It’s easy to love sports cars. They’re usually a ball to drive, fun to look at, and exist solely to make you happy.
Who wouldn’t like that?
Well, except that a sports car is a selfish thing. They usually seat only two. Or the rear seats are torture devices. They can ride harsh. They can be loud. Trunk space? Ha! As an only car, a sports car is best for the young and unencumbered. Otherwise you’ll need a second car.
On roads clogged full of Sports Cars, Sedans, SUVs, CUVs and Trucks…
…is a GTI the only vehicle you’ll ever need?The GTI says “Yea!!”
Since first being introduced in the US in 1983, the GTI has given sports car like performance. OK, it’s a front driver – that used to be enough to push it out of the driver’s club for some. To them we say “Performance Package.”
First let’s start with the engine. This is the well known and loved 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder that powers a good deal of the line-up of both VW and Audi. Since it has to live under the hood ornament of the 4-rings, it is creamy smooth and refined. 220 hp out of turbo 4 is a nice number (non Performance Package models get 10 hp less), but the big fat 258 lb-ft of torque that kicks in at just 1500 rpm is what really gets your attention. Pop the VW in Sport Mode and it pumps in extra engine sound into the cabin, and it sounds great.
OK, it’s fake engine sound, but so well done, you don’t really care. And it gives an added dimension while still letting you have a quiet car on the daily drive.
There’s no faking with VW’s (and Audi’s) superb 6-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic – it’s the real deal. The shifting is lightning quick, anticipatory, and totally enjoyable to hand shift through the lever or the wheel-mounted paddles. It’s so good in fact; we’d probably opt for it over the manual. It’s quicker when you need it, and effortless when toodling in traffic.
We mentioned that front wheel drive thing too, but VW pulls a rabbit (VW joke here) out of its hat with the Performance Package’s torque-sensing limited slip differential. This makes the GTI one of the best handling front drivers we’ve ever driven. There’s no torque steer, no change of steering feel under power. Other than the fact that you can’t give it some boot to kick out the rear end, you’d never know the front wheels are getting all the power.
Another option on our tester was VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) with four available modes to adjust the suspension. We normally used Comfort in the day-to-day and it was wonderfully supple, very Audi-like. When we wanted to have fun we, punched in Sport and found a terrifically responsive chassis – that frankly still rode impressively well.
Combine the powertrain and chassis and you have a car that’s a real-world weapon. It’s deceptively fast and very easy to drive quickly. The growl in sport mode is addicting, and the chassis talks to you through the wheel and seats, making it a ball on on-ramps and off-ramps as well. German engineering, indeed!
So, the GTI pretty much has the performance thing nailed.
The crossover crowd says “how about carrying people and stuff?” In the SUV world, The VW actually offers plenty of cargo space, with a maximum 52.7 cubic feet of cargo, splitting the difference between Mazda’s fun-to-drive SUVs CX-3 (42.3 cu.ft.) and CX-5 (65.4 cu. ft.) The VW front seats (rich leather on our Autobahn model) are very comfortable and supportive in the German way, and rear legroom is reasonable for adults for shorter trips.
We understand that VW has to limit the permutations of models, but we are hopelessly enamored with the Clark Plaid cloth seating surfaces offered on the lower trims. But if you want things like a sunroof – which, should be noted, you could get with cloth in previous generations – you have to step up to leather. Unprintable German word goes here.
So our 4-Door VW also does a pretty good job being the capable carry-all that has been stealing the light from sedans in the last few years.What about the bells and whistles buyer? Well, step right up; the GTI has raised its game in technology and safety. The Navi and audio system of last year’s model got some well-deserved hard knocks for sluggish Navigation system performance and lack of simple things like a USB plug (an accessory one was available, but it made the VW seem out of touch).
For 2016, a massive info-tainment overhaul makes things up to date, with even base models getting a 6.5-inch touchscreen display with a cool proximity sensor that senses your hand to display a pop-up menu. It also sports voice control and the ability to pair with multiple compatible devices.
And since every carmaker seems to have a proprietary info-app–connectivity program, the GTI hooks you up with VW’s Car-Net App-Connect letting you access select Apps from your smartphone on the touchscreen, as well as controlling streaming music, mobile maps and messaging.
We can also report the Navi system is much improved, and will not have you cursing and pounding on the dash like last year’s models. Unless you like that sort of thing…
And as they say in the infomercials, there’s more….
One fun little bonus we enjoyed was the touch-screen’s customizable performance monitor, that lets you pull up 3 digital gauges on the screen like cornering G’s, oil temp, etc…to keep you in the loop. Great to know when the GTI’s spirited moves move you to move. Cool on a Nissan GT-R, cool here.
Even safety is well covered, as you’d expect from a European car, and the 2016 GTI carries a 5-star NHTSA safety rating. Upper level SE models offer a Driver Assistance Package that adds Forward collision warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control and Blind Spot Warning. A bargain at $595.
On the Autobahn model, the package also adds Parking Steering Assistant, Lane Departure Warning, Rear cross traffic alert, Park Pilot and auto-dimming rearview mirror. Pretty much state-of the art.
The Autobahn model certainly takes the high road, our tester giving us the full luxury treatment with the much-improved Navi system, Fender premium audio system, Drive mode selection, Performance monitor, Dual-zone climate control, a 12-way power seat and adaptive cruise control.
Of course, if you drive the Autobahn, you will have to pay the toll. (Actually, the toll is just for trucks at this point…) The Autobahn mit der Performance Package starts at $32,730. Hefty, but not hernia inducing. But add in the Driver Assistance Package ($1,495), Lighting Package ($995), Dynamic Chassis Control ($800) and Ach du lieber! You’re pushing over $36,840.
This is the point where we normally point out that you can get a GTI S model starting at just $25,595, and build up to Sport and SE models picking and choosing the what you want and fits your budget.
But we have to warn you; each one of the features and options on our tester was delightful. Having once sampled them, we can’t imagine having a GTI without them. So before you go to the dealer for a test drive, decide what you want, and please don’t test-drive the more expensive item. Or you’ll be seduced as we were.
So the GTI is as impressive as ever. Actually more impressive than ever. Great to drive, functional, flexible as a real-world vehicle, and a pretty good impersonation of a luxo-cruiser to boot. It’s not cheap, but when you consider it’s all around abilities, there’s very little that comes close. All the car you might ever need – and you’ll never feel like you had to compromise getting it.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.