2010 Volkswagen Golf GTI — Review
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2009.
By Marc Lachapelle of MSN Autos
There was something perfectly right about the first GTI, which was introduced to the European market in 1976. This sporty version of the Golf hatchback was powered by a 1.6-liter engine that delivered 108 horsepower — a modest number by today's standards. Even so, it created a sensation back then and a new vehicle segment. U.S. enthusiasts had to wait until the 1983 model year for the GTI to land on this side of the pond. It was powered by a "federalized" 1.8-liter engine that developed 90 horsepower. Again, it was a hit.
Fast-forward more than a quarter-century as VW introduces a sixth-generationGTI. This new iteration of the archetypal pocket rocket has been subtly redesigned, with shrewd attention to quietness and traditional GTI cues. Gen 6 nonetheless makes strides in handling and performance, with a slightly more potent version of the brilliant 2.0-liter turbo engine. What the 2010 GTI lacks in outright muscle it more than makes up in balance, quality, refinement and ultimate poise.
Although the new GTI's overall shape is quite familiar, most major body panels are changed. Most striking is a new front fascia that returns to a horizontal grille with a large VW badge dead center and red accent lines like its famous forebear. Full xenon headlights will be an option, with a directional feature that lets them swivel up to 13 degrees into a turn, in sync with steering inputs. The rear fascia is also new, with wider, elongated lights, a black "extractor" on the lower part and a single chromed exhaust tip on each side rather than a twin pipe. A more pronounced accent line runs the length of the car above the wheelwells for a broader stance, especially with the optional 18-inch alloy wheels and summer or all-season tires.
Among the other options are the DSG dual-automated-clutch 6-speed sequential gearbox; a tech package that includes Bluetooth connectivity and a Dynaudio audio system; an efficient navigation system with a clear screen and 80 GB hard disk drive; side airbags for rear passengers (on 4-door models); and an Autobahn package that adds leather, sport seats and a power sunroof.
One Euro-spec option that we strongly encourage VW to add to the U.S.-spec option menu is the Dynamic Chassis Control, which lets the driver choose among three modes (comfort, normal and sport) that change the shock absorbers' damping characteristics and add a bit of effort to the steering. The cars we drove at the launch had this system, and it works impeccably. The U.S.-spec car's suspension is set somewhere between the normal and sport modes, we are told.
On the safety front, the GTI comes with six standard airbags. It is also now equipped with active front head restraints and the latest electronic stability control system.
Under the Hood
The engine is a marvel. It pulls strongly at any revs and will spin the tires at will, backed by a sweet exhaust bellow emphasized by a "sound generator" for the entertainment factor. Full-throttle upshifts with the DSG gearbox produce a characteristic "blap" that makes the driver feel like a racing star. VW could eliminate this sound by staggering the fuel cut-off to the cylinders by a few milliseconds, but ardent GTI fans want it, according to engineer Kai Schweingruber. We agree. VW North America expects more than half of all GTIs to be sold with the DSG transmission, a $1,200 option.
VW says the GTI will accelerate from zero to 62 mph in 6.9 seconds for both the 6-speed manual and DSG gearboxes. Compared with the GTI's direct rivals, this time is about equal to the MINI John Cooper Works with virtually the same horsepower (207 ponies), a few tenths quicker than the less powerful Honda Civic Si coupe (197 horsepower) and a few tenths slower than the more muscular MAZDASPEED3 (263 horsepower). Volkswagen also quotes a drag-limited top speed of 149 mph for the manual-equipped GTI and 148 mph for the DSG version.
The sport steering wheel also shows aluminum on all three branches. Its redesigned hub and redundant controls have more flair, and the shape and texture of the leather-draped, flat-bottom rim are just about perfect. Red stitching on the inner part of the rim, on the shift lever boot, the hand-brake handle, the sport seat bolsters and head restraints is pure GTI lore.
The seats are impeccably sculpted and provide an excellent blend of comfort and support. Our only gripe is a height-adjustment lever typical of VW that raises the seat in a diagonal arc rather than offering separate adjustments for height and angle. Driving ergonomics are nonetheless spot-on, as are most controls, with the exception of smallish buttons for the new electronic interface on the manual air conditioning, and archaic cruise-control buttons and switches on the turn-signal lever.
The new GTI has inherited its predecessor's superb cargo bay under the rear hatch, with a volume that goes from 12.3 to 46 cubic feet if you flip down the 60/40 seat backs. It also has a fantastic pass-through that is more than large enough for a few pairs of skis or a couple of snowboards.
On the Road
The new GTI rides 0.9 inch lower than its predecessor in front and 0.6 inch lower at the rear. The springs, shock absorbers and rear anti-roll bar have all been retuned. There is also a new "electronic transverse differential lock" (XDS) that works through the stability control system to quash understeer and help the car pivot into a corner at speed by braking the inside wheel as needed while turning in. The GTI remains impressively stable, agile and composed, regardless of your pace or the curvature and surface of the road ahead.
Steering is precise, quick and well-weighted, with excellent self-centering. Take your pick of either gearbox; you can't go wrong. The DSG rattles off perfect full-throttle upshifts — with that addictive "blap" — and it will blip the throttle perfectly on every downshift, with either the steering-mounted paddles or the short, positive lever on the console. The manual gearbox is tight, quick and solid, with pedals made for heel-and-toe shifting. It adds a measure of directness to the GTI's demeanor that will please keen drivers who can look beyond numbers on a spec sheet.
Right for You?
A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, MarcLachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile JournalistsAssociation of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.