2010 Volkswagen GTI Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
November 8, 2009

The 2010 Volkswagen GTI sits more upright, as usual-but its punchy turbo engine, crisp handling, and paddle-shifted gearbox are anything but stodgy.

The editors at TheCarConnection.com have driven the 2010 Volkswagen GTI to bring you this hands-on review of its styling, performance, features, safety and comfort. Along with the road test, editors researched opinions from other respected Web sites to bring you a comprehensive full review of the new VW GTI for 2010.

While its Golf companion undergoes a name change for 2010, VW's GTI stays pretty much the same for the new model year. Aside from the sheetmetal changes that accompany the new Golf lineup, the GTI retains its entertaining handling, sweet turbocharged engine, and available dual-clutch transmission, as well as a choice of three- and five-door hatchback body styles. The new GTI carries a base price of $23,290 and competes against the likes of the Honda Civic Si, MazdaSpeed3, and MINI Cooper.The 2010 Volkswagen GTI hatchbacks share the same basic styling as the lesser Golf-which is to say, upright and a little dowdy, compared to the likes of the Mazdaspeed3, though the three-door is the less frumpy of the pair. It's all in the details, distinguishing the GTI from the new Golf. The new wider grille gets a black honeycomb texture and a GTI badge, along with the traditional red-stripe outline. Black side skirts, new tail lamps, and a body-color hatchback-mounted spoiler hint at the performance under the newly creased hood. Inside the GTI, there are traditional plaid seats, a flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel in leather and aluminum with red stitching, and tidy GTI badges sprinkled around the cabin and on the deeply sculpted sport seats. The interior's been cleaned up for the new model year, and a big LCD screen dominates the center stack and controls a new audio setup. VW's distinct touch for high-quality interiors is evident here, with lots of richly textured plastic and soft-touch surfaces.

A single turbocharged 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower four-cylinder engine pulls the 2010 GTI up and away from the rest of the Golf lineup. The engine's a torque machine, putting out a wide, flat powerband that's not at all peaky as some turbos can feel. It's teamed with either a standard six-speed manual transmission or a dual-clutch six-speed gearbox, in which twin clutches alternate and pre-select gearchanges like an automatic, but with faster-than-manual shift speed and without a clutch pedal. The six-speed manual has a vague lever feel and a light clutch action; TheCarConnection.com prefers the dual-clutch transmission. It's entertaining to paddle through gears, and it delivers better acceleration and fuel economy. With the manual transmission, VW promises 0-60 mph times of 6.8 seconds and a 130-mph top end, along with 31/21 mpg fuel economy. With the dual-clutch gearbox, 0-60 mph comes in 6.7 seconds and fuel economy jumps to 32/24 mpg.

Handling is a strong point with the GTI. Its electromechanical power steering has a well-sorted feel, and the ride is taut, not jarring. The front strut and independent rear suspension absorb big bumps with nary a crash or bang, and braking on TheCarConnection.com's test car feels strong and controllable. The GTI adds to the stock Golf an electronic limited-slip differential called XDS, which helps it push through corners better by shifting power to the front wheel with more traction. The GTI wears 17-inch wheels with all-season tires that can be swapped out for slick, painted 18-inch wheels and summer tires.

Review continues below

The 2010 GTI fits enthusiastic drivers well. The sport front seats are thickly bolstered and shift eight ways-though TheCarConnection.com's editors wish the three adjustment types (two levers and one big knob) could join up with each other in a mutually agreeable location. They offer plenty of head- and legroom, but tall drivers up front will cut into the legroom in back. There's a little less space back there than expected, and knee room in back can be an issue. Headroom is quite good, though an "easy entry" seat belt holder on two-door models doesn't make the climb into the back much easier. The GTI's rear seats get their own armrest and adjustable headrests, and fold flat to open up the cargo area to a considerable size. The upright shape and sizable glass areas give the GTI great visibility, and the feel isn't unlike that of the MINI Cooper.

The 2010 VW GTI hasn't been crash-tested yet, but as it's very similar to the prior Golf/GTI duo, it's likely to repeat the four-star ratings for frontal impact and five-star ratings for side impact from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and the Top Safety Pick designation awarded to it by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). Standard features include six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, and brake assist, as well as tire pressure monitors and active headrests. Rear side airbags are an option in the four-door GTI.

