2009 Volkswagen GTI Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
June 24, 2009

The 2009 Volkswagen GTI is the most conservative-looking of sporty hatches—and a bit pricey for a dressed-up Rabbit—but it redeems itself with the driving experience.

The car experts at TheCarConnection.com studied a wide range of road tests of the 2009 Volkswagen GTI to write this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also drove the 2009 Volkswagen GTI and added driving impressions and details where they help you to sort through other opinions and to choose your perfect car.

The 2009 Volkswagen GTI hatch has the same basic appearance as the Rabbit, though its appearance details—including a racier front end and larger, showier wheels—indicate that it’s considerably more performance-focused. Overall, however, the model is a clear styling evolution of the previous Golf and Golf GTI models. Last year, the tuner influence deepened as VW reduced the ride height about two-thirds of an inch on the two-door and four-door models. For 2009, however, the high-performance R32 model has been dropped.

The GTI’s 2.0 liter, 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine works through either a standard six-speed manual transmission or a Direct Shift (DSG) six-speed gearbox, a type of manual where the driver controls gear changes but the clutchwork is handled automatically. Though either transmission delivers spirited performance, TheCarConnection.com recommends the DSG transmission, as it works fluidly with the turbo’s boost, delivering snappy, smooth upshifts and timely downshifts whenever necessary. There’s a manual gate to call the shifts, but you probably won’t need it. Fuel economy is also surprisingly good in the 2009 Volkswagen GTI.

All GTIs come equipped with 17-inch wheels and performance tires, high-capacity brakes, sport suspension, metal-trimmed pedals, and monochromatic exterior paint schemes—in addition to air conditioning, cruise control, and a rear defroster.

Review continues below

The standard safety equipment package in the 2009 Volkswagen GTI includes anti-whiplash head restraints, a tire pressure monitoring system, and front-side and curtain airbags, as well as electronic stability control. The GTI receives good, but not excellent, safety ratings, including four-star results from the federal government in frontal impact and five-star ratings in side impact.

For 2009, the GTI gains a new 18-inch alloy wheel package, available with summer performance tires, and the optional sound system and navigation system receive an upgrade. The optional audio system in the 2009 Volkswagen GTI has USB and aux inputs, plus an SD memory card slot, Audi CD and DVD playback, and 20 gigabytes reserved for audio storage.

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2009 Volkswagen GTI

Styling

Both the exterior and interior styling of the 2009 Volkswagen GTI are orthodox in nature, but in terms of practicality it can’t be beat.

The Volkswagen GTI hatchback is available for 2009 in both three-door and five-door body styles. The three-door exudes a sporty appearance, relegating the five-door to the more utilitarian-looking GTI.

Automotive.com supports this opinion, commenting “the five-door can't help but look a bit more utilitarian than the three-door. It's still undeniably sleek and handsome, but it surrenders some of the three-door's youthful chic.” Motor Trend says, “Inside and out, styling is a bit on the conservative side but it fits the car's longevity and practicality.” A comment from Kelley Blue Book helps clarify: “Thanks to the GTI's clever hatchback design, drivers can enjoy true German-engineered performance without having to sacrifice comfort for four people or a roomy cargo hold.”

About the GTI’s profile, Motor Trend comments “the windshield rakes quickly back over the front of the passenger compartment and the roofline ends with a wind-cheating spoiler above the back window. This view also gains visual strength and a sporty stance from the way the car's waistline rises and the side windows taper above the rear fenders.” Automotive.com completes the exterior objectivity, saying the rear of the GTI is “clean, with large tail lamps mounted high on the car's haunches with twin exhaust tips peaking out from the lower left side of the black bumper.”

The GTI’s interior gets the same lukewarm response as its exterior. “Interior trim is mostly subdued, but there are some nice chrome accents on the dash and gauges as well as some unique material on the seats,” points out Motor Trend.

Interior practicality is where the GTI shines. “The Volkswagen GTI may look compact on the outside, but there's an amazing amount of room inside. The GTI offers passenger and luggage space on par with the Passat, VW's mid-size family sedan. Interior dimensions for the four-door GTI are identical to those for the two-door,” observes Automotive.com.

