The Volkswagen GTI combines performance, fuel economy, driving enjoyment and hatchback versatility in an understated exterior and nicely finished interior. The current sixth-generation version was introduced for 2010 amidst a raft of awards and lists: GTI won Automobile magazine's automobile of the year for 2010 and is the only car to have won that award twice.
Nearly 40 years ago GTi helped spawn the hot-hatch segment of the market, economy car staples given the tuner treatment for driving fun (VW called it Fahrvergnugen) and extra performance without making it useless for daily tasks in the process. Now a GTI with a capital I, the GTI is based on the Volkwswagen Golf compact but gets different suspension, brakes, engine, transmission, seats and body trim.
GTI was all-new for 2010.
The 2011 Volkswagen GTI carries over largely unchanged but gets some significant technological upgrades: new audio, navigation, Bluetooth with audio streaming and phonebook download, a new smart key system, and 18-inch wheels as standard equipment. Other changes are aimed primarily at packaging simplicity to keep costs down, and therein lie our two minor criticisms: If you want something in the Autobahn package, like the Dyanudio sound system, you have to get every other option. Also, rear-seat side airbags, which aren't appropriate for hauling kids around anyway, are no longer offered.
One of a handful of performance hatchbacks to do so, the GTI offers a choice of two or four doors. The four-door (aka five-door) offers more convenience but the rear seat and space is the same in both. With folding rear seats and big hatch opening you can get a lot of odd-shaped items into this sub-14-foot car, and four adults fit quite comfortably.
A turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine generates 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque over a wider range than anything in its class. The only choice in mechanicals is a 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. Tight suspension, rubber-band tires, big wheels and stout brakes are built in.
The GTI competes primarily against the faster, edgier, front-drive MazdaSpeed3; the more powerful, all-wheel drive Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and Subaru Impreza WRX; the less-powerful, front-drive non-hatch Civic Si; and the similarly quick, rear-drive, trunk-equipped Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T. The GTI gets better fuel economy than any of them, and is less expensive than all but the Genesis Coupe which has a comparably small rear seat and trunk.