The 2010 GTI is on par with the tech-friendly competition in terms of features. 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. Also standard are an eight-speaker, AM/FM/Sirius audio system with touchscreen controls, a six-disc in-dash changer and USB and Bluetooth connectivity. For 2010, the GTI offers a new 18-inch alloy wheel package, available with summer performance tires, and a navigation system with an SD slot, a 30GB hard drive for storage, and DVD playback. A premium 300-watt audio system is an option. An Autobahn package adds sport seats, leather trim, and a power sunroof.

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2010 Volkswagen GTI

Styling

The 2010 Volkswagen GTI makes the best of boxy, but it's still a little tame outside, particularly the five-door versions.

While its Golf companion undergoes a name change for 2010, VW's GTI stays pretty much the same for the new model year. Aside from the sheetmetal changes that accompany the new Golf lineup, the GTI retains its entertaining handling, sweet turbocharged engine, available dual-clutch transmission, and a choice of three- and five-door hatchback body styles. The new GTI carries a base price of $23,290, and competes against the Honda Civic Si, MazdaSpeed3, and MINI Cooper.

TheCarConnection sees the 2010 Volkswagen GTI as more of the same when it comes to styling. The new hatchbacks share the same basic styling as the lesser Golf-which is to say, upright and a little dowdy, compared to the likes of the Mazdaspeed3, though the three-door is the less frumpy of the pair. The GTI-ness is all in the details; the new wider grille gets a black honeycomb texture and a new badge, along with the traditional red-stripe outline. Black side skirts, new tail lamps, and a body-color hatchback-mounted spoiler hint at the performance under the newly creased hood. Other car reviews feel more strongly about the GTI's crisper lines; Automobile thinks "design deity Walter de'Silva...has secured his sainthood with the makeover he's given the Golf." LeftLane News detects a "hipster vibe" in the new GTI, while Motor Trend points out that the GTI's "dimensions are virtually unchanged, though all the sheetmetal below the daylight opening is new and slightly more angular." MSN Autos calls the GTI's shape "quite familiar," though "most major body panels are changed." They like its "striking" new front end and its "large VW badge dead center and red accent lines." It's not all accolades; LeftLane News says "the appearance below the bumper takes on more of a ‘mouth-breather' look." While TheCarConnection.com's editors feel more positive toward the three-door GTI, we agree with Automotive.com's assessment of the former Rabbit: "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."

Inside the GTI, there are traditional plaid seats, a flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel in leather and aluminum with red stitching, and tidy GTI badges sprinkled around the cabin and on the deeply sculpted sport seats. The interior is cleaned up for the new model year, while a big LCD screen dominates the center stack and controls a new audio setup. VW's distinct preference for high-quality interiors is evident here, with lots of richly textured plastic and soft-touch surfaces. As Motor Trend observes, "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." MSN Autos confirms TheCarConnection's stance that "the instrument panel's soft-touch, matte, finely textured surface ranks with the best," and the sport steering wheel's "shape and texture" are "just about perfect."

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2010 Volkswagen GTI

Performance

The 2010 Volkswagen GTI sports an uncommon blend of brisk acceleration, admirable handling, and deft dual-clutch gearchanging.

The 2010 Volkswagen GTI offers quick acceleration, sharp handling, and all-around strong performance as its calling card-though technically, you may not consider it a sports car. As Motor Trend puts it, the GTI's "a smoother, more refined, better balanced hot hatch that still maintains the feeling of a relatively lightweight, cheeky little car."

A single turbocharged 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower four-cylinder engine pulls the 2010 GTI up and away from the rest of the Golf lineup. The engine's a torque machine, putting out a wide, flat powerband that's not at all peaky as some turbos can feel. ConsumerGuide notes, "Despite some low-speed turbo lag, GTIs have quick acceleration and impressive highway passing punch." MSN declares, "The engine is a marvel. It pulls strongly at any revs and will spin the tires at will, backed by a sweet exhaust bellow emphasized by a 'sound generator' for the entertainment factor."

It's teamed with either a standard six-speed manual transmission or a dual-clutch six-speed gearbox, in which twin clutches alternate and pre-select gearchanges like an automatic, but with faster-than-manual shift speed and lacking a clutch pedal. The six-speed manual has a vague lever feel and a light clutch action; TheCarConnection.com prefers the dual-clutch transmission. It's entertaining to paddle through gears, and it delivers better acceleration and fuel economy. With the manual transmission, VW promises 0-60 mph times of 6.8 seconds and a 130-mph top end, along with 31/21 mpg fuel economy. With the dual-clutch gearbox, 0-60 mph comes in 6.7 seconds and fuel economy jumps to 32/24 mpg.