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2009 Volkswagen GTI

Performance

The 2009 Volkswagen GTI is mostly a stellar mover, even if it's not an all-out performance car.

The 2009 Volkswagen GTI features quick acceleration, sharp handling, and all-around strong performance—the qualities reviewers are looking for in true sports car.

Kelley Blue Book says its favorite feature of the 2009 GTI is the six-speed Direct Shift gearbox: “In stop-and-go traffic it's a smooth-shifting automatic transmission. On your favorite road or track it's a quick-shifting, no-pedal manual. You won't miss the clutch pedal as much as you may think.” Pushing the GTI is Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder turbo engine producing 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Car and Driver reports “VW’s robust 2.0-liter turbo four provides ample thrust, driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission (standard) or, our choice, the slick paddle-shifted dual-clutch DSG automated manual.

ConsumerGuide notes, “Despite some low-speed turbo lag, GTIs have quick acceleration and impressive highway passing punch. The manual transmission shifts with exemplary precision, but some testers would like shorter throws.” Automotive.com declares, “The Volkswagen GTI is fun to drive and that's where it shines. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is responsive and offers a broad plateau of torque. Maximum torque is available from a mere 1800 rpm up to 5000 rpm, so you can putter comfortably around town in fourth gear without having to overwork your right arm searching for the engine's sweet spot as you maneuver in city traffic.”

When it comes to handling, ConsumerGuide praises the GTI’s talents: “Among the best-handling front-wheel-drive cars. All have outstanding grip in fast turns with quick, precise steering.” Car and Driver explains “it’s the GTI’s rigid unibody that makes it such an agreeable partner, whether it’s the daily commute or a weekend back-road blast. Exemplary chassis rigidity allowed the development team to tune the suspension for a blend of precise response and smooth ride quality reminiscent of a car wearing BMW badges.” Edmunds, however, isn’t as impressed with the GTI’s cornering prowess: “If there's a knock against the GTI other than its comparatively modest collection of horses, it's the car's shortage of all-out cornering ability. Don't get us wrong; the GTI handles well, but competing sport compacts generally offer sharper handling and less body roll.” ConsumerGuide also lauds the GTI’s anchors, saying, “The brakes deliver worry-free stops.”

The 2009 GTI gets respectable fuel economy, but at the cost of filling the tank with premium-grade gasoline. “In Consumer Guide testing, GTIs averaged 16.8-19.1 mpg with manual transmission, 23.6 with the automatic, both in slightly more highway travel vs. city driving,” the source reports. Automotive.com warns, “While the car operates on regular unleaded, premium fuel is recommended to achieve maximum performance.” Motor Trend sums up the GTI’s performance, saying, “If you're looking for good fuel economy and plenty of space, but don't want to give up sports-car speed and handling, the GTI is a good place to look.”

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2009 Volkswagen GTI

Comfort & Quality

A bit of noise aside, the 2009 Volkswagen exudes a level of craftsmanship and materials often seen in more expensive cars.

The muted interior design of the 2009 Volkswagen GTI belies the quality of its materials and construction.

“The GTI's interior is the antithesis of the Civic Si—it's subtly styled and traditionally laid out, which suits us just fine,” says Edmunds, adding, “Scattered metallic trim pieces dress things up a bit, and the GTI-specific sport seats are nicely shaped and well-bolstered. The standard cloth upholstery's retro plaid print is something of an acquired taste, but any driving enthusiast will appreciate the flat-bottomed steering wheel.” Kelley Blue Book asserts, “The interior of the GTI is crafted with a level of materials and build quality that outclasses some very good competition.

ConsumerGuide compliments the GTI’s build quality, but notes some excess noise: “Interior decor is especially impressive with quality fabrics, nicely textured plastics, and many soft-touch surfaces. Engine noise is only moderate under full-throttle acceleration. One test GTI suffered from some engine clatter at idle. Coarse pavement generates marked hum. One test car did suffer from a minor dashboard creak.”

