2007 Volkswagen GTI 4-Door Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Volkswagen GTI 4 Door

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2007 Volkswagen GTI 4-Door

Few vehicle types can combine fun and utility better than a performance hatchback, and the Volkswagen GTI is the granddaddy of the genre. Since its European introduction in 1975, and US debut in 1983, it has always had the prototypical "three-door" - two doors and a rear hatch - access arrangement.

But now the newest iteration of the GTI, introduced last year in two-door form, is available with four-door body style as well. Minor structural changes for the four-door body shell add a minimal 62 pounds to its weight, so performance differences are nil. Rear seat access, for both passengers and, with the seats folded, cargo, is much easier than in the two-door. Same sport, more utility, what's not to like? The $500 premium over the two-door is a small price to pay for the added utility.

As in the two-door, power, 200 horses worth, is transmitted to the front wheels through a choice of six-speed manual or automanual DSG gearboxes from VW Group's lovely 2.0T FSI engine. Inside and out, the only differences between the two- and four-door GTI have to do with the number of doors. The four-door has child safety rear door locks; the two-door (obviously) doesn't. The two-door has the "Easy Entry System" which allows front seats to move forward easily for rear-seat access; the four-door hardly needs that.

My first drive in a four-door GTI was at my local automotive journalists association's annual track days in late Spring. I was favorably impressed during a half-hour stint in a street ride & drive session, and even more so the next day on the track. I got in it three or four times that day, each for a three-lap track session, and will happily nominate it as the most enjoyable car of the event because of its capability - and civilized comfort - both on the track and on the street. Its combination of torquey power, supple but precise suspension, and lightning-quick DSG gearbox put it at the top. Even more in its favor, that particular car had well over 10,000 miles on the odometer at the time.

And that was the same car that showed up in my driveway a couple of weeks ago, now with over 13,000 miles of journalist test car experience. Those were not easy miles, and easily worth twice as many "civilian" miles. Yet the GTI was solid, with only a few very minor rattles noticeable, and those bothered me not at all during the subsequent week. Character is missing in action from most cars today, even ones that are allegedly sports-performance machinery. Character is not missing from the VW GTI - it will never be mistaken for a bland transportation appliance. And besides being a complete pleasure to drive, it's practical, especially in four-door form. It's easier for passengers to get in the rear seat with four-doors. And with the large hatch at the rear and easy access through the rear doors, the four-door can swallow cargo that won't even fit in any sedan. Combine sports-sedan performance with small crossover utility and decent fuel economy, and Volkswagen's GTI is my kind of sport-utility vehicle.

APPEARANCE: External differences between the two-door and four door GTIs? Two short doors or four longer ones, and the consequent placement of the B-pillars. Other than those minor differences on the sides, the two are identical. Length, width, height, and wheelbase are all the same between the two. As with the two-door, look for a happy face at the front, with a smirking grin that says "let's play, hard!" On the GTI, VW's goatee front trim is in black instead of the chrome of other models, which tones it down considerably. On a black car, like my test car, it disappears.

COMFORT: Advantages of four doors? Better access for both passengers and cargo. Disadvantages? None. Well, 62 pounds and $500, if you want to quibble. Both objections are minor in the grand scheme of things, and are outweighed by the improved accessibility. Other than the number of doors, the four-door's interior is identical to that of the two-door GTI, with restrained, definably German styling and upscale materials. The front seats are manually-adjustable in eight ways, including cushion height, and with VW's manually tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel the perfect driving position is easily attainable. Rear seat room is good, especially headroom, and access is painless. My test car was outfitted with nearly every option in the factory catalog, with leather seating, a DVD navigation system, and dual zone climate control among the highlights. At that specification, a GTI is very nearly an entry-luxury performance car - still at a substantial discount over the German competition.

SAFETY: The new GTI has surrounds its occupants with a strong structure, and has dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags, side door beams, active front head restraints, strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, and the ESP electronic stability program.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The rigidity and strength of the newest GTI's unibody structure have not been noticeably diminished in the four-door variant. This provides an excellent base for the car's fully-independent suspension, which uses MacPherson struts in front, with a multilink rear replacing the twist-beam axle used previously. As has been the Volkswagen way, relatively soft springs and stiffer shocks give a good balance between comfort and sporty handling. My test car had the optional 18-inch wheels, shod with 225/40 performance-rated tires. Their shorter, stiffer sidewalls improve turn-in with a very slight increase in ride stiffness. On the street, the GTI is comfortable and willing to play. On the track, closer to its limits, there is plenty of body roll but the car is well-behaved and exceedingly enjoyable. A stiffer suspension calibration might be better for a track day or autocross car, but the stock setup is perfect for everyday use and quite useable on the track.

PERFORMANCE: Flat is good when it describes a engine's power and torque curves. And few engines have torque output as flat and strong as VW's 2.0-liter FSI direct fuel-injected, turbocharged, and intercooled four-cylinder. A dual overhead cam, 16-valve design, the FSI system, which injects a precise amount of gasoline directly into the combustion chamber, like a diesel, allows a high 10.5:1 compression ratio for increased torque and efficiency and decreased (as in non-existent) turbo lag. With 207 lb-ft of torque available from 1800 through 5000 rpm, and maximum horsepower - an even 200 - from 5100 through 6000 rpm, the engine is the diametric opposite of the peaky, high-revving units of some competitors. It's absurdly easy to move quickly, as any one of three gears will usually work in any given situation. Cruise at relatively low engine speeds for economy or rev it for maximum performance.

My test car had the optional DSG automatic. It's the real deal, just like the gearboxes used in contemporary racing cars, not a torque converter automatic with remote shifting. It's a twin-clutch manual gearbox with electronic/hydraulic controls that allow automatic operation that rivals any conventional torque converter automatic for fast, smooth shifting. Or it can be shifted manually by means of twin paddles behind the steering wheel. Shifts are much quicker than can be done with the stick, and the DSG automatically matches engine and transmission revs on downshifts. Fuel economy will vary with the intensity of use. On the highway I saw 30 mpg, and in mostly city and secondary road use got 24. On the track, flat out in second and third gear, try 9. Hey, if you're gonna play, you're gonna pay!

CONCLUSIONS: How do you make a great car like the Volkswagen GTI even better? Add two more doors for greater utility with no loss of sport.

SPECIFICATIONS

2007 Volkswagen GTI 4-Door

Base Price			$ 22,600
Price As Tested			$ 30,365
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve turbocharged
				 and intercooled inline 4-cylinder with
				 direct fuel injection. 
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.
Horsepower			200 @ 5100-6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			207 @ 1800-5000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed DSG (opt. 6 manual standard)
Wheelbase / Length		101.5 in. / 165.8 in.
Curb Weight			3212 lbs. 
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.1
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
				 recommended,
				 89 octane unleaded regular gasoline
				 permissible with reduced performance
Tires				P225/40 YR18 Continental Sport Contact2
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, ASR,
				 EDL, and ESP standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				 independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		25 / 32 / 24
0 to 60 mph				7.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Package 2 - includes: power sunroof, satellite radio service,
  partial leather seating surfaces, Top Sport front seats, 
  dual zone climatronic, cold weather package		$ 3,160
DVD navigation system with CD changer in center
  console						$ 1,800
6-speed DSG automatic manual gearbox			$ 1,075
18" alloy wheels with summer performance tires		$   750
Rear side impact airbags				$   750
Destination charge					$   630

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