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Review : Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition


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SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide

By JOHN HEILIG

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL: Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition
ENGINE: 1.8-liter turbocharged four
STICKER PRICE: $23,800

Sometimes it's hard to believe that Volkswagen's hot little pocket rocket, the GTI, is 20 years old. But it is. Here I am, driving number 2946 of the special edition 2003 GTI. The car is Jazz Blue and should have someone under 25 driving it, but it's been a long time since I passed for 25.

So here's the first caveat. The GTI is designed for a younger generation than that to which I am a member. If I sound like a fuddy-duddy at times, that's why.

Under the hood of the GTI is a turbocharged 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine that pumps out 180 horses. When you realize the front end of the GTI is identical to that of the Jetta, you also realize that there's room for a V6or even W8 under the hood, which could offer some serious power.

But the four is just right. It winds up well through all six speeds of the manual transmission. We drove the GTI into and out of New York City and through some tough traffic. Those of you who know me know I enjoy dicing with New York City taxis. The GTI is great for these games, offering neck-snapping acceleration and great, if stiff, handling.

On the Lincoln Tunnel ramps, I was able to maintain a steady speed while almost all the other vehicles had to slow. It made me feel like a race car driver.

On the highway, shifting into sixth gear brought the engine revs down which imptoved fuel economy. The GTI is listed at 23 mpg city, 30 mph highway, and I have no doubt that the highway figure is accurate. With my city driving, though, I'd question any estimates.

Adding to the sportiness of the GTI are metal pedals and a metal "dead pedal" for your left foot when you aren't shifting. The pedals are the first things you see when you enter the car and you know immediately that it means business. There are additional brushed metal trim pieces located throughout the cabin.

The GTI also had a nice leather-covered steering wheel that gave a good feel for what was gong on and gave the driver good control of the car.

The GTI is based on the Golf, which in itself is based on the Rabbit, introduced 26 years ago. In fact, there's a little rabbit decal on the door fronts to remind you of this.

With its heritage, the trunk of the GTI is smallish, but the rear seat backs do fold down to increase carrying capacity.

Speaking of seats, the front seats are Recaro designs, and Recaro puts the seats in Porsches, so there's a strong racing heritage there.

There are many cupholders located throughout the cabin, but none will hold larger cups or water bottles. A car designed for a younger crowd should have larger cupholders, not just the small ones that hold old folks' coffee cups.

For amenities, there is an excellent sound system - when you can get the radio station to come in - and an HVAC system that can erase all the hot weather outside.

The power sunroof had different controls (a knob you turned one way to open it fully, another to tilt it). When you learned how the controls worked the sunroof was a pleasant addition.

There was no traditional ash tray. The "lighter" had been replaced with a 12V power outlet and the "ash tray" with a red plastic piece. Since road test cars are non-smoking, this may have been a "press" addition. If it wasn't, I think it's a great idea.

I liked the GTI. I could have loved it, but I'm probably 40 years too old for it. Even 20 years ago, when it was first introduced, I was probably too old, but I wish I belonged to the proper demographic then - and now.

2003 The Auto Page Syndicate