Automotive Performance Information
Automotive Performance Information

Monday, March 30, 2009

Volkswagen GTI refined for 2010

When Volkswagen hopped up a Golf back in 1976, it invented a niche that came to be known as the Hot Hatchback segment. With just 100 horsepower, it’s difficult now to think that was hot…but it was. Hey, it was 1976 and polyester, John Travolta and the BeeGees were cool, too.

With leisure suits now just a bad dream, the new sixth-generation VW Golf GTI that hits our shores in October as a 2010 model, is just as hot. That makes it pretty cool.

The new GTI , which will make its formal U.S. debut at the New York Auto Show in a couple of weeks, is no longer the power player in the segment if all you’re counting is horsepower. No, the MazdaSpeed3 cranks out 273 hp, while the new GTI makes 200 hp from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder.

You’re correct if you say that this car has the same power as the outgoing model. What makes this new GTI worth talking about is the refinement VW engineers have worked into the car’s handling, not to mention the updates to the interior and exterior.

Unfortunately, U.S. buyers will not be able to get several features available on European-spec cars, like Dynamic Chassis Control that allows for three settings– comfort, normal and sport–of the car’s shock absorbers. Other items like dynamic cruise control will also not make it to the States. HID headlights, standard on the outgoing model, will be optional on the new car.

The U.S. VW folks say they kept the standard equipment list limited in order to keep down the cost of the three- or five-door hatch (the five-door is a $500 option). But the standard feature list is quite high, so don’t think all the models we get will be strippers. Official prices were not released at our initial test drive, but expect the car to start around $24,000, making it relative bargain in the front-drive sporty market.

So while this new GTI looks much like the fifth-generation car, every body panel (save for the roof) is different. The interior, likewise, is further refined with a better-looking center stack and chrome-trimmed gauge cluster. And yes, the plaid cloth seats are still part of the package. Some things from the ’70s just never go out of fashion.

The base transmission is a six-speed automatic with a six-speed dual-clutch tranny as an option. VW says a seventh gear, available on other VW models, is not necessary here because of the engine’s 207 lb-ft of torque. We sampled them and like both for different reasons. But if we’re headed to our garage, we’d save the $1,200 (approximately) on the DSG and spend it elsewhere…the six-speed manual is damn good.

On our initial test drive of the car, we found it to be quick and fun to drive, which has long been the GTI’s trademark. A decent rumble is emitted from the twin tailpipes, and while 200 horsepower may seem anemic amidst all the 500-horsepower ground beaters available today–the car doesn’t lack for oomph.

The sixth-generation car features subtle changes from its immediate predecessor but can easily trace its lineage back several decades, and is a worthy successor to the hallowed GTI badge.


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