’Back to the roots’ doesn’t mean small and light, but it does mean four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive powertrains, so say goodbye to the VR6 engine, and forget about 4Motion.(Both likely will reappear in a followup to the R32 Golf, but that car won’t wear a GTI badge and will have more of a comfort-oriented chassis tune than the GTI.)
By Kevin “Crash” Corrigan
I once owned one of the original VW GTI’s made in the 70’s; it was a great vehicle and absolutely heaps of fun! It’s been credited with starting the whole hot hatch craze, and with sound reasoning. The original version had all the performance of a front-engine Porsche but in a much more basic package. A real, no muss, no fuss, down to earth thrill ride which was also practical as you could carry a week’s groceries home in it too. Of course, times change and models move on, so how will the “new’ GTI match up to its famed heritage?
Well, Volkswagen’s new GTI is certainly a looker, especially from the front. I think that this is, without a doubt, the prettiest model so far. The Golf nameplates are gone and it is now to be known simply as “the GTI”. To be honest, and it wasn’t just the missing Golf badge, I found the rear of the vehicle somewhat plain. Then again, it’s not what’s on the outside that makes this vehicle what it is; it’s the heart and soul of the car which really counts.
The interior is typical Volkswagen, extremely well put together and all business like. The front leather bucket seats are comfortable yet well bolstered and shaped to hold you firmly in place. Then we come to my favorite part of the interior, the steering wheel. I think that the boys at VW must have snuck down pit lane at the last Indy meet and stolen them off the race cars parked there. It’s one of the best looking wheels that I have encountered and it makes you realize that you’re in something a little bit special. This is also reinforced by the shape and feel of the gear knob. I take my hat off to VW as I think that this type of attention to detail is important. After all, when driving a car, what two things do you spend most of your time touching? Yeah ok, apart from your passenger’s leg!
The new GTI is loaded with goodies, yes all the stuff which we have become accustomed to yet somehow, I didn’t really want. You see, the original was totally void of “unnecessary extras”. That just added weight and was frowned upon by the designers. It was a bit like “power windows sir, what’s wrong with your arm”!!
Volkswagen hasn’t gone overboard, but even so, with each model change the GTI appears to get heavier. It’s still a quick car, but then again, a lot of companies sell quick cars nowadays. The six speed gearbox is excellent and very easy to become acclimatized to. The brakes are also impressive and hardly any effort is required to bring the vehicle to a halt. The suspension feels firm, yet gives a comfortable ride and the GTI handles corners like a dream. Wind noise is barely noticeable and even at hwy speeds and above, the car is stable and glued to the road.
Sounds like a great car to drive yes? Well it is, in fact it is one of the nicest vehicles that I have driven this year. It is a fast, extremely civilized car with near impeccable road manners.
So does the new GTI manage to live up to its famous relatives? I think that if I’m totally honest, the answer has to be no. The original was truly something special; it was a raw, bare boned street rocket and justly deserved to be called a “hot hatch”. If I had been asked to write about that vehicle, I would have used words like screamer and addictive, I doubt if I’d have called it civilized. Like a few people that I know, as the years went by, the pounds were piled on and this has had an adverse effect on the car. At the same time, other manufacturers have been improving the performance of their vehicles to the point where Volkswagen’s current version is no longer the ground breaking vehicle it once was.
Yes, the new GTI is an extremely nice car to drive and it would be a fun car to own but for anyone old enough to remember the original it might be a little disappointing. It puts me in mind of an aging singer. Yes, she still holds a spot somewhere in your heart and you’d still pay good money to see her, but somehow as the years passed by, she lost a little bit of her original sex appeal and soul.
On the other hand, this trip down memory lane had me sorting through some old photo albums. After seeing myself standing outside school in my 6 inch high platform shoes, I think that the 70’s are best left in the past. Yes, maybe the GTI has just grown up and found what some of us were missing back then, “Class and refinement”.
GTI fans won’t miss the V6, however, once they’ve driven the new 2.0-liter FSI turbo-charged four, which matches the 2.8 VR6’s power output and exceeds its torque. FSI stands for fuel straight injection (gasoline direct injection) which helps this new sixteen-valve DOHC engine make 197 hp and, even more impressive, 207 lb-ft of torque.
