06/14/06 — Volkswagen's '06 GTI gives new meaning to hot hatch

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Volkswagen's '06 GTI gives new meaning to hot hatch

Volkswagen GTI (2006)

Perhaps it just seems like every car company has implemented popular music in its advertising. Maybe that’s because Cadillac has done it to perfection.

In 2002, Cadillac made a Led Zeppelin tune synonymous with the brand.

“We wanted the Break Through campaign to communicate a unified Cadillac message. The music of Led Zeppelin lends a consistent message and tone throughout, and also adds an emotional element to all the spots,” said Kim Kosak, Cadillac’s ad director, in 2002.

v, 2006

Since then Cadillac and Led Zeppelin’s 35-year-old tune, “Rock and Roll,” have become forever intertwined.

After spending a week behind the wheel of the all-new 2006 Volkswagen GTI, introduced early this year in the United States, we have a musical suggestion for the German company’s advertising gurus.

The original “pocket rocket,” first sold in North America in 1983, has grown into a modern rendition that loves an open stretch of asphalt, particularly if it’s a winding country road. So why not turn Paul McCartney’s 1970 hit “The Long and Winding Road” into a GTI theme song?

We can see the GTI carving up a picturesque winding road as the famous Beatles’ melody drifts through the commercial and McCartney intones, “The long and winding road, That leads to your door, Will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before, It always leads me here, Lead me to your door” — in my GTI, of course.

This GTI was put on earth, it seems, just for speeding down long and winding roads. It has a passion for straight-aways, too, with Volkswagen’s responsive 2.0-liter 200-horsepower direct injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine under the hood.

This workhorse engine is used with good success in a variety of Volkswagen and Audi products including the all-new Jetta GLI and Audi A3. And it returns the GTI to its two-decade-old “hot hatch” or “pocket rocket” roots.

The drivetrain is the heart of the new GTI, which has many other attributes as well.

The engine generates 207 pound-feet of torque and it seems to always be there in large quantities at any speed and with virtually no turbolag. That’s because the maximum torque is generated from 1,800 to 5,000 rpms.

This marvelously designed engine combined with the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) produces a joyous driving experience. You can streak from 0 to 60 in about 6.5 seconds, and there always seems to be smile-inducing power at any speed.

Push the transmission lever into the manual mode and the DSG can be operated like a manual shifter with steering wheel paddles. Shifts are instantaneous, faster than any human can engage a clutch and shift a gear. Downshifts are fantastic, sending the transmission into a lower gear at the flick of the finger.

After driving with DSG for about 20 miles, we found the left foot searching for the clutch out of habit as we downshifted on an exit ramp. It mimics a manual shifter so closely it’s easy to forget you are driving an automatic.

The DSG uses two clutches to automatically engage and disengage the gears creating seamless shifts.

If you are a manual transmission person, and there are probably a large number of do-it-yourself shifters who would be drawn to the GTI, we suggest you test drive the DSG before making a decision. You may find Volkswagen’s new shifter will give you the best of both worlds.

If the drivetrain is the heart of the GTI, than perhaps the suspension and steering are the soul. A new multilink independent rear suspension together with 18-inch summer performance tires give the GTI a stick-to-the long and winding road demeanor.

Although we found the ride on the sports car side of stiff, it was never jarring. We think it is pliable enough to allow passengers to endure long drives in relative comfort.

And Volkswagen’s new electro-mechanical power steering is accurate and properly weighted, perhaps even BMW precise.

The heart and soul. They work in wonderful harmony in this small German car.

And there’s more.

Most small four-place hatches have uninhabitable rear seats. They are simply too cramped for rear passengers and too hard to enter and exit. Not so the GTI. The squared-off roof line offers decent rear-seat head room. Leg room is adequate and entry and exit are made relatively easy because the front chair slides far up on the track to create a wide opening.

Volkswagen has not overlooked backseaters in other areas. Reading lights, cupholders, rear air vents and storage pockets on the front seatbacks are all available.

And when there is need to haul cargo, the rear seatbacks fold forward creating 43 cubic feet of cargo space.

The interior is well executed with upscale materials and impeccable fit and finish. But if you like a variety of interior colors you might be disappointed. Our tester featured optional black leather and a black dashboard, trimmed out in small areas of brushed aluminum.

The dashboard layout is attractive with a message center situated between the speedometer and tachometer that dispenses such information as the outside temperature and gas mileage.

The GTI comes well equipped for a starting price of $22,620. In addition to the usual stuff, other standard features include Xenon headlights, side curtain airbags, stereo with six-disc changer, traction control and Electronic Stabilization Program and fog lights.

Our test car had nearly $5,000 in options including navigation system with upgraded stereo, sunroof, satellite radio, the Direct Shift Gearbox and 18-inch wheels. The bottom line was $27,615.

Icing on this rather delicious cake are inviting gas mileage figures of 25 city and 31 highway and a four-year/50,000-mile warranty.

The new GTI is fun to drive. And it is practical, fuel efficient and affordable. That’s a combination hard to beat.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on June 14, 2006 8:47 AM