Seating comfort and passenger access, as well as storage capacity, earn favorable remarks. “Access to the rear seat is far easier in the four-door GTI, of course, but even the two-door proves capable of periodic people-hauling duty, thanks to adequate backseat space and relatively painless entry and exit,” says Edmunds. “In the two-door model, access to the back seat is easy because of a feature that VW calls Easy Entry,” explains Automotive.com, adding, “It works well.” Kelley Blue Book asks, “Did we mention the fantastic heated sport bucket seats? They are arguably the best in this class.”

“Cargo space is listed as 14.7 cubic feet of trunk space for the four-door and 15.1 for the two-door. Curiously, this is one of the few dimensions where the two body styles differ,” says Automotive.com, adding, “Either number would do credit to a mid-size car. ConsumerGuide notes, “Hatchback versatility with lots of useful cargo room and a low load floor. Folding split rear seatbacks are standard, but they don't lie flat.” According to Kelley Blue Book, “In back, passengers get their own heating, ventilation and air conditioning vents, while a 60/40 split folding seatback extends the car's hatchback functionality.” “The GTI's cargo area is fully carpeted, and cargo can be secured via four tie-down hooks. There's also a cargo cover to hide your gear,” observes Automotive.com.

ConsumerGuide says, “Wide roof pillars slightly hinder aft visibility.” But Edmunds sums up the GTI’s quality and comfort: “In general, the GTI imparts a feeling of solidity through its suspension and controls that one rarely finds in this segment.”

8

2009 Volkswagen GTI

Safety

The 2009 Volkswagen GTI excels in most crash tests and offers an impressive array of safety equipment.

The standard safety equipment package in the 2009 Volkswagen GTI includes anti-whiplash head restraints, a tire pressure monitoring system, and front-side and curtain airbags, as well as electronic stability control. The GTI receives good, but not excellent, safety ratings, including four-star results from the federal government in frontal impact and five-star ratings in side impact.

According to Edmunds, the 2009 Volkswagen GTI earns four stars in passenger- and driver-side crashes, five stars for both front and rear side impact crashes, and four stars in rollover tests conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it a "good" rating (the highest possible) in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, reports Edmunds.

Kelley Blue Book lists the following standard safety equipment: “front, front-side and two-row side-curtain airbags, plus electronic stability and traction aids. Summer performance tires can be swapped for all-season performance tires at no cost.” Edmunds notes “four wheel antilock brakes, head airbag, traction control, stability control and passenger airbag” as well.

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2009 Volkswagen GTI

Features

The 2009 Volkswagen GTI combines hatchback convenience with upscale features.

According to Edmunds, standard equipment on the 2009 Volkswagen GTI includes “xenon HID headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, sport front seats, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a 10-speaker, six-CD/MP3 audio system with satellite radio, an auxiliary jack and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.”

“Equipment not included on a base GTI includes a six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) and rear seat side-impact airbags (four-door models),” reports Kelley Blue Book

Motor Trend says, “If you like built-in nav systems, the GTI offers two packages with visual and audible commands in the color screen in the center console and on the multifunction computer in the dash. The difference between the packages is whether you want a center-console-mounted six-CD changer or a built-in iPod connector.”

“The Autobahn Package adds a sunroof, a premium audio system, leather upholstery and heated front seats with power-adjustable lumbar support. Most of the Autobahn's features are also offered as stand-alone options,” reports Edmunds. “The Thunderbunny Package adds sporty exterior styling elements such as a front spoiler and a rear valance. Other upgrades for the GTI include 18-inch wheels, an iPod adapter and, when equipped with the Autobahn Package, a navigation system.

Kelley Blue Book remarks, “Oddly, VW packages the available sunroof with the 18-inch Hufeisen alloy wheels, meaning if you wish to choose one of the other various available wheels you must either forego the sunroof or pay for an extra set of rims.”

Finally, shoppers will definitely want to keep an eye on the bottom-line price. ConsumerGuide warns, “options can lift sticker prices to the top of the class."

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Styling 7.0
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