Those are good numbers, but what puts the smile on your face is the eagerness with which the Volkswagen GTI responds. The full helping of torque is available almost no matter where you are on the tach (from 1800 to 5000 rpm), and the throttle response is absolutely linear. There’s no putting your foot in it, waiting for the boost, then-whoa-backing out again. It’s great for powering through long, unreeling curves, as well as for stop-and-go driving. In go-go-go driving, the FSI turbo charges past its 6500-rpm redline to a gentle rev cut at 7000. Electronics will hold the U.S. car to 130 mph (same as today’s GTI), but we managed 135 on the autobahn, running out of room before we could get to the claimed maximum of 146 mph.
The 2.0-liter FSI turbo will be the Volkswagen GTI’s only powerplant, and it will not be offered on the regular Golf (which gets a 2.5-liter five) but will be available on the new Jetta GLI, the base Passat, and the Audi A3 and A4.
There’s no Tiptronic for the back-to-the-roots GTI, although Volkswagen will offer its automatic direct-shift gearbox (DSG) as well as the conventional six-speed manual that we drove. Surprisingly, the DSG-equipped car is fractionally quicker, accelerating from 0 to 62 mph in 6.9 seconds, versus 7.2 for the regular manual.
The launch of the all-new GTI promises Volkswagen’s return to the purity of its ground-breaking sports car concept hatchback, and offers enthusiasts a modern and dynamic extension of the automaker’s original hot-hatch approach that essentially spurred a new car class.
More than 30 years ago in Europe, Volkswagen launched the GTI and in 1983 this model arrived in the U.S. as the first affordable, German engineered, “pocket rocket,” a term of endearment from enthusiasts of affordable German performance and one that best describes the unique character of the original car that combined a nimble and spirited Teutonic driving experience with a strong value for the money and perhaps just as importantly the everyday practicality of a hatchback.
Volkswagen purists have anticipated this fifth generation GTI since its critically acclaimed European launch in mid-year 2005 and are prepared to test this model’s sports credentials that include the high-tech, 200 horsepower 2.0T four-cylinder engine, a new fully independent, sports-tuned suspension—a first for the GTI—a standard six-speed manual transmission, and an understated but dynamically aggressive style outside and a practical interior that equally mixes functionality, flair and a preoccupation with a driver-first focus and layout.
The new GTI is a solid and aggressive sports model with a unique automatic manual DSGTM transmission that utilizes direct shifting which essentially automatically depresses clutch-shift points more efficiently and quicker than even a professional driver can. But the GTI today is all purity, and for those who want the unique control of a clutch, the all-new GTI comes with a standard six-speed manual transmission. Top speed is electronically governed at 130 miles per hour in the U.S.
As always, the GTI is based wholly on one of the world’s most popular and enduring models—the Volkswagen Golf . This fifth-generation Golf platform is renowned for its solidity and sophistication that make it one of the best selling models in the world. Built in Wolfsburg, Germany, the home of Volkswagen, the GTI benefits from Volkswagen’s high-tech production process that includes industry-leading robotics in its assembly technology and sequences.
Based on its already solid predecessor, the new GTI records double-digit improvements in its dynamic and tensional rigidity—15 percent and 35 percent, respectively, to be exact. This is partially achieved through the use of more high-strength body panels, Volkswagen world-class design and engineering, and during production, advanced laser-welding systems that require a new-generation of robotics and elaborate laser-driven measuring check points. The result is a dramatic increase in precise laser-welded seams, normally reserved for cars in much higher segments of the market. The net benefit of the Gate’s laser bonding process is a class-leading fit and finish, heightened body strength, crash protection, dialed-in driving dynamics, and reduced interior noise—all key components that set the GTI apart from its hatchback competitors.
The heart of the 2006 GTI is Volkswagen’s new and highly regarded 2.0T turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 200 hp at 5,100 to 6,000 revolutions per minute and 207 ft.-lbs. of torque from 1,800 to 5.000 rpm.
