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Volkswagen's GTI hatchback sport coupe gets a jump in output as well as a reduction in price and a fix for its confusing nomenclature for the 2002 model year.
The GTI, of course, is the hot-shoe version of the otherwise pokey but popular Golf. It's a name that's been around since 1983, when for those old enough to remember the go-go Reagan years the company launched the car with a commercial featuring a German-language version of Ronnie and the Daytonas’ classic 1960s hit, "Little GTO."
Anyway, the '02 GTI returns to its simpler roots, losing the elaborate additional designations, such as VW Golf GTI GLS or Golf GTI GLX VR6. It's now just "GTI," with either the bumped-up 180-hp turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine ($18,910) or, soon to come, a new, notably improved VR6 version which will develop around 200 hp when it is released during the 2002 calendar year.
The 1.8-liter engine is now a fulsome 30 hp stronger than when it was first offered in the GTI about two years ago, while the narrow angle 2.8-liter V-6 in the VR6 model gets notched-up considerably from its current 174 hp to keep it ahead of the increasingly potent four-banger.
How potent is it? According to VW's published tests, 0-60-mph for the '02 GTI 1.8T comes in about 7.5 seconds, almost a second quicker than the current GTI. I was not able to verify this with instrumented testing, but the '02 model I test-drove does feel noticeably quicker than the '01 model.
The coming 2002 VR6 model, incidentally, will be reduced in price substantially (estimated MSRP: $20,295, a drop of about $2755) over the current 2001 V-6 GTI, so hold off on buying if you are considering an '01 GTI with the 174-hp VR6 engine. The price drop is achieved by scaling back on the formerly standard luxury accoutrements, such as leather trim, that ballooned the price of a 2001 GTI with the V-6 and GLS/GLX trim past $23,000. You'll still be able to order leather and so on if you want all that — but the key thing here is that enthusiast drivers who are interested in getting the most bang for the buck won't be kept away, either.
The market niche in which the GTI competes is very tight these days, with so many excellent, fun-to-drive and well-equipped compact sport coupes and sedans available for $18,000 to $22,000 that VW really had no choice here. At around $20k, a GTI is a great import sportster at a decent price. Pushing $24,000, though —as the current 174-hp VR6 does — is much less
justifiable, given that one could, for example, buy a 227-hp Subaru WRX for $23,995, or a 180-hp six speed Celica GT-S for $21,455.
So VW did a very astute thing by dropping the price and upping the output of both versions of the GTI. The car is instantly more attractive and much more competitive than the still-available '01 models.
And who really needs leather anyway? All the stuff that is absolutely necessary is already there, including a premium audio system with a CD payer and tape cassette, plus A/C, power windows and locks, cruise and keyless entry. Also new for 2002 are side curtain airbags in addition to side impact bags, ABS and traction control, which can be turned off for those who prefer a tire-chirping launch.
Another new for '02 option is the five-speed automatic with manually-activated gear change function — though like other "manual" automatics, this is more gimmicky than functional. It is in no way the equivalent of a true manual gearbox with a clutch, where you and only you determine when to upshift or downshift. If you want to change gears yourself, get the five-speed manual. The car is much more fun with this transmission anyhow.
Visually, there is no appreciable difference between the 2001 and 2002 GTIs or ordinary Golfs, for that matter. The only way to tell will be by jamming your foot to the floor — that, and the reduction in MSRP that is sure to leave plenty of people who bought the less powerful, more expensive 2001 models a little hot under the collar.
Those folks are the only ones not likely to be pleased by the changes VW has made to the GTI for 2002.
2002 VW GTI
Base price range: $18,910-$20,295
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 180 hp; 2.8-liter V-6, 200 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 98.9 in
Length: 164.9 in
Width: 68.3 in
Height: 56.7 in
Curb Weight: 2,932 lb (1.8T); 3,011 lb (VR6)
EPA (cty/hwy): 24/31 mpg (1.8T w/manual); 20/26 mpg (VR6 w/auto)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, head and side curtain airbags, ABS, traction control
Major standard features: 180-hp turbocharged engine, sport-tuned suspension w/16x6.5-inch alloy rims and 55-series tires, AM/FM stereo cassette, AC, power windows and door locks, cruise control, rear defroster and rear wiper
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles