2007 Volkswagen GTI

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2006 Volkswagen GTI

This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2009.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Recaptures the spirit of the original fun-to-drive GTI.
Pros:
  • Fast
  • Good handling
  • Supple ride
Cons:
  • Chunky styling
  • Long-throw clutch
  • Wide doors

The first GTI was welcomed in 1983 when it arrived with an exuberant nature as a sportier version of the Volkswagen Rabbit economy model. That's partly because it debuted when fun-to-drive cars were surfacing after a decade of mostly boring autos.

There are plenty of exciting cars around these days, and the redesigned 2006 front-wheel-drive GTI is one of them. It's the fifth-generation GTI and fits in the revived "pocket rocket" youth-oriented market, into which cars such as the MINI Cooper S and Honda Civic Si fit.

The 1983 front-wheel-drive GTI ditched the Rabbit's 74-horspower 4-cylinder engine and replaced it with a 90-horsepower 4-cylinder from the sporty Volkswagen Scirocco.

The GTI also had a tauter suspension, alloy wheels, sports seats, a special steering wheel, simulated aluminum trim instead of the Rabbit's fake woodgrain and black-out exterior trim with red moldings and badges. It clearly was a purposeful car.

Car and Driver magazine took one look at the 1983 GTI and said in a headline to announce the auto's arrival: "The car we've all been waiting for."

The Rabbit GTI was renamed the Golf GTI when the more rounded Golf replaced the boxy Rabbit in 1985. Based on the newest Golf, the car now is simply called the "GTI."

Became Too Soft
GTIs generally have been too soft and heavy since the second-generation model was replaced. One even had only a standard 115-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that made it about as much fun as a broken carnival ride.

In fact, Volkswagen has been trading on the reputation of the first two generation GTIs, after making the third and fourth generation models too luxurious and "grown-up." Hey, that's not the kind of car "boy racers" were looking for.

Recapturing Old Spirit
"But, with the new GTI, we've set out to recapture the spirit of the original GTI," Volkswagen says.

The GTI initially comes as a 2-door hatchback, but a 4-door version is scheduled for later this year. The 4-door will be welcomed by some because lots of agility is required to enter or leave the rear-seat area of the 2-door version—despite a long passenger door and slide-back passenger seat that facilitates entry and exit.

Conversely, the GTI's long, fairly heavy doors are awkward in tight parking spots.

Generally Roomy
There's decent rear-seat room for two 6-footers in the functional cockpit, but legs of a passenger will touch the rear of the driver's seat if it's moved back a lot. There's no such problem behind the front passenger.

The front bucket seats are supportive, but have awkward rotary seatback adjusters. However, there's a handy manual driver-seat height adjuster.

The first GTI never won beauty contests, and neither has any GTI. The 2006 version has an especially ungainly appearance, with an overly aggressive-looking front end and chunky shape. However, wheels are yanked to the extreme body corners for the best interior space and to enhance ride and handling.

Larger Dimensions
The GTI is based on the fifth-generation Golf platform and is slightly longer, wider and taller, besides being several hundred pounds heavier. The wheelbase has been stretched 2.6 inches to 101.5 inches for better handling and to provide more interior room.

The variable assist power rack-and-pinion steering is quick, and stopping power is good. The brake pedal is a little soft, but has a linear action that allows smooth stops. A new, fully independent sports suspension helps provide sharp handling and soaks up bumps.

Anti-lock all-disc brakes are standard, as are traction control and anti-skid systems.

The rigidly built GTI's safety items include front-seat side airbags and head-protecting side-curtain airbags.

Borrowed Engine
Powering the GTI is a new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with dual overhead camshafts, direct fuel injection and 16 valves. It's taken from the Audi A3 because Volkswagen controls Audi and it's a lot cheaper to borrow an engine than develop a brand new one.

The smooth, quiet engine generates 200 horsepower with little turbo lag and is responsive throughout most of its rpm range.

Even fifth gear in the standard 6-speed manual transmission provides decent 65-75 mph passing despite the small engine. Some similar-size engines require downshifting two or three gears for swift passing on highways.

Clutchless Manual Gearbox
The manual transmission is in the regular $21,990 GTI. Also offered is a 6-speed "DSG" automated manual gearbox that provides quick shifting via steering wheel paddles without a floor clutch.

The DSG unit also functions in fully automatic mode and hikes the GTI price to $23,065.

Steering wheel paddles can be awkward to use, but the standard GTI manual transmission is rather notchy and works with a clutch that has a light action but a long throw that makes shifting a pain in congested traffic.

Fuel economy with the regular manual is an estimated 23 mpg in the city and 32 on highways. Figures with the DSG are 25 and 31.

While premium gasoline is recommended for the best performance, Volkswagen says regular-grade fuel can be used if a driver doesn't mind "slightly reduced" performance.

Roomy Cargo Area
The roomy cargo area has a low, wide opening and rear seatbacks flip forward and sit fairly flat to enlarge that area. The hatch has interior indented pull-down areas to keep hands from becoming dirty on outside sheet metal.

A hydraulic strut holds the hood open, and fluid filler areas can be easily reached without getting clothes dirty.

Fairly Well-Equipped
The car is fairly well-equipped with comfort and convenience features. They include a tilt/telescopic three-spoke, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD sound system, cruise control and power windows and locks with remote keyless entry.

This is the most refined GTI. Like the best earlier models, it offers a good blend of performance and practicality. However, Volkswagen should have made it more stylish.

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BB06 - 9/20/2014 7:43:14 AM