most cars you’ll ever own, especially if “real life” dictates that your daily driver possess even a modicum of utility. Volkswagen gets this. And instead of trying to recreate youthful speed lust in a compromised package where power overwhelms finesse and refinement, the company has done a great job of including all “the right stuff” in the 2010 GTI.

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  • Kzone86 Kzone86 on Jan 05, 2010

    What's my only problem with the GTI? It's really not as cheap as everyone makes it out to be. It's starting at $25,000 now. Sure, you're getting more than the average compact, but you're paying for it too. Then start adding the things that make this feel like such an upscale little gem, like DSG, 18-inch wheels, premium sound, HIDs, leather and NAV, and you're easily nearing the $30,000 mark. For that price you could be sliding around in a fully loaded 300hp RWD Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Or a 265 hp AWD Subaru WRX. Or a (soon to be) 400hp Mustang GT. Or a sexy, canyon carving Nissan 370z. Don't believe me? Check the prices.

    • See 1 previous
    • Depichu Depichu on Jul 09, 2010

      I just bought mine 3 months ago for 24,800 ... get this, out the door. White, plaid interior, bluetooth, 17" rims/wheels and a 400$ credit the dealer sneaked in which I spent on a subpar sub+install. Yes, you guessed it, it's as base as you can get, but it also proves that no, this car starts out at around 23000, at least in california. I shopped my options, MS3, Civic Si Coupe, and Mini Cooper S. Hated the MS3, but it was definitely the cheapest and the most powerful (I can fix that if I want with 500$-1000$ and a visit to an APR dealership), but I would of just wanted the base trim, every dealer could not quote me and cheaper than 23500 before taxes and registration. Civic SI coupe, it's damn true what they say about Honda's shifters, it's too bad I was quoted 2k more than the GTI for a sunroof. On top of that, I actually got bored of it during the test drive. Why would I wanna blow money on that? Ahh, the Mini Cooper S. If my boss had given me a 2$ a month raise right after I test drove it, I definitely could of loaded this thing up to my specs and taken the 1.9 interest rate for 5 years with a huge smile on my face, but alas, let's be realistic, I'm already pushing my spending boundaries at 24k. I won't justify style in sacrifice of power with the MS3, fun with the sacrifice of reliability in a Honda, and price with the sacrifice of knowing that the Mini would have been an incredibly daily driver. Every car has pros and cons, with a few rare ones that are universally terrible or awesome. At the end of the day, this car felt perfect for me.

  • Eliminator2099 Eliminator2099 on Jan 15, 2011

    I ve been with my 2008 MKV GTI Manual for 2 years, and let me say my impressions, here in Mexico the VW dealerships are really expensive, if the replacement part is not available in the dealer they must check if the puebla plant has it (they often don´t have the parts because the GTI is assembled in germany not mexico or brazil) they have to ask for the part from germany and that is really awful because it can take months I´ve never been in the situation but some friends do... thats one of the reliability problems he have here... In other side my GTI is a truly fantastic car its turbo lag free i can asure you, its fun, its economical and fast no so fast for a quarter mile or for a ferrari or even a mustang in straight line but in the daily drive it is fast every... This MK6 is gorgeous its not the same to see it in photo than to see it in person, its really a good looking car, gives you the sense of power, speed, good quality, I´m really thinking to upgrade it to the MK6 but here in mexico this car is really expensive in a nonsense way, the base price is about $32,000 USD and the top model is about $37,000 USD with that money i can buy a Mustang GT or a Camaro or Focus RS or a Leon Cupra, or a Impreza or and Audi S3 or a A4 or even a Altima V6 to name a few and every single car i mentioned has double or even more power than de GTI seriously here in mexico VW has elevate the prices like never before... and thats sad because my GTI 2008 just cost me $17,000 USD half the price of the 2010!! and its nearly the same car!!... just to mention this is my second VW the first was a beetle 1.8T which gave me a very good time when i owned it!

  • FreedMike Bicyclists.
  • FreedMike But will it have a badge?And maybe I don’t understand this whole truck thing, but isn’t 430 hp out of 7.3 liters a bit low? That’s not a whole lot better than the Coyote engine in the Mustang. I don’t see that as a selling point.
  • Goatshadow My favorite Lambo ever. It's gorgeous..
  • DenverMike Column shifter in all trims? Thank god someone is listening. The console shifter is just the stupidest thing ever. Frick just make the whole area useful utility. Luxury means something different in trucks. Definitely removable and I’ll make my own work station.
  • Joh65689020 1. Drape/ Masking-tape paint.2. Blue Coral (or any brand) chrome polish on PowerBall with cordless drill-driver.3. Buff lightly with microfiber towel to crystal clear finish.
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