A Good Car for Bad Times
Volkswagen GTI reclaims its fun-on-a-budget title
Maybe it was the smoky-gray paint, or more likely nostalgia, but the Volkswagen GTI that recently arrived at my doorstep in Brooklyn nearly brought a tear to my eye.
I owned a pair of successive GTIs in the '80s, both the 8-valve and 16-valve models, when the GTI was busily inventing the pocket-rocket segment. The first GTI was sold here in ’83, where it immediately ran rings around dreck like Ford Probes and Chevy Berettas. As fans know, the GTI then suffered its own long couch-potato period, when it grew fat, soft and complacent.
Now the GTI is enjoying a second golden age, with power, handling and technology that we couldn’t have imagined 25 years ago. Its racy rebirth has won it some serious accolades: Automobile Magazine recently named the 2010 GTI its Car of the Year, an unprecedented repeat of an honor the VW took just three years ago.
The new GTI may look like a sweet little hatchback, but it’s actually a 2-lane killer with sharpened razors in its steering and handling. I’ve driven luxury cars that could take notes from the GTI’s interior, from its tremendously supportive seats, clad in retro-preppy plaid fabric, to a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel that wouldn’t look out of place in a $75,000 sports car. And the good stuff under the hood, including a 2-liter, 200-horsepower turbo four and the brilliant DSG automated manual gearbox, can also be found in Audi models at double the GTI’s price.
In contrast to some of its competition, the Volkswagen is also a performance car that grown-ups don’t have to be embarrassed to drive, or to be seen in. There’s no rear wing, the stylistic equivalent of a backwards baseball cap. There’s no petri-dish paint colors, no shed-sized hood scoop. Just a low-key handsome hatchback that seats four adults in surprising comfort.
And as Automobile alluded to, the GTI is also the right car for the times. It's proof that you don’t have to spend Porsche or Corvette money to have roller-coaster thrills behind the wheel. The GTI is as eager for fun as Britney on a bender, but it’s also practical, affordable and fuel-efficient. Equipped with DSG transmission, the GTI is rated at 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway. And for all that, the V-Dubya starts at just over $24,000.
That makes the Volkswagen a car that can ditch the recession as quickly as you can punch the gas.
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