SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide
Volkswagen invented a new automotive category when it debuted the GTI back in the mid-1980s. In an era of high-mileage, low-performance econoboxes, the GTI stood out. With no loss of utility or economy, it offered sporty performance at a very reasonable price. Soon imitation "pocket rockets" were everywhere.
The fad ran its course in the U. S., but the GTI lived on. Volkswagen has developed it extensively over the years. It has moved upscale, with comforts and features undreamed of for the budget-performance class when it debuted. While the current GTI is more expensive than the original, it is also considerably better. And the GLS model, introduced in mid-2000 with a 150-horsepower 1.8- liter turbocharged engine, may be the best GTI yet.
I've been driving a GTI GLS 1.8T for the past week, and having way too much fun. But, it's no impractical weekend-toy sports car. Its hatchback can swallow almost as much as can fit into one of those micro-SUVs, but the baby trucklets can't keep up with the GTI when the road gets interesting. Nor can they match its frugal appetite for fuel. And, with options including a premium "Monsoon" sound system, leather upholstery, and VW's six- position seat heaters, the baby GTI can have plenty of practical luxury for a reasonable price.
APPEARANCE: The GTI remains true to its roots with its two-box hatchback styling. But, thanks to the relatively thin roof pillars, sloping hood, and subtly-flared wheel arches, it has a lean and sporty look. The compound headlamps add high-tech interest, and provide good vision at night.
COMFORT: This is no poorly-appointed "econobox." The GLS trim level has been Volkswagen's most popular. No wonder there, as it includes excellent manually-adjustable sport seats with cushion height adjustment, a steering wheel manually adjustable for both tilt and reach, power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks with remote entry, a good audio system, and more as standard equipment. It's easy to find the perfect driving position because of the adjustability of the seats and steering wheel, and there is plenty of headroom. Except for a lack of wood trim, the instrument panel could be straight from one of the GTI's upscale cousins at Audi, with a tastefully functional design and good instrument and control placement. The instruments have blue backlighting at night, a VW touch first introduced in the New Beetle. Although the GTI has a two-door body, the doors are relatively long. Both front seats are spring-loaded to move forward when their seatbacks are folded forward, for easier rear seat access. Once in, there is a fair amount of legroom and plenty of headroom. Three people will fit, but two will be more comfortable. A 60/40 split for both the rear seat back and flip-up cushions, and the large, near-vertical hatch, give the GTI cargo versatility. Large boxes that won't fit in a sedan's trunk and may be hard to get through its doors fit easily.
SAFETY: The GTI's rigid unibody structure includes front and rear crumple zones. All seating positions have three-point harnesses. Dual front and front side airbags, antilock brakes, and all-speed traction control are standard.
ROADABILITY: The 2000 GTI GLS has a very civilized European tuning to its MacPherson strut front / twist beam rear suspension. It combines comfort and handling ability, with plenty of suspension travel and a perfect match of spring and shock absorber rates. It has less weight on its front wheels than the VR6-engined GTI GLX, and so feels even more nimble. Torque steer is minimal. In its current form, the GTI is a true baby grand touring car, with long-term comfort and entertaining handling. A sport suspension with recalibrated springs and shocks, and 17-inch alloy wheels replacing the standard 16s, is slated for model year 2001. I had the opportunity to drive a GTI GLS so equipped at the press introduction, and found that it had less body roll in corners with little compromise in comfort. It should be a worthwhile, but not absolutely necessary, option.
PERFORMANCE: How to have too much fun: drive a GTI turbo. The innovative 1.8-liter, five-valve-per-cylinder engine is also found in other VWs, and in the Audi A4 1.8T. The GTI is the lightest of the bunch, and so has the best performance. Its 150 horsepower is significantly more than the old 2.0-liter non-turbo engine's 115, and not all that much less than the six-cylinder GTI GLX's 174. As an added benefit, the 1.8T makes its maximum torque, a healthy 155 lb-ft, from 1750 to 4200 rpm. As has been said, horsepower is what you brag about, torque is what you feel. The only time any turbo lag is noticeable is right from a start, and that's minimal. At any other time, needed power is available instantly. This engine highlights all that is right about turbo motors, with none of their faults. The standard five-speed manual gearbox is the perfect match for this engine, with smooth, fast shifting and a light clutch.
CONCLUSIONS: The Volkswagen GTI GTS 1.8T has a great combination of performance, comfort, and versatility.
SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Volkswagen GTI 1.8T Base Price $ 19,225 Price As Tested $ 20,995 Engine Type dual overhead cam 20-valve inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 1.8 liters / 109 cu. in. Horsepower 150 @ 5700 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 155 @ 1750 - 4200 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 98.9 in. / 163.3 in. Curb Weight 2,811 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.7 Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium gasoline, 91 octane Tires P195/65 HR15 Michelin MXV4 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 24 / 31 / 27 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.31 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Monsoon sound system $ 295 Leather package - includes: leather seating surfaces, steering wheel, & hand brake, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles $ 850 California emissions (northeast same price) $ 100 Destination charge $ 525