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??


  • 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.


  • 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




Autoist Archive

Jul-Aug | 2019
Emotional rescue

Who would be crazy enough to drive a 36-year-old VW 3,000 miles over two weeks . . . with no A/C or other contemporary car creature comforts? Our Cliff Leppke, of course. He had a ball.


May-Jun | 2019
From beater Bus to dragstrip demon

The Goblin Works Garage team, part of a UK-based collective that rebuilds vehicles as part of a cable TV series, takes on a 1969 VW Bus.


Mar-Apr | 2019
Anniversary Theme

February???s Chicago Auto Show paid tribute to the anniversaries of four venerable marques, including VW???s Jetta GLI.


Jan-Feb | 2019
Tribute to a mom: How Kathy Janiszewski and a '72 Volkswagen helped inspire a lifelong hobby

From this VW Bus, Kathy Janiszewski emerges with her wedding party in July 1966. She inspired her son, Tom, to follow a passion for VWs.


Nov-Dec | 2018
Commemorative Issue

In commemoration of its milestone 500th issue as publication of the VWCA, the Autoist gets a facelift for the first time in a decade.


Sep-Oct | 2018
2019 Jetta: New, Larger Economy Size

Some things come in small packages, and the seventh generation of VW's popular Jetta sedan delivers.


Jul-Aug | 2018
What's in your garage?

Amid the chaos, a home to vehicular gems and memories.


May-Jun | 2018
GTI AUTOBAHN: VW's latest version is a shopping cart full of enjoyment

Pack 220-hp and 258 ft.-lb of turbo kick under this hot hatch's hood and you've got a grocery-getter with options.


Mar-May | 2018
ARTEON: VW introduces its stylish replacement for the CC model.

Volkswagen???s attention to detail is notable in its new Arteon sedan, which made its debut at the Chicago Auto Show.


Jan-Feb | 2018

Volkswagen has upped the ante by inflating the 2018 Tiguan to almost mid-size capacity. Is it fit for a king?


Nov-Dec | 2017

Hundreds of VWs of every stripe gathered at Foster Park in Kokomo, Ind. for the annual Oktoberfest.


Sep-Oct | 2017
62nd VWCA Convention Wrap-up

Members gathered at the throw-back Cascade Drive-in Theater for "Cars 3," part of the VWCA Convention


Jul-Aug | 2017
Back To The Future Car

Cliff Leppke's 1983 Scirocco has notched its share of more than 333,000 miles in trips to Road America in Wisconsin. The latest covered about 3,000 miles during a whirlwind vacation excursion.


May-Jun | 2017
Swingin' time is in store for members, guests at 62nd annual Club gathering

Augustino's will get members rocking while the NIVA Club will roll out another lineup of VWs at its annual BugFest, part of the VWCA Convention in St. Charles, Ill.


Mar-Apr | 2017
Will VW See The Light?

VW once again evokes the memory of the beloved Microbus with its new concept called I.D. Buzz, which created quite a stir at the annual auto show in Detroit. (Photos by Tom Janiszewski)


Jan-Feb | 2017
Costly Mistake?

Joe Mayer says he's not out to punish VW over its diesel scandal - he just wanted to make some extra money on a car he thought would be junked. (Photos by Joe Mayer via jalopnik.com.)


Nov-Dec | 2016
WATTS OF FUN . . . . . . Meet the new e-Golf

Here's the car that, when you give it a charge, you'll get one back. In VW's first important pivot from its diesel scandal, the e-Golf provides an opening salvo in the carmaker's goal to electrify its fleet.


Sep-Oct | 2016
61st Annual Convention

What's an anniversary without a cake? This one didn't go far or last long as Club members enjoyed a variety of activities, including a Sunday car show and picnic, part of the 61st Annual Convention.


Jul-Aug | 2016
It's Time To Show Off

A couple of Karmann Ghias are resplendent at the Michigan Vintage VW Club's Festival in Ypsilanti, Mich.  The club held its 29th event in May, while Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, Ill., saluted the air-cooled crowd with a big show in June.


May-Jun | 2016
Windfall for TDI owners?

The scam was on as early as 2008, when this Candy White Jetta TDI Clean Diesel model, embellished with green plant matter, was rolled out.  In case anyone had a doubt, VW added the wording "Not a concept car."


Mar-Apr | 2016
Lost In Translation

VW CEO Mattias Mueller was in the hot glare of media lights at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, providing the company's latest response to the diesel emissions scandal.


Jan-Feb | 2016
VW's Game Plan

VW remains embroiled in a high-stakes game involving government agencies  and hundreds of thousands of owners of diesel models. The company's car on the road of Life has taken a big detour.


Nov-Dec | 2015
Engine with a split personality puts VW on the hot seat

The news in September was beyond belief for many VW and TDI enthusiasts: Volkswagen executives admitted that the company intentionally produced cars that violated clean-air laws.


Sep-Oct | 2015
Big bites of fun at the 60th VWCA Convention

Doug Narczewshi from Spring Valley, IL, looks over an assortment of water-cooled VWs on display at NIVA's Bug Fest event, part of the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.


Jul-Aug | 2015
1969 Beetle gets a second chance to adorn the silver screen

Crew members working on the film "The Good Blonde" prepare for a shot on the California coast involving a 1969 Beetle owned by VWCA member and correspondent Lois Grace.


May-Jun | 2015
My Mom, the Daredevil

Around 1960, Cliff Leppke had no idea what was in store for him while being ferried about by his mother. Needless to say, his head was up and his eyes were open.


Mar-Apr | 2015
It's Show Time!

The Northeast Illinois Volkswagen Association has an activity-packed weekend planned for the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.


Jan-Feb | 2015
Diesel Memories

Jack Pavie of suburban Philadelphia had to wait several months to get his 1975 Rabbit diesel, one of three models he enjoyed in the '70s and '80s.


Nov-Dec | 2014
Golf Lessons: Three new models charge up hatchback lineup

The scene at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Va., where Cliff Leppke and other media members ran the 2015 Volkswagens through their paces.


Sep-Oct | 2014
Having fun with miles per gallon

A morning commute for a 2012 Golf TDI has become a test on how high the fuel mileage will end up. It hit a high mark in July.


Jul-Aug | 2014
2014 VWCA Convention: Wagons, wagens and more - where the buffalo roam

In the VWCA's 59 years of Conventions, the setting in Hudson, Mich. was unique. Just ask VWCA's Tom Janiszewski, the guy driving the orange 1974 Camper.


May-Jun | 2014
New Beetle milestone: Though this 1999 model has shown it's flaws over 15 years and 90,000 miles, it's been a blast to drive

May 25 marks the 15th anniversary of my family's New Beetle ownership experience. It was on that day in 1999 that we took delivery of a brand new red GLS model from Kempthorn Volkswagen in Canton, Ohio.


Mar-Apr | 2014
Dune buggy with a twist at the Detroit Auto Show

There's a saying that everything old is new again, and since the New Beetle's production debut in 1998, that has been the car's underlying theme.


Jan-Feb | 2014
Back At The Ranch

At northern California getaway, Vernon and his family found plenty of ways to enjoy life