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2003 VOLKSWAGEN GTI - Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
GTI 20th Anniversary Edition

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide


By Marc J. Rauch, Exec. VP & Co-Publisher

Essentially, there are four steps to falling in love with the GTI, and frankly, they’re the same four steps to falling in love with every Volkswagen and Audi vehicle.

Step 1: You get in the car ad sit down. There’s something about every VW product that just feels so good.

Step 2: You insert the key and engage the ignition. The car starts so damn nicely. If feels and sounds good.

Step 3: You shift into first gear. The knob feels good, the clutch feels good, the liquid motion of pushing the stick into first feels exquisite.

Step 4: You accelerate forward.

Each step alone is enough to make you fall in love, but when you combine all four together, it’s a sure thing. However, if you’re a real hard case and these four steps are not enough to make you feel amorous toward some sheet metal, then wait until dark when you get to do it all by the glow of the incredibly sexy cobalt blue interior lights.

The GTI is irresistible. In my opinion, the only thing preventing Volkswagens in general, and the GTI in particular, from being universally accepted as the world’s most perfect automobiles are their exterior designs. Don’t get me wrong, I personally like them and find them a refreshing change in a car-world where so many vehicles are only differentiated by the maker’s name and model designation (Hello, Detroit!). But let’s face facts, not everyone appreciates Volkswagen’s designs. Incredibly, there are even some people that don’t like how the new Beetle looks. Of course, these are probably the same people that don’t think that E.T. the Extraterrestrial was one of the greatest movies ever made.

Now, as I said, I don’t have a problem with VW designs. However, I don’t think that the GTI’s design, for example, appropriately expresses just how great the car is. For example, a couple of years ago, when I first had the opportunity to evaluate a GTI, I drove the car from my office to a local shopping mall for lunch. I went through all of the above mentioned steps and fell in love with it. From inside the vehicle, I felt like I was driving the best sports car on the market. I didn’t think about what the car looked like, just what the thing drove like. Mentally I went through a comparison against everything from the Mitsubishi Eclipse to the Boxster to the NSX. And from a pure driving perspective, this GTI was incredible.

Arriving at the mall, I parked the car, exited it and pushed the button on the remote control to lock the doors. About an hour later I emerged from the mall and headed for the car. Walking down the aisle that I thought was the correct aisle; I couldn’t find the GTI. I walked up the aisle, back down it again and then over to the adjacent aisles. Suddenly, the dreaded “Oh, no, they’ve stolen the car!” thought exploded in my head. “What a bummer,” I thought. “I’ll be blacklisted from the auto writers guild forever!”

I flipped open my cell phone and began to call the police. Thinking that I would have to give the police the vehicle’s license plate number, I reached into my pocket for the car keys, which contained the car’s identification information. Looking at the car keys and remote control I realized my mistake; I was looking for an exotic sports car because mentally I was driving an exotic sports car. Of course in actuality I was just driving a GTI, and there it was, right in front of me. It is true that I’m getting older, and I occasionally have “senior moments.” But this mistake wasn’t the result of a run-of-the-mill senior moment; this was a question of a secret identity. Disguised beneath the cloak of a mild-mannered Golf hatchback is an extraordinary sports car with chameleon-like super powers that allows it blend in with the surroundings.

This is a true story, and I tell it every time I recommend the GTI to a prospective buyer. I always add that if you don’t care for how the car looks, think of it as a very clever anti-theft feature.

Recently, I had the opportunity to evaluate the latest GTI model with the optional 200-hp VR6 engine and 6-speed manual gearbox. If the GTI with its standard 1.8 liter turbocharged engine is the secret identity super hero that I say it is, then the GTI with the VR6 motor is like being Clark Kent on steroids.

The 1.8T model is priced just under $19,000; with the optional Tiptronic automatic transmission it’s just under $20,000; and the VR6 version costs about $22,000. If you’d like to experience what a car should drive like, I urge you to test drive one as quickly as possible.