$20,000 to $25,000 Front-wheel drive Performance Sedan
Who should buy this car:
A person who wants a sports car, but needs the practicality of a small sedan.
Comparable models in this class:
Mazda MAZDASPEED 3, Subaru WRX
2007 Volkswagen GTI Road Test Review
A lot of brand names come to mind when you think about cars as toys.
They range from the megabuck marques such as Ferrari and Lamborghini to more affordable choices such as Miata, Solstice and Sky, and all have one thing in common. They are made for the folks who love to drive, the people who think that getting there is half or more of the fun.
Unfortunately, most of these exciting vehicles come with only two seats and a pocket-size trunk. They are recreational vehicles, unsuited for duty in a larger world of grocery shopping, child transport and family vacations.
Fortunately for those who cannot afford the luxury of a play car, there are some choices that combine the twin goals of business and pleasure.
The most enjoyable one I have driven in some time is the 2007 Volkswagen GTI.
Available now as a family-friendly four-door sedan as well as the traditional two-door, the GTI is the practical equal of the mid-size entries from just about any manufacturer.
It can hold a nuclear family and enough luggage for that annual vacation. Its hatchback configuration, combined with fold-down rear seats, even gives it an edge for those trips to the home improvement center.
But, when the week is over and the work is done, the GTI is ready to romp, to put a smile on the face of the driver who enjoys honing his skills on a favorite back road.
Volkswagen generally is credited with creating the affordable and economical sports sedan when it introduced the first GTI in Germany 30 years ago. It came to the United States in 1983 and still holds a pleasant spot in the memories of those U.S. buyers who were there at the beginning. However, over the years the folks at Volks let the taut GTIs youthful exuberance slip into a softer, heavier and more comfort-oriented demeanor until now.
The heart and soul of the original are back. The VW has recaptured its verve, its tone, its muscle.
A lively engine meshes with a slick, six-speed manual shifter, nicely weighted steering, strong brakes and a suspension that can jockey the GTI adroitly through the twists and turns without beating up its passengers over the bumps.
While major competitors rely on smooth, V-6 engines for their sportiest models, Volkswagen has installed a turbocharged four-banger that responds eagerly to its drivers commands. It can also be found in a variety of other automobiles produced by Volkswagen and Audi.
The powerplant, which features direct fuel injection and four valves per cylinder, produces a seemingly modest 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. But, with turbo lag nearly nonexistent and maximum torque available at 1,800 rpm, the engine can propel the GTI from a stop to 60 mph in 7 seconds.
What makes the engine so sweet, to the enthusiast driver, is the availability of maximum torque at such a low engine speed. Power into a sharp corner and its there to pull you back to speed smoothly and strongly. Dont feel like shifting all the time? The engine has remarkable pulling power in fourth, fifth and even sixth gears.
Of course, the manual transmission has a lot to do with this. Its properly spaced, close-ratio gearing, combined with smooth, short shifts and an easy-to-operate clutch, makes it possible to keep the engine in the heart of its power curve at all times.
While the traditional manual transmission may always be the choice of purists, Volkswagen has an optional, $1,075 six-speed auto/manual transmission known as DSG that does the job even better. It will cut a tenth of a second off 0-to-60 mph times and return improved fuel mileage around town.
On the subject of fuel mileage, the EPA claims 23 mpg (manual) and 25 mpg (DSG) in city driving and 31 (DSG) and 32 (manual) on the highway. In a week of sometimes aggressive driving my fuel mileage varied from 18 to 28. Premium fuel is recommended, but regular gasoline can be used with a slight performance penalty.
Almost amazingly, the understeer which a driver would normally expect from a front-wheel-drive vehicle is somehow missing from the GTI. The electromechanical rack-and-pinion setup simply follows the drivers orders, pulling the car around turns without complaint and accurately signaling road conditions back through the steering wheel.
In addition, torque steer, another way in which a powerful front-drive cars fights orders from the steering wheel, is basically absent from the GTI.
A set of strong brakes can be an enthusiasts best friend and the four-wheel antilock discs on the GTI are up to the job.
The excellent body and ride control is thanks to rigid body construction and an independent, sport-tuned suspension with struts up front and a multilink setup at the rear wheels. The GTI is truly as comfortable on the highway as it is capable in tight turns.
On the outside, the hot hatchback is distinguished from its lesser brethren mostly by a black mesh grille and its prominent GTI badging. Its styling can hardly be called graceful, but its a classic example of form following function.
Inside, the eight-way manually adjustable front bucket seats are a masterful blend of comfort and support. They will hold driver and passenger snugly in place during aggressive driving, yet offer fatigue-fighting comfort for those long highway stretches.
Tasteful plaid cloth upholstery combined with aluminum and brushed metal accents give the GTI cabin a sporty, youthful appearance. For the driver, there is a three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, clear instrumentation and conveniently placed switchgear.
Standard safety features on the GTI include stability and traction control, driver and front-passenger front and side airbags, front and rear side curtains, Xenon headlights, side-impact door beams and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Base price of the four-door GTI is $22,600, and that includes air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and door locks, heated power outside mirrors, multi-function trip computer and a 10-speaker audio system with in-dash 6-cd player and MP3 and satellite radio capability.
The only options on the car I drove were rear side-impact airbags ($350) and a package that included a power sunroof and satellite radio service ($1,370). Add the $630 delivery charge, and the total comes to $24,950.
Additional available options include a navigation system, dual-zone climate control, leather seating surfaces and heated front seats.
From this enthusiasts point of view, the GTI pretty much has it all. There are more expensive, sport-oriented sedans with more power and more features, but none I can think of that are more fun.
Standard Equipment (partial list)
Turbocharged 2.0 liter 200 hp 4 cylinder engine
6-speed manual transmission
17 inch alloy wheels with performance tires
4 wheel disc brakes with ABS
Dual front side mounted air bags
Front and rear head air bags
Xenon high intensity discharge headlamps
Tire pressure monitoring
Front fog/driving lights
Remote power door locks
Heated power mirrors
Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo with 10 speakers
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model. Some items only available as part of an option group, see your Volkswagen dealer for details)
6 speed shiftable automatic transmission
Power glass sunroof
Dual zone automatic climate control
DVD navigation system
GTI ground effects kit
18" "Hufeisen" design alloy wheels with 225/40HR18 performance tires.
Sirius satellite radio
Rear seat side thorax airbags
Premium audio system
Park distance control
Bi-xenon headlights with Adaptive Front Lighting System
For more information on the Volkswagen GTI, visit vw.com
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