Review: 2007 Volkswagen GTI
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
A lot of car company officials say their vehicles are "fun to drive." But the new-generation Volkswagen GTI is a blast to drive.
The original "hot hatchback," as it was called when it came to the U.S. from Europe in 1983, the GTI is a sporty, new, fifth-generation model now.
The familiar, youthful, hatchback shape is there, but the front end is striking with black honeycomb-design grille and lower air dam plus more prominent headlights. Wheels are sizable at 17 inches and come with summer performance tires for maximum grip on dry roads.
This new-generation model also rides tightly on a modern platform and is the first GTI with fully independent suspension—tuned for enthusiastic driving, of course.
And a palpable 207 lb-ft of torque coming on quickly from the larger-displacement, 200-horsepower turbocharged and intercooled 4-cylinder engine can push a driver into the seatback instantly upon acceleration.
A bit pricey for a small, sporty car
But the Cooper S, with a supercharged 4-cylinder engine, delivers only 168 horsepower. And torque in the Civic Si peaks at 139 lb-ft at a high-revving 6100 rpm.
Indeed, the GTI might be positioned against the Audi A3, which is a 4-door hatchback with the same 200-horsepower 2.0-liter, turbocharged and intercooled 4 cylinder that's in the GTI. But note the A3 starts at more than $25,000 as a larger, luxury-branded car. (German automaker Volkswagen AG owns both the VW and Audi brands.)
Making memories in the GTI
But it would belittle the new, front-wheel-drive GTI to say it's a mere throwback.
The new-generation GTI is more aptly described as an affordable performance car for drivers with complex tastes -- and needs.
For example, the GTI showcases the nimble, quick handling that comes from a more solid, more rigid car platform that's also used in VW's Golf compact car.
But there's none of the heaviness and muscle-car brashness of, say, a Ford Mustang with V8. While I heard the GTI engine on acceleration, the ride and noise levels were mild compared with muscle cars.
There's also none of the lightweight feel of a Japanese small car, say, the Civic Si. Instead, the GTI feels every bit a taut, focused and surprisingly meaty car from Germany.
Meantime, the compact GTI provides flexible cargo space akin to that of a much larger car like the midsize Toyota Camry. Indeed, with rear seats folded down, the fifth-generation GTI offers 15.3 cubic feet of cargo volume in back. This compares with 15 cubic feet in the trunk of a 2007 Camry.
Additionally, the GTI comes standard with a full complement of safety equipment, including traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes, active head restraints in front that help reduce whiplash injuries, and six airbags, including curtain airbags.
A car for drivers
One note: The clutch pedal required more effort than I expected, and it took some practice for me to work it smoothly.
Be aware, though, that a new GTI offering is a 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) that can operate like an automatic but has a fast-shifting Tiptronic feature, too. DSG uses a twin clutch design that doesn't interrupt power delivery during shifts the way more traditional automatic transmissions can.
Don't forget, though, that the GTI requires pricey premium gasoline. Filling the 14.5-gallon fuel tank can cost more than $40.
The U.S. government's fuel economy rating for the GTI isn't bad at 23 miles a gallon in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway. But driving the test GTI with gusto, I didn't see either of these numbers.
I just wish the test GTI's reliability was better. The car performed admirably until the last day, when the radiator fan suddenly stopped working in stop-and-go traffic on the freeway. With only 2,000 miles on it, the GTI had to be limped off on an exit ramp. The radiator was cooled with splashes of cold water so the car could get to a dealership for repair. This is not the kind of thing to have happen with a high-running, turbo engine.
Over the years, VW officials have discussed the need to improve quality. For the record, VW ranked third from the bottom in automotive researcher J.D. Power and Associates' annual Initial Quality Study released in June 2006. The study measures owner complaints after three months of vehicle use and obviously pre-dated the 2007 GTI.
VW also ranked sixth from the bottom in Power's annual Dependability Study released in August 2006 that looked at problems owners reported on their 3-year-old vehicles.
The GTI has the same warranty coverage that's standard on other VWs. It includes 5 years/60,000 miles limited powertrain coverage and 4 years/50,000 miles limited bumper-to-bumper coverage. Neither ranks as particularly generous warranty protection.