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2018, May - Jun

GTI AUTOBAHN: VW's latest version is a shopping cart full of enjoyment 

By Cliff Leppke

Some sporty cars are like a golfer’s bad iron; they’re lousy daily drivers. They become torture chambers when navigating a traffic jam. Ask them to ferry a big box from a big-box store; you’re out of luck. Got a long trip to Grandma’s house — you’d better insert ear plugs.

VW’s GTI is different. It mates the uber-practical Golf hatchback with a muscular 220-hp engine and 258 lb.-ft. of turbo kick (available from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm), slick six-speed manual transmission and nimble, resilient chassis. It’s a versatile fuel-sipping grocery getter, a nimble sports car, comfortable luxury ride or a hot ticket, depending on how you prod it. As such, it’s a rare blend breed, a shopping cart chock full of driving enjoyment.

Besides four-cylinder TNT under hood, VW installs big swaybars, a torque-sensing limited slip differential, a cross differential setup (quickens chassis response), and progressive 2.1 turns lock-to-lock steering. The center of gravity is 0.6 inches lower than a Golf TSI. The result: good on-center sense with well weighted direction finding. While it relies on an electric power steering and front-wheel drive, the sensation feels natural, neither darts nor is ham-fisted. This and alloy 18-inch Dallas wheels shod with 225/40 series Hankook Ventus tires mean confident grip.

For 2018, the GTI gets new bumpers, lights and trims; the formerly extra-cost 220-hp engine is standard. It drinks regular fuel. Use premium for max output. Prices start at less than $28,000. Opt for the top-line $35,920 Autobahn and you get leather-clad heated seats. Assist gear includes self-parking (steers itself), emergency braking and pedestrian detection, rear cross traffic alert, area-view camera and rearview camera with predictive overlay. Bumper-mounted ultrasonic sensors monitor front, back and sides. They act like curb-feelers, helping you avoid curb nerfing. A brilliant eight-inch infotainment touchscreen glass panel has two protruding knobs. VW expanded the transferable warranty. It’s six years, 72,000 miles. 

Other inclusions: a panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams and ambient lighting inside. The interior volume is rated 93.5 cubic feet with cargo space, 16.5 cubic feet stowage to the shelf, 22.8 cubic feet to the roof and a generous 52.7 cubic feet with seats folded. Four adults fit atop supportive perches. There’s a rear center pass through for skis, height adjustable rear cargo floor and carpeted spare tire well. 

The infotainment setup pairs well with smartphones and has Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. “One shot” navigation reduces distraction. You utter the complete address; then the car’s voice confirms it. Yet, this slick setup lacks finger-guiding dimples. Nonetheless, the driver-canted gadget responds promptly. And while we’re talking driver focus, the GTI’s door pulls and window switches are angled toward the user — smart. 

You can select your own driver control settings that alter shock damping, throttle response and engine note. And you can alter steering effort. Settings include comfort, normal, sport and individual. 

The lane-keep assist button is on the turn signal stalk. To turn off LKA, press the button and then confirm it by pressing the steering wheel’s OK button. There’s an LKA infotainment menu, but you cannot use it while driving.

The clutch pedal invites you to play in stop-and-go traffic. It’s so easy to operate due to forgiving engagement. A novice won’t muck up. The secret: dual-mass flywheel that reduces sudden engine shocks, plenty of low-rpm torque (engine doesn’t stall), and a brake assistant that reduces rolling when moving from brake pedal to throttle. And with its wide power band, this VW is ready to play; downshifting to rev the engine isn’t necessary. Select gears with a whimsical dimpled golf ball-like orb that’s nicely weighted with mechanical detents.

The GTI is a paragon of pavement poise. Yes, the 18-inch tires respond choppily on lumpy interstates and they are rude on sewer covers. But the stout body never wavers from your intended direction despite sharp impacts. Body roll is well suppressed. Accurate, if a tad inert steering, and a firm brake pedal make carving curvy roads a breeze.

The car has two or more personalities, each complementing the other. Let out the clutch and step lightly on the thrill pedal and economical, quiet motion is yours — a Bach-like fugue. Add a bit more gas, you get extra notes — Mozart. Flog it (even at low rpm) it pins you in your seat with Wagnerian emotion. Red brake calipers clamp ventilated rotors with authority.

Engine rpm at 60 mph is about 2,000 rpm. A shift indicator shows the gear you’re in and the recommended one. That’s helpful; the usual aural racket in fourth gear, say, at 60 mph, is conspicuously absent. I observed 31.5 mpg overall. The EPA’s figures: 25 city, 33 highway and 28 mpg combined. 

The GTI’s supportive seating let’s you relish an ideal relationship of vehicle controls. Driver contact points are firmly padded. Road wheels resemble turbocharged windmills. There are quirks: the steering wheel’s switchgear has irregular shapes and the USB port and 12-volt outlet aren’t illuminated. Yet, you get LED cornering guiding lights. Onboard graphics amuse. The infotainment screen depicts the GTI’s side with a windmill reflection for eco (comfort), and a racetrack rumble strip (sport). If your grocery getter persona is speed-demon Tanner Foust, pick sport and tweak the stability program for track. Procuring produce never was this much fun.­

Cliff Leppke | leppke.cliff@gmail.com 

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

  • ANNUAL MEETING:  The VWCA Convention is history but discussing Club business isn’t.
  • VWCLUB.ORG: Visit the Club’s website and find out what you’re missing.
  • AUDI A5 SPORTBACK: The low-slung model takes its cues from the A5 Coupe.
  • LONG-HAUL BEETLE: Robert Beaumont’s first car is 60 years old.
  • TOM MATULIS: Longtime VW enthusiast in Connecticut dies at age 63.

PLUS OUR REGULAR COLUMNS AND FEATURES:

  • Driver's Seat - VW news & views by Cliff Leppke
  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
  • Retro Autoist - From the archives
  • Parting Shot - Photo feature
  • Local Volks Scene - A snapshot of local chapter activities
  • VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski

LOGGED-IN MEMBERS CAN SEE THE ENTIRE AUTOIST ISSUE BY CLICKING ON THE COVER PHOTO ABOVE.

 

 

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