Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, Autos.ca
Unless you’re exceedingly wealthy and have a five-car garage, you probably don’t own a different car for your every mood – an economy car for commuting, a sports car for the weekend, a minivan or SUV for family excursions, a luxury car for evenings out, and a pickup truck for cargo duties. For most of us, it’s necessary to compromise with a more practical and fuel-efficient vehicle that gets the job done, but isn’t necessarily too exciting.
But there is a vehicle that’s as sporty as a sports car, has room for a family of four or five, is easy to park, offers reasonable fuel economy, and can carry a lot of cargo – for a price that starts under $30,000.
Yes, it’s the VW GTI, voted 2010 Canadian Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). This German-built Golf derivative features VW/Audi’s potent 200-hp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine enabling it to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.9 seconds (AJAC track tests) and from 80 to 120 km/h in just 4.6 seconds (with optional DSG transmission). The turbo engine’s maximum torque of 207 pound-feet starts at just 1,700 rpm, giving it excellent throttle response.
Cruising on the highway, the four-cylinder engine settles down to just 2,300 rpm in top gear, achieving up to 7.1 L/100 km, according to the EPA, when equipped with the DSG automatic transmission (7.6 with the manual transmission). Premium fuel is recommended but not required. EPA City consumption is rated at 9.8 L/100 km (auto) and 11.2 (manual). In my week with the car, my onboard fuel consumption display was showing 11.7 L/100 km in mostly city driving.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but we’d recommend the optional automatic six-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) that includes a “Tiptronic” manual shift mode. The DSG has two clutches, one in the current gear and another which pre-selects the next gear based how the onboard computer interprets your driving patterns. When changing gears, one clutch disengages while the other engages, resulting in lightning fast shifts, whether automatic or manual. Manual shifts are done using the floor shift lever or the paddles behind the steering wheel (left to shift down, right to shift up). The paddles are fun to use, but I found myself enjoying the transmission’s crisp response to my right foot almost as much, not to mention its ease of use in urban traffic. The DSG also engages engine braking by shifting down automatically when descending a hill.
The GTI comes with a fully independent suspension (front MacPherson struts/rear multi-links), standard low-profile 225/45R H-rated 17-inch tires and a short wheelbase which combine for unusually nimble handling with minimal body lean; however, its great handling comes at the expense of some ride comfort which is noticeably firm over broken pavement and rough roads.
Standard electro-mechanical power rack and pinion steering provides a firm but responsive steering feel at speed and a tight 10.9 m (35.7 ft.) turning diameter, but the steering effort is a bit stiff when parking.
Braking is exceptional: standard four wheel discs and ABS bring it to a halt from 100 km/h in just 42.8 metres (dry pavement), according to AJAC.
GTI’s are available with two or four doors, but practical-minded buyers, particularly those with children, will choose the four-door model, which offers front and rear passengers easy access to a surprisingly roomy and well-finished interior.
Standard interior finishings (four-door model) include attractive “Jacky Cloth” fabric seat cloth and front sport seats that include power recline, manual height and lumbar adjusters, and three-step seat heaters; a premium audio system with touch-screen, 6-disc CD player and eight speakers; Sirius satellite radio, auxiliary input, Bluetooth hands-free phone (new for 2011), dual-zone automatic climate control, variable intermittent wipers, intermittent rear wiper and washer, cruise control, multi-function leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum pedals, power windows and door locks with keyless entry, and trip computer.
For safety, there are front, side and curtain airbags, plus optional rear side airbags, five three-point seatbelts, five adjustable head restraints, and child seat attachment points in the rear outboard seats.
Available options include P225/40R 18-inch all-season tires and “Detroit” alloy wheels, “Titan Black Vienna” leather upholstery, power sunroof, navigation system, premium 300-watt stereo with 30-GB hard drive and touch-screen, iPod interface, and rear side airbags.
Cargo room is generous: with the split rear seats folded down, the GTI’s large rear hatch opening and fully carpeted cargo area can swallow large appliances and furniture pieces. The rear seat includes a centre pass-through as well.
The 2011 GTI’s overall versatility is certainly impressive, but some things could be improved. First, the GTI is only offered in four exterior colours: a dark grey metallic, black, white and red. Why not the silver, blue or grey shades that the standard Golf offers?
Secondly, both the standard “Denver” and optional “Detroit” alloy wheels are equally unattractive to our eyes, and ordering VW aftermarket wheels will cost you extra.
Lastly, popular option packages can raise the GTI’s price by over $7,000. Our test car, which was equipped with most options, came to about $37,000 before Freight and taxes.
Still, the GTI can genuinely be described as a “premium small car” with the look, feel and performance of a much more expensive car.
And think of the money you’ll save by not having to buy all those other cars to suit your every mood…
Pricing: 2011 Volkswagen GTI 4-door
Base price: $29,875
Options: $6,965 (Six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox, $1,400; Luxury Leather Package, leather seats, power sunroof, front sport seats, $2,600; Technology Package, RNS 510 Navigation with touch-screen, 30-GB hard drive, Media Device Interface with iPod connector, Dynaudio 300-watt digital sound system, $1,990; 18-inch all-season tires and “Detroit” alloy wheels, $975)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $38,305
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
This is an amazing car!! I agree, 4 colour choices is a bit limiting; in Europe you can choose from 9 standard colours but the full spectrum of available colours is 36 (!!); yes, some of them are quite pricey – still, at least you’ve got choices. But it is a different car altogether! The European version has a different engine; although it is a 2.0T, it is the never, more powerful version with 210HP. Also, the European version has a completely different set of lights. The headlights have a cool-looking LED strip built in and the tail lights are also much nicer and give the car a more ‘racey’ look. But in terms of wheels – it’s the same (sad?) story. What is up with those antique phone dial wheels!!?? At least give us 3 or 4 sets to choose from – even if they cost $500 more than the 18″ option. I think most of us would pay for the extra. The other alternative of course is to stick with the stock 17’s, use those as winter tires and get yourself a nice set of ASA GT4’s or something along those lines. Go with 19’s though; they look hot on that car. I drive a Mercedes right now but am seriously considering the GTI (if I only had some of the European choices!!).