May 30, 2011


2011 VW GTI
The GTI has been a staple of the hatchback market in Europe for decades.  It has been in the States for some time now and not all that many people are familiar with it.  The small, sporty hatchback was really a great drive, even on a notoriously slick, wet day.  It hadn’t rained in a couple of weeks, causing the dirt and oil that had collected on the roads to have the friction value of an Olympic bobsled course.  It was “sketchy” to say the least.  The all wheel drive that Subaru is renowned for would have been a much better car on this type of day, but they were short on WRX models (Subaru’s version of a sports car).  We settled for the front wheel drive bliss that is the GTI.

The plaid has been in GTI's for a long time...  Maybe too long...

                The interior had a distinctly German feel.  The plaid seats were the first thing that caught our eye, and after choking back the vomit, we climbed in.  Well, we had to wedge me into the car, being that 6’4” doesn’t always translate to small hatchbacks.  Once the seat was moved back, we took a look around.  The GTI did not present too many blind spots, other than the standard ones.  The sight lines along the side of the vehicle were easier to clear, since the car itself is not that long.  The steering wheel has the chopped off corners of a very sporty wheel, reminiscent of the steering wheel of the Mercedes-Benz SLS (That’s right; we touched the SLS’ steering wheel!).   The gauges on the instrument panel were easy to read and had none of the confusion that we had with other quick car’s multiple speedometers (digital or analog).  The one quirk that we became slightly irritated with was the shift indicator on the information center in the middle of the tach and speedo.  We like to drive the car based on “feel.”  The problem is that the “feel” isn’t always the best thing for improving the fuel economy, which the shift indicator was trying to improve. 
                The multimedia center will take a little getting used to.  We didn’t really take the time to figure it out, assuming that the Germans would already have done that for us.  We were far more concerned about the actual drive and feel of the car.  The plastics in the car also were of higher quality than other models of small sport cars that we have driven recently.
                During our test drive, we also noticed the road noise every time we were on a stretch of road that wasn’t perfectly smooth.  The low profile tires didn’t help the ride of the GTI, but all of this was within acceptable limits.  Neither the ride nor the road noise were deficiencies that would keep us from owning a GTI.   Overall, we give the inside a passing grade, but only if you have a person in each seat.  The plaid is nauseating, so make sure you buy the rubber floor mats if you don’t have enough friends to fill the GTI.

                The exterior of the GTI feels very much like a Fast and the Furious movie wanna-be.  The wheels automatically make us think of some modern Euro-Art, that caused us to giggle every time we looked at them a little too long.  The jet-black grill on the front of the car is mean looking considering it only contains a 2.0L turbo-charged 4 cylinder engine.  The radio antenna on the roof feels like more could be done with it.  Maybe something like the shark fin on the Honda CR-Z that we reviewed a couple of weeks ago.  The quirky part that we really liked is that the VW badge on the back hatch is actually the trunk release.  Just push the top in and lift the bottom up and the trunk pops right open.  Seriously, it means absolutely little to the overall car, but we loved it!

                The GTI handled itself very well on our wet test day.  The front wheel drive never slipped once and we always try to achieve a little wheel spin on a test drive.  We tested the six speed manual transmission that was surprisingly smooth.  It felt extremely similar to the Audi S4 clutch and gear box.  Aren’t Audi and Volkswagen owned by the same people?  The answer is yes.  If you didn’t know that, it’s okay, the salesperson from Volkswagen didn’t know that either. 
                At 200hp the GTI isn’t leading any category for performance cars, but the drive told us an entirely different story.  We got the GTI onto a small, curvy, wet road and had an absolute blast.  It was brilliant and so much fun that we completely forgot about the annoying shift indicator on the dash.  The 0-60 time is not an eye opener at 7.3 seconds, but we didn’t care.  The GTI wouldn’t be the drag race champion, for that we’d have the Camaro SS.  The curvy hills of the Ozarks or any road that has a lot of corners would be the perfect habitat for the GTI. 
                The six speed manual achieves mpgs of 21 city, 31 highway, and 25 combined.  This shatters the 14 that we can average in the company’s Denali, but isn’t earth shattering either for a four cylinder.

                We loved this car.  For a base price of around $24,000, you get quite a bit including navigation, blue tooth, and much more.  We have tested the GTI a couple of times over the past three years.  The GTI is quick with low end torque and really sticks in the corners.   Hopefully next week our writing skills will improve.         Not likely…

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