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Come fly with the GTI
By Alan Bedenko

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I like cars that are fun to drive. I like them to be quick off the line. I like them to handle well; I don’t like them to lean too much, and I like to feel that the car is stuck to the road like Velcro. I like cars that stop when you need them to stop and that have a bit of oomph to them. I like cars that have a solid feel with good interior materials to maximize perceived quality.

So I recently tried out the new VW GTI. The fifth iteration of the original hot hatch came Stateside last year, and it’s won awards and accolades from practically every automotive publication. At its core, however, it’s a Rabbit.

A souped-up, pimped out Rabbit.

For 2007, the GTI comes standard with bi-xenon headlights—the ones that glow blue and blind other motorists. It comes standard with fog lamps and a 6-speed manual transmission that has a throw that’s a bit longer than one might expect from what’s essentially a sports car, but satisfying nonetheless. The pedals are done up in stainless steel. The front grille area is black with a red accent—just like the original GTI—and a honeycomb pattern.

I happen to like the look of the four-door GTI better than the two-door, because it has a bit of a chunkier bulldog look to it. It’ll haul you and your kids, and look hot doing it.

The GTI comes mated to a 2.0 liter turbocharged FSI direct inject engine that goes like gangbusters. The direct injection makes it quite economical on gas, and in highway driving you’ll get well over 30 MPG. The problem is that it’s so fun to zip around traffic that your mileage around town might be a bit disappointing.

Off the line, the car takes off with hardly any torque steer, despite mating big horsepower and front-wheel drive. The brakes are responsive, and under emergency braking conditions the electronic brake distribution (EBD) and anti-lock braking (ABS) systems work together to get you stopped in a hurry. Fans of modding their cars will smile at the red brake calipers on all four wheels. Standard. So are the sport suspension, the sway bars, and the electronic stability program.

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Handling is tight, and the three-spoke steering wheel is extraordinarily pleasant to touch. Leather-wrapped, it’s not perfectly round, and is chunkier in some places than others. Gripping it, you feel like you’re behind the wheel of a true sports car.

While the 6-speed manual is standard, Volkswagen also offers the GTI with an innovative dual clutch gearbox called DSG, for direct shift gearbox. The system uses two clutches that work with two three-speed transmissions. What that means is that when you’re at a stop, the car is simultaneously in first and second gear. When you shift to second, it’s seamless and quick with no acceleration lag whatsoever. Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel give you a driving experience that’s seldom available in a car that retails for between $21,000 to $27,000. Shifting between gears takes 8 milliseconds. Try that with a manual. The DSG also has a feature called “launch control.” Turn off the ESP, put the DSG in sport mode, put your left foot on the brake, and press the gas pedal to the floor. Take your foot off the brake, and blast off.

The dash is handsome, done up in red and blue lights. The stereo system features an in-dash 6-CD changer, an AUX input, and Sirius Satellite Radio is not only available, they’ll throw in three free months. The instrument cluster features a handy, red multifunction display, which includes a basic trip computer system.

The front bucket seats go beyond supportive—they cradle you, which is handy when you’re whipping the car around a curvy road. An adjustable, retractable armrest covers the center console. The rear seats are surprisingly roomy for a small hatchback, and there’s a center armrest. The hatch has a removable cover, and the back seats fold down 60-40, so there’s plenty of cargo capability.

If you’re in the market for a smaller car that gets good mileage but is loads of fun to drive, this might be the one for you. Available at VW of Orchard Park, Northtown Automotive in Amherst, and Schmitt’s Garage in Bowmansville.

Alan Bedenko (abedenko@gmail.com) is a lawyer who lives in Clarence with his wife and daughter.


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