This transverse, front-mounted engine incorporates dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and maintenance-free hydraulic lifters for smooth, worry-free operation. A fully electronic engine management system includes drive-by-wire throttle control and FSI direct injection for optimal fuel delivery, which increases power, improves efficiency, and reduces emissions.
As alluded to earlier, the new six-speed DSG automatic manual transmission with Tiptronic® is a tempting option for drivers, as well as those simply seeking the convenience of an automated transmission. The DSG transmission permits fully automatic or manual gear changes using a twin-clutch, wet-plate design that eliminates the power interruption associated with traditionally clutched gear changes. The result is sports performance and unexpected fuel efficiency.
Known for being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the 2006 GTI shows a bit more fang with its distinctly, pleasantly aggressive, sports-car styling. More than ever, it is distinguished from its rock solid sibling, the new generation Golf, including the most striking front end ever. The new GTI’s front offers no confusion with the upcoming Golf, employing a black honeycomb design with a decisive red frame strip outlining the radiator portion. This same honeycomb design carries to the lower grille sections, which hosts standard halogen fog lights, and resemble extra air intakes that flow powerfully to the integrated front spoiler. The driving intensity of the front is accentuated by the eyes of the car, the headlight housings, which use a very clear, tech-looking case to show off high-intensity gas-discharged headlamps (Xenon). This system includes a well-disguised headlight washer system that cleanses the chip-resistant polycarbonate lenses. Completing the look is the GTI’s famous badge that sits proudly at the front of the car on the passenger’s side.
The GTI has a 98.9-inch wheelbase and measures 164.9 inches long overall. Each GTI is equipped with a sport suspension, darkened taillight lenses and dual tailpipes. Body-colored bumpers, mirror housings, side moldings, door handles and grille round out the exterior picture.
The GTI plays devilishly with the famous silhouette of the new Golf. At profile, one immediately notes the GTI’s striking roof spoiler, lower profile and use of aggressive black valences and side window moldings. Standard on the new GTI are low profile summer performance tires (all-season available) that wrap large 17-inch alloy wheels, with an option to fill the wheel area even further with a new dynamic 18-inch alloy. Distinct red brake calipers nestle tastefully behind each wheel choice.
At the rear, the GTI badge, aligning to the driver’s side, is attached to the hatch door; dual chrome tail pipes add more evidence to the car’s performance intentions along with the aggressive swath of the rear spoiler with an integrated, highly visible rear brake light, bumper valence and sophisticated, jewel-like round rear tail lamps.
GTI enthusiasts should feel at home behind the wheel of the new GTI, which again advances the purity of the GTI concept but in a modern and sophisticated execution. GTI-exclusive interior treatments include special alloy treatments throughout, from the interior door sills, to the door handles to the distinct treatments for the pedals (including dead pedal with the DSG transmission), to mention a few. Sporty brushed-metal accents also surround the A/C controls, stereo unit, and the instrument panel gauges are aluminum and black with a chrome surround.
The GTI’s driving environment begins with its unique three-spoke, leather wrapped multi-function sport steering wheel with audio and telephone controls that, as found in all Volkswagen s, is adjustable and telescoping for optimal driving positioning. This sporty driver’s tool adds paddle shifters on both sides of the wheel when the optional DSG transmission is added.
The upright styling of the GTI allows occupants to sit more vertically than in most small cars. Space is adequate for four adults, though seating for five is provided. Height-adjustable rear head restraints are standard. The area behind the rear seat holds 18 cubic feet of cargo, and the 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold to provide additional cargo space. Folding the seats creates 41.8 cubic feet of cargo room. The instruments are backlit in a vibrant blue hue at night, and the driver faces a sporty, three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Seats, as one expects in a model with this pedigree, are sports designed with ample bolsters for the demands of more spirited driving, with adjustable lumbar support in both front seats. Eight-way, manual sport fabric seats are standard with adjustable head restraints for all seating positions. Also standard is Volkswagen’s “Easy Entry System,” which allows rear occupants more entry space when the front seats are recessed in this practical two-door.
The standard stereo system in the new GTI befits its road manners with a premium 10-speaker AM/FM radio sound system with in-dash single CD/DVD player, MP3 format readable, satellite radio compatible for either XM® or SIRIUSä and theft deterrence.
