Road Atlanta would have been a most appropriate place to test out the freshly redesigned Volkswagen GTI
. But the fact that this track, nestled in the rolling hills of Braselton, Georgia, is already booked for a little driving clinic called "Le Petit LeMans" makes such testing impossible. No matter, though, as the roads leading to the facility are almost as good as the track itself.
Said roads are the perfect setting to put the new VW GTI through its paces. Generation six of this hot hatch, which practically invented the segment, has been thoroughly revised and is ready to go.
With three doors or more
Available in three or five-door models, the GTI takes the existing Golf platform and improves on it by adding go-fast parts, an improved interior, and a hipster's vibe to an already fun-to-drive platform. It's a classic formula that has worked for five previous GTI generations.
More aggressively styled than previous versions, the new GTI features a honeycomb grille with GTI badging and a pair of red stripes lifted from the original GTI. Teardrop-shaped headlamps (with available Xenon headlamps) flank the grille successfully while the appearance below the bumper takes on more of a "mouth-breather" look.
From the sides and rear, the new GTI looks the same as it ever was in this mostly conservative redo. But this is a case of new, better ingredients in a proven recipe. Scalloped character lines add interest in the door panels, and newer, broader shoulders visually add width for a more aggressive appearance. More observant types will notice a lack of side rub-strips, resulting in a cleaner, sleeker package, overall. Just keep the errant shopping carts away.
In the engine room, the GTI uses the ubiquitous 2.0-liter 16-valve inline turbo four-banger. With direct injection, it produces 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft. of torque. Governed to a top speed of 130 mph, with the six-speed manual transmission, it is capable of a positively eco-friendly 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
As refined as the engine is, it could stand a little "slutting up." What's that, you ask? Pop the hood and you'll see few hints of performance - the over-cladded engine compartment could have come from a rather more pedestrian Jetta. We know we'll never see exposed engine components again since their mechanical nature has been deemed too dirty, but we wish VW would at least give us something that leaves the impression of performance.
At least you won't notice it from inside. Instead, you can focus on not shifting with the optional Direct Sequential Gearbox, or DSG.
Similar to the PDK found in many new Porsche cars, its dual clutch design features rev-matching on downshifts and faster upshifts than you can do yourself. A dual-control system, it features Tiptronic functions down on the stalk or paddle shift levers mounted behind the leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel.
A bonus by-product of the DSG is launch control: Stand on the brakes, wind up the revs, and let "er rip for what VW calls "a more perfect launch with controlled wheelspin."
The power hits the pavement through a pair of MacPherson struts with lower wishbones, an aluminum subframe, and tubular stab bars in front. Out back hangs a quad-link rear setup with separate springs and shocks, and again a tubular anti-sway bar. Curb weight of the GTI tips the scale at 3,080-pounds. It all adds up to go-kart like handling and great road feel thanks to the power-assisted rack and pinion steering. Although 17-inch alloys are standard, our test GTI was equipped with 18-inch "Detroit" model alloys that make it appear like a Hot Wheels car on steroids. We're still scratching our heads on VW's wheel naming scheme.
Another razor-edge approach to traction control shows up in the form of VW's Cross Differential System. With built in sensors to determine wheel spin, it compensates to keep the car on track. We noticed it working its mojo on the wet twisty mountain roads and it always made us confident in our track, generally by the way you could feel a pull from the opposite side as you felt the traction start to give way.
Putting butts in seats
We've always loved VW's contoured sport seats, even in the rather controversial plaid design that divides the Leftlane
staff faster than a debate over the merits of Krispy Kreme versus Dunkin' Donuts. We do all agree that we like the way they hold you in place while flying around tight corners and turns, but this writer will take his in the optional Autobahn trim package, thank you very much, which includes leather sport seats and a sunroof. The rear seats offer satisfying seat room, and low-key bolsters as well. It's the perfect place to anchor down your Recaro-branded kiddie safety seat.
Dash controls in our test vehicle included the traditional twin gauge binnacle with LCD display between the speedo and tachometer that alternately shows directions, odometer, and audio info. Add to that an in-dash navigation system, with Bluetooth and a high-end, but reasonably priced ($476) 300-watt Dynaudio sound system. Add a complimentary six-month subscription for Sirius Satellite radio and you're all set for a tuneage-equipped, "bahn-burning good time. If there were a shortcoming in the controls, it would have to be the climate dials that are difficult at best, to find your desired setting.
Leftlane's bottom line
With great power, handling, and a sublime exhaust note to boot, VW continues a stream of personal hot hatches six-generations long. But just as we prepare to publish, word comes from Wolfsburg that Volkswagen will introduce the hotter GTI-R, first introduced at this year's Frankfurt Motor Show. Will this GTI still be able to hold its own or will it become an also ran? Only time and the marketplace can answer that.
2010 Volkswagen GTI
base price, $23,290.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.