Car and Driver reports, "VW's robust 2.0-liter turbo four provides ample thrust," while MSN Autos contends the GTI's acceleration "is about equal to the MINI John Cooper Works with virtually the same horsepower (207 ponies), a few tenths quicker than the less powerful Honda Civic Si coupe (197 horsepower) and a few tenths slower than the more muscular MAZDASPEED3 (263 horsepower)." It's nicely suited to the GTI's more upright look, but LeftLane News thinks "as refined as the engine is, it could stand a little "slutting up"-by which it means it could use more styling under the hood. With the right transmission, the GTI can be a revelation; ConsumerGuide says its six-speed manual "shifts with exemplary precision, but some testers would like shorter throws." Most other outlets agree with TheCarConnection.com in picking the DSG dual-clutch gearbox over the manual. Kelley Blue Book asserts "you won't miss the clutch pedal as much as you may think," while MSN Autos admires the fact that "full-throttle upshifts with the DSG gearbox produce a characteristic 'blap' that makes the driver feel like a racing star." Motor Trend states flatly: "the DSG is one of the best sequential manuals in the business." LeftLane News adds that the "bonus by-product of the DSG" is "launch control," which VW contends allows for "'a more perfect launch with controlled wheelspin.'" New to the front-drive GTI this year is a final aid in putting the power to the ground. It's called XDS, and Motor Trend claims it will "brake the inside rear to coax the tail into place in fast turns." LeftLane News "noticed it working its mojo on the wet twisty mountain roads and it always made us confident in our track."

With its electronic assists to steering and traction, the GTI could feel artificial, but TheCarConnection.com and other car Web sites find the opposite to be true. Handling is a strong point with the GTI. Its electromechanical power steering has a well-sorted feel, and the ride is taut, not jarring. The front strut and independent rear suspension absorb big bumps with nary a crash or bang. Motor Trend says "the GTI also comes with the most precise electronic power steering in the business, with a lightness and feedback that belies its system," and ConsumerGuide proclaims the GTI has "outstanding grip in fast turns with quick, precise steering." Car and Driver loves its "blend of precise response and smooth ride quality reminiscent of a car wearing BMW badges." Edmunds isn't as impressed with the GTI's cornering prowess, pegging its "shortage of all-out cornering ability," and noting "competing sport compacts generally offer sharper handling and less body roll."

Braking on TheCarConnection.com's test car feels strong and controllable-the GTI also wears 17-inch wheels with all-season tires that can be swapped out for slick painted 18-inch wheels and summer tires-and ConsumerGuide agrees. It lauds the GTI's anchors, saying, "The brakes deliver worry-free stops." However, Motor Trend finds "the brakes felt okay, but not solid and powerful like most German brake systems." MSN Autos sides with the majority when it remarks that the "GTI remains impressively stable, agile and composed, regardless of your pace or the curvature and surface of the road ahead."

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2010 Volkswagen GTI

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Volkswagen GTI has the room and build quality of a larger, more expensive car.

Interior practicality and quality is where the GTI shines. The 2010 GTI fits enthusiastic drivers well-in the front seats and in back-and its build quality is enviable, even for cars in a price class above it.

The GTI's sport front seats are thickly bolstered and shift eight ways-though TheCarConnection.com's editors wish the three adjustment types (two levers and one big knob) could join up with each other in a mutually agreeable location. MSN Autos calls the seats "impeccably sculpted," with "an excellent blend of comfort and support," though they gripe about the seat controls. There are other ergonomic issues, such as "smallish buttons for the new electronic interface" and "archaic cruise-control buttons and switches on the turn-signal lever." They're minor concerns; VW does provide "fantastic heated sport bucket seats" that are "arguably the best in this class," by Kelley Blue Book's reasoning. Automobile says "as before, the GTI offers an ideal driving position - in comfortable and supportive seats - and a steering wheel that you'll want to reach out and fondle," though they too take issue with control placement. Along with TheCarConnection.com, LeftLane News observes that "the climate dials...are difficult at best, to find your desired setting."

The 2010 GTI's rear-seating comfort, accessibility, and storage capacity are fine by the standards of car reviewers from around the Web. "Access to the rear seat is far easier in the four-door GTI," Edmunds says, and even the two-door "proves capable of periodic people-hauling duty, thanks to adequate backseat space and relatively painless entry and exit." In TheCarConnection.com's experience, the rear seats in a new GTI have enough head- and legroom, but become cramped when drivers move their seats back too far. Headroom is quite good in either body style, TCC editors report, though an "easy entry" seat belt holder on three-door models doesn't make the climb into the back much easier. LeftLane News thinks "the rear seats offer satisfying seat room," and Kelley Blue Book claims you won't have to "sacrifice comfort for four people or a roomy cargo hold."