Two basic GTI option packages are available. The first adds a power sunroof, and satellite radio for a choice of XM or SIRIUS service. The second option package includes Climatronicä dual-zone automatic climate control, top-level front sport seats with leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, and heated windshield washer nozzles.
While employing the basic tried-and-true independent McPherson strut architecture, the new GTI handling is enhanced by a number of revisions that include a new strut-type axle that helps create a more direct steering ratio; higher transversal axle rigidity and a lowered tendency to exhibit body roll on tight turns. This new architecture also uses separate mountings of springs and dampers and allows for improved lower wishbones mounting points, and the use of twin-sleeve shock absorbers.
At the rear, for the first time, the GTI comes equipped with an advanced multi-link independent rear suspension. This groundbreaking feature promises not only to improve the GTI’s sporty performance but also helps improve the balance of offering sporty driving dynamics and ride sophistication. This fully independent four-link suspension, with coil springs, telescopic shocks and stabilizer bar, also allowed the designers and engineers to create more space and practicality to the GTI, including a large opening into the luggage compartment.
Handling performance is honed to perfection by the GTI’s new electro-mechanical power rack-and-pinion steering system, which offers an extremely good "center feel" and contributes significantly to the new car’s confident straight-line stability. This gives the new GTI driver a desirable connected-to-the-road feel but also provides the added capability of active-return steering and straight-ahead driving correction assistance.
Additionally the list of technologically advanced standard equipment on the GTI includes: next-generation Electronic Stabilization Program; and a multi-function trip computer with compass and instant calculations for elapsed time and distance and fuel usage, to mention a few.
In addition to its active safety features, the GTI comes standard with a host of passive safety equipment: driver and front passenger front airbags, driver and front passenger side thorax airbags, Side Curtain Protection® supplemental restraint systems; crash active front headrests; and Daytime Running Lights (DRL).
Test drives impressions
The 2006 GTI comes with a choice of two transmissions, a traditional six-speed manual that’s as smooth-shifting as anything ever offered by The People’s Car, or the excellent six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox sequential manual that first appeared in the U.S. in the 3.2-liter Audi TT. And the new car will be nicely priced (in the low-$20s, VW promises) in the spirit of the original Rabbit-based GTI. Options will include the DSG, leather interior replacing the heated plaid-cloth seats, a sunroof, and a navigation system, but not much else. The automaker provided only plaid-cloth, six-speed fully manual red cars with nav systems for the first drive. It’s an impressive car.
While 200 horsepower is entry-level these days for a decent pocket-rocket, in this light, lithe and sleek hatchback, it feels like the right number, making for a well-balanced car. You can throw the car into a tight turn, downshift to second, and get even, strong power from the turbo four, with virtually no lag and with a crisp, rorty exhaust note that could be a tad louder. It’s uncanny how smooth this turbo engine is, certainly the smoothest four-cylinder of its kind. VW estimates a 7.2-second 0-to-62-mph time, and it feels a bit quicker. But, like the original 110-horsepower GTI launched in Europe in 1976, the car isn’t all about power; it’s about graceful use of power. Think of that first GTI versus a big sled of a 1964 GTO, and you’ll understand. The GTI will make you feel good about turning and braking as well as going straight, where the VW shows its European bias - estimated top - speed is about 146 mph.
VW uses electric steering in the GTI, but the engineers know something about that technology most other automakers don’t. It has light feel, yet it’s as precise and direct as any steering rack extant and offers good feedback. VW’s first customer ought to be General Motors, which should buy one or two for some reverse engineering. It’s another component of that balance issue - when you can throw a car into a tight corner and precisely find the right line, downshift smoothly, and then accelerate out with no turbo lag, it feels as good as any exotic with two or three times the horsepower. The brakes are powerful and positive, in that way that makes you think that only Germans understand brakes. The aluminum pedals, with rubber pad inserts, don’t quite cooperate, however. The brake is too high next to the throttle pedal, making heel-and-toeing less than ideal.
The 2006 GTI is full of Teutonic subtlety, but it also is fast. Volkswagen is positioning it as being already prepared. No tuning necessary.
