The Car Connection Volkswagen GTI Overview
Known elsewhere in the world as the Golf GTI, the Volkswagen GTI is a three- or five-door hatchback with sportier engines, handling and styling than the standard Golf it's based on. It has evolved over the years to grow in size and yet has held the esteem of critics for its design and performance. Primary competition for the GTI includes the Mazda Mazdaspeed3, the MINI Cooper S, and the Honda Civic Si. Priced from $23,000 to $35,000 depending on how many option boxes are ticked, it's not the least expensive car in the segment.
Six generations of GTI span its introduction to the U.S. in 1983 to the present. The Mark I car trailblazed the hot hatchback genre with sporty performance and a unique, squared-off look. In 1985, the Mark II GTI grew slightly larger and rounded off the corners, increasing power and offering a supercharged "Rallye" variant. 1993 saw the introduction of the Mark III GTI, which retained most of the look of the Mark II, but increased weight and the addition of the VR6 engine in 1995 saw performance stagnate. In 2001, the GTI gained more power and a new larger, rounder look with the Mark IV, as well as several special editions, including the 20th Anniversary model, introduced in 2003.The Mark V GTI, introduced in 2006, saw a complete redesign of the underlying Golf platform, with improved suspension design for better handling and ride quality. Interior quality, while still high for its segment, fell slightly, in part to maintain separation from its more luxurious sister-brand car, the Audi A3. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with direct-injection technology generated 200 horsepower, and both three- and five-door models were available with either a six-speed manual or a new, high-tech dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). Price rose compared to previous generations due to the mechanical upgrades and the dramatic exterior redesign.
Today's GTI, the Mark VI, made its debut in 2009, bringing a mild exterior restyling that draws on the heritage of the Golf. A new grille and headlight treatment, as well as revised front and rear fascias, are the main differences from the Mark V. Mechanical underpinnings largely carried over from the previous GTI, with the same 2.0-liter turbo engine generating 200 horsepower. Zero to 60 mph runs are completed in 6.8 seconds with the manual gearbox and 6.7 seconds with the DSG--not as quick as some of its competition, especially the Mazdaspeed3. Top speed is limited to 130 mph in the U.S. Interior upgrades once again bring the GTI to the top of its class.
Abundant technology, features, and options make the GTI appeal to a broad range of hot-hatch buyers, as the expansive price range suggests. Despite having grown considerably in size and weight since the original Mark I, handling and performance of the latest GTI remain points of praise, though it sits somewhere between the slightly sportier options from Mazda, Honda and MINI and more mature, luxurious cars like the standard MINI Cooper or Audi A3.
A GTI derivative, the Golf R, was added to the lineup in the 2012 model year, with a 256-hp turbo four distributing power to all four wheels via Haldex all-wheel drive. Pricing starts from $33,990 in two-door trim, while the four-door bumps the price by about $1,500. It's a limited edition that traditionally appears a year or two before the debut of an all-new Golf.