2011 Volkswagen Golf GTI Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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You know an automotive concept is sound when, 35 years later, it carries on essentially unchanged and still works brilliantly. Such is the success of Volkswagen's Golf GTI, the original hot hatch.

The Golf was introduced to the world in 1974, and was called the Rabbit on North American shores. It was followed in 1976 by the Golf GTI, a ground-breaking car that proved you can combine practicality, immense fun, and reasonable economy all into a single package (though unfortunately for North American consumers it took several years before the GTI became available on this side of the Atlantic).

Now into its sixth generation (the Mk.6 was introduced for 2009), Volkswagen's Golf GTI has remained unwaveringly close to the original concept. It has grown a little in length, width, height and weight over the years, but not so much as to render it ungainly - it remains compact, tossable and a whole lot of fun to drive.

I was given a Deep Black 2011 5-door Golf GTI to try out for a week, equipped with a 6-speed DSG automatic gearbox, leather interior, technology package and 18-inch alloys. Did I have fun? You bet!

Slip behind the wheel of the GTI and there's something that just feels right about it. The exterior dimensions are reasonably compact, yet there's plenty of room for average-size people in the front seats and the outboard rear seats (the centre rear seat is a bit more of a squeeze, but I've seen worse in far larger vehicles). Add in good outward visibility, a capacious cargo area and spritely performance, and it makes the GTI an ideal tool for getting around the city: You can fit all your friends and gear aboard, park in most any available spot, dodge potholes with aplomb, and shoot forward at will to take advantage of gaps in traffic.

Certainly part of the "just right" feel comes thanks to the GTI's impressive interior, which uses nice quality materials and classy touches of chrome, aluminum and contrasting stitching. Clear, easy-to-read gauges and a relatively intuitive control layout put the driver in charge, and my test car's comfortable leather sports seats elevated the overall ambience to something on par with many of the Golf GTI's premium-compact cousins.

The suspension also does its part to make things just right: It's firm and sharp-handling but not at all rough, absorbing most minor imperfections in the road with little fuss. The steering is quick and precise, and despite the car's ample power Volkswagen has managed to pretty much eliminate torque steer. Gun it off the line and you'll burn rubber thanks to a sporty, somewhat laissez-faire traction control system, but you won't go rocketing into the next lane over. During my time with the GTI, I found that it rewarded good driving with phenomenal grip and mind-bogglingly fast cornering, yet forgave rough-edged driving with composure - mess up your line and you can change course mid-corner with very little complaint from the car. The anti-lock brakes use big vented discs in the front and solid discs in the rear to deliver rapid, worry-free stops.

Under the hood, the Golf GTI uses a 2.0L turbocharged direct-injected inline 4-cylinder engine to deliver both performance and economy. The engine cranks out 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, and with a curb weight of 1,410 kg (3,108 lbs) it'll scoot the GTI from standstill to 100 km/h in under 7 seconds while singing a pleasant mechanical song. Premium fuel is recommended, but fuel consumption is decent at 8.7 / 6.3 L/100km (city/hwy) for the automatic and 10.0 / 6.7 L/100km for the manual.

The technically inclined will note that these ratings give the advantage to the DSG automatic both in the city and on the highway, where oftentimes highway mileage is better with a manual transmission. The GTI manages this bit of magic because its Tiptronic automatic is really an automated dual-clutch sequential manual that offers the direct-hookup and low mechanical drag of a manual, with the fully-automatic shifting of a traditional automatic. This transmission really is an impressive bit of engineering, but at times it felt as if the car was having all the fun without me, blipping the throttle as it performed perfect rev-matched downshifts, and leaving my left foot searching futilely for a clutch pedal. I also found that in "drive" mode it would upshift too early, making the car feel sluggish and spotlighting the engine's otherwise barely-noticeable turbo lag. On the other hand, in "sport" mode the transmission was often overly aggressive, holding gears for too long before upshifting.

I got along with the transmission best by selecting sport mode and then using the steering-wheel mounted paddle-shifters to force upshifts a little earlier than the transmission would make them itself. What might be really neat is if Volkswagen fitted the car with a control knob so that in sport mode you select a target engine speed and then the car would shift with your target speed in mind. For myself, however, I'd probably elect to save $1,400 and get the manual transmission.

The manufacturer's suggested price for the Golf GTI is $29,875 with the manual transmission and $31,275 with the Tiptronic automatic gearbox, and that price includes a long list of standard equipment including sport suspension, electronic stability control, dual-zone electronic climate control, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, front fog lights, touch-screen 6-CD audio with 8 speakers and integrated Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and more. My test car added $2,600 for the leather seating and sunroof package (the sunroof is also available as a separate option), $975 for its aggressive-looking 18-inch wheels (I loved them, my colleague didn't) and $1,900 for a technology package that included a very nice touch-screen navigation system, iPod connectivity and upgraded 300-watt audio. Toss in $765 for delivery charges and the total cost as tested comes to $37,605. For that price you get a practical, fun-to-drive car with quality, handling and performance that compares favourably with much more expensive cars.

Long live the hot hatch!
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Volkswagen, VW, 2011, Golf, GTI, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999, Compact,

Organizations: Volkswagen, GTI

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