The GTI draws its energy from Volkswagen’s smaller and lighter 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which has been turbocharged to boost its output to 200 horsepower and to 207 pound-feet of torque, with peak torque holding steady all the way from 1800 to 5000 rpm.
Volkswagen notes that the GTI can rocket from a standing start to 60 miles per hour in just 6.8 seconds, but notes, too, that the car is rated at 23 miles per gallon in town and 32 on the highway with the manual transmission and at 25 and 31, respectively, with the Direct Shift Gearbox, which can be left in a fully automatic mode or can be manually manipulated by racing-style paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
The GTI has a bit too much road and wind noise, but it’s not a deal-breaker. You’ll notice the word "refined" is missing so far from this story. But the GTI has plenty of refinement, feeling like a boy racer that’s grown up into something a baby boomer could drive without looking silly, and it advances VW’s reputation for offering the best interiors in the biz. Its interior is black, with muted brushed-aluminum strips in the dash, on the doors, and around the gearshift boot. The steering wheel’s thick rim is covered in perforated and nonperferated leather and has built-in audio controls. The center stack has enough subtle chrome trim to keep it from looking like a Cadillac CTS. There are side and curtain airbags, and its grab-handles and sunglass holder are damped as nicely as you’ll find in any Mercedes . The plaid front buckets are two of the best seats in the industry, with supportive side bolstering and comfortably firm cushions. The seat rake controls, unfortunately, are those old German car twist-knobs.
For indecisive buyers, the 2006 Volkswagen GTI is a dream come true because there’s only one trim, and most everything is included in the $22,620 base price (price includes the $630 destination charge). Among the standard features are power heated mirrors, air conditioning, an anti-theft alarm, cruise control, a trip computer with an outside temperature gauge, a 10-speaker sound system with a six-disc CD changer and an MP3 player, front sport seats with manual lumbar adjustment, and a thickly-padded, three-spoke leather steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. That’s all in addition to the 200-horsepower turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission that motivates this pocket rocket.
Supporting the capable powertrain is a fully-independent sport-tuned suspension system, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard. Four-wheel disc brakes, vented up front and solid out back, work with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution to slow things down, including the standard 225/45 summer tires and multi-spoke 17-inch alloys (all-season tires are a no-cost option). Above it all is a body that is up to 35 percent more rigid than that of the outgoing GTI.
The 2006 Volkswagen GTI comes as a two-door hatchback, with a choice of six-speed manual transmission ($21,990) or the six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG ($23,065).
A four-door version of the GTI will be offered when the 2007 models are introduced. Other versions of the fifth-generation Golf will be launched into the American market at the same time. Those Golfs will be powered by Volkswagen’s 150-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine already being used in the New Beetle and Jetta.
The GTI comes with an extensive list of standard equipment and only a limited number of options are offered. All GTIs come with air conditioning, well-bolstered seats with Interlagos plaid cloth insets, eight-way adjustable front seats with East Entry access to the 40/60 split folding rear seat, blue-tinted glass, xenon high-intensity gas-discharge headlamps with washers, halogen fog lamps, turn signal lights on the exterior rearview mirrors, variable intermittent windshield wipers, a height-adjustable center armrest, cruise control, a trip computer, remote unlocking as well as power windows that can be opened or closed with the key fob, aluminum alloy pedals, a 10-speaker audio system with six-CD changer and MP3 player, a tilt and telescoping steering column with audio controls on the steering wheel, plenty of cup holders, and a carpeted and covered cargo area.
Option Package 1 ($1370) includes a power sunroof and satellite radio (XM or Sirius). Option Package 2 ($3160) includes the sunroof and satellite radio and adds dual-zone climate controls, leather seating and heated front seats and washer nozzles. A DVD-based navigation system can be added to either package ($1800).
The GTI comes standard with 17-inch summer performance tires on alloy wheels, but all-season tires (no cost) and 18-inch wheels with summer performance tires ($750) are optional. Rubber floor and cargo-area mats are available ($185) along with accessories, such as a lower body kit and various cargo organizers.