That cargo area is somewhat flexible. The GTI's rear seats get their own armrest and adjustable headrests, but their neatest trick is to fold nearly flat, to open up the cargo area to a considerable size. MSN Autos says "the new GTI has inherited its predecessor's superb cargo bay under the rear hatch, with a volume that goes from 12.3 to 46 cubic feet if you flip down the 60/40 seat backs." They add, "It also has a fantastic pass-through that is more than large enough for a few pairs of skis or a couple of snowboards." The three-door and five-door differ only in trunk space, from "14.7 cubic feet" in the former to "15.1 for the two-door," states Automotive.com, which adds, "either number would do credit to a mid-size car." ConsumerGuide simply observes the GTI's "hatchback versatility with lots of useful cargo room and a low load floor," though it points out that the folding split rear seatbacks "don't lie flat."

Universally, reviewers rave over the GTI's interior materials and build quality. 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. However, noise control is average by some standards." Automobile finds "a slightly diesel-like coarseness just off idle," while ConsumerGuide observes "coarse pavement generates marked hum," and other reviews cite minor wind noise due to the upright shape. Edmunds echoes the majority sentiment when it says the GTI "imparts a feeling of solidity" that "one rarely finds in this segment."

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2010 Volkswagen GTI

Safety

The 2010 Volkswagen GTI has yet to be crash-tested, but it's likely a solid-if not perfect-performer.

The 2010 VW GTI hasn't been crash-tested yet, but as it's very similar to the prior Golf/GTI duo, it's likely to repeat the four-star ratings for frontal impact and five-star ratings for side impact from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and the Top Safety Pick designation awarded to it by the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

Standard features include six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, and brake assist, as well as tire pressure monitors and active headrests. 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. Rear side airbags are an option on the five-door GTI, but are not available on the three-door version.

The upright shape and sizable glass areas give the 2010 VW GTI great visibility, and the view outward isn't unlike that of the MINI Cooper. However, ConsumerGuide warns that the GTI's "wide roof pillars slightly hinder aft visibility."

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2010 Volkswagen GTI

Features

The 2010 Volkswagen GTI has a competitive set of features and fun options, but ordering just a few of them will make its bargain sticker blush.

The 2010 Volkswagen GTI ups its game and is now on par with the tech-friendly competition, in terms of standard and optional features.

All 2010 GTI hatchbacks 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. Also standard are an eight-speaker, AM/FM/Sirius audio system with touchscreen controls, a six-disc in-dash changer, and USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Some reviewers given an advance drive in Europe bemoan the GTI's lack of some standard features in Euro models: Motor Trend calls the omission of "adjustable electronic damper control, park assist, passenger airbag deactivation, rear fog lamps, automatic climate control, a self-dimming mirror, storage drawers under the front seats, headlamp washers or manually adjusted headlamps" as "telling," wondering why Americans "can't be trusted" to leave the European GTI's built-in bottle open "to pop open Miller High Lifes." They do offer that the "standard Tartan plaid interior" and its sport seats are a "perfectly bolstered and good-humored choice over the optional heated leather" versions. MSN Autos wants VW to change its mind on the Euro-only Dynamic Chassis Control, "which lets the driver choose among three modes (comfort, normal and sport) that change the shock absorbers' damping characteristics and add a bit of effort to the steering. The cars we drove at the launch had this system, and it works impeccably."

Among the options, Kelley Blue Book gives the nod to the GTI's available dual-clutch transmission and "rear seat side-impact airbags." For 2010, the GTI also offers a new 18-inch alloy wheel package, available with summer performance tires, and a navigation system with an SD slot, a 30GB hard drive for storage, and DVD playback. A premium 300-watt audio system is an option. An Autobahn option package adds sport seats, leather trim, and a power sunroof. Xenon headlamps are now optional, too. "Most of the Autobahn's features are also offered as stand-alone options," reports Edmunds.

Finally, shoppers will definitely want to keep an eye on the bottom-line price. While LeftLane News recommends you take the navigation system and Dynaudio sound packages along with Sirius Satellite Radio-"you're all set for a tuneage-equipped, ‘bahn-burning good time"-ConsumerGuide warns, "options can lift sticker prices to the top of the class." Even at the higher as-tested price, Automobile thinks you're still getting a relative bargain; with the 2010 VW GTI, "the newfound interior refinement and better looks are worth it, because this is undoubtedly the best GTI yet."

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