Safety features include front airbags, side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags, three-point harnesses for all seating positions (wear them), LATCH child seat anchors. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) come standard, along with Brake Assist, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control, traction control (anti-slip regulation and electronic differential lock, engine-braking assist).
Volkswagen GTI vs. Honda Civic SI
Honda and Volkswagen understand the need of creating stylish models and sporty enough to catch the eye of young buyers.. Both companies have a lot riding on their respective Civic and Jetta/Rabbit (formerly Golf) compact cars. To further diversify these lineups, both companies created high-performance variants of these cars to appeal to both enthusiasts and the ever-growing tuner market. Branded as the Honda Civic Si coupe and Volkswagen GTI hatchback, these specially-tuned compacts build upon the success of previous generations while keeping in step with current technology.
Both the Civic Si and GTI can trace their roots back to the 1980s, with the introduction of the Rabbit GTI (incidentally, VW has resurrected the Rabbit name for 2007 instead of the previous Golf moniker) and Civic Si. Both cars were introduced as performance-oriented models, designed to up the fun-to-drive quotient of their more mainstream siblings. Both cars offered excellent performance at affordable price levels.
While the GTI remained a hatchback design, the Civic Si jumped between coupe and hatchback body styles, with the current model being a coupe. Though the body styles varied, Civic remained consistent in delivering high-output 4-cylinder engines. GTIs, on the other hand, wavered between 4- and 6-cylinder motors. The recently-introduced 2006 GTI goes back to its 4-cylinder roots, but ups the ante by using a turbocharger.
The GTI’s strongest attribute is its versatile 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that has been praised for its broad powerband and flexibility. However, it isn’t the engine’s 200 hp, but its meaty 207 lb-ft of torque that comes on at just 1800 rpm that had those editors leaning toward the Volkswagen.
While the Honda, with the same displacement, also manages close to 200 hp-197 to be exact-the normally aspirated Si achieves that with its tried-and-tested VTEC formula of high rpm. The tradeoff is a torque figure of 139 lb-ft at 6200 rpm for the Civic. The senior editors maintained that torque deficit and the Si’s “Drive it like you stole it” style would likely be enough to nudge the GTI into the winner’s circle.
the Civic has a mandatory 6-speed manual transmission. Shift throws and clutch action are both positive, making the car very easy to launch smoothly and take turns at speed. Short gearing means the engine is very busy, even at modest highway speeds. At that time, even while engine speed is up, sometimes a downshift of two gears is required for decent highway passing response.
The GTI gives owners a pair of transmission choices, a traditional 6-speed manual, or Volkswagen’s 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). The DSG is a sequential manual transmission (SMT), which is essentially a manual without a clutch pedal. It can be shifted via steering wheel paddles or the floorshifter. It can also be set to shift like an automatic transmission.
The only GTI made available to Consumer Guide (r) for testing had the DSG, but it worked superbly. Manual shifts could be tailored with precision, truly maximizing the turbo engine’s power. The ability to set it to shift like an automatic is a boon for urban commuting. The DSG’s flexibility gives it the edge here.
On the road, their sporty natures result in rides that are quite firm. Bumps and ruts pound through the body structures, but neither car loses its composure. Each test model was equipped with optional summer performance tires. Keeping the standard, all-season treads likely would soften the ride without much of a handling penalty.
The Si is easier to control at launch, thanks to a standard front limited-slip differential. We got the most traction at 2500 rpm, and the car needs a sensitive foot to avoid excess wheelspin. The Honda is around two-tenths of a second slower than the VW, posting a 6.53-second time to 60 mph, and a 14.93-second run at 95.7 mph for the quarter-mile.
While the Si loses in a controlled test, in a real-life drag race bragging rights would ultimately come down to who gets off the line best, because after that it’s simply a matter of snatching the next gear. Keep going to 100 mph, and the Si catches the GTI, actually reaching the century mark earlier, 16.4 seconds vs. 16.44.
Are the Civic Si and GTI to be extremely popular with their respective fanbases? For those who may be looking at both, which should you choose? The answer isn’t completely cut and dry; neither of these vehicles is vastly superior to the other in any category. Nor do they have any severe detriments that could sway you one way or the other.