- Spirited handling
- Absorbent ride
- Dual-clutch transmission is a best-in-class piece
- Fuel economy is pretty good
- A bit frumpy outside
- Three-door, back-seat entry and exit
- It's one costly round of Golf, if you grab all the options
A punchy turbo engine, crisp handling, and a dual-clutch gearbox give the 2011 Volkswagen GTI a performance profile that's anything but stodgy.
The Volkswagen GTI does a lot with a three-letter acronym. It's VW's "GT," or "GTO," or even its "AMG"--to scale, that is.
Those characters have a meaning beyond the Golf nameplate--and that meaning is better handling, and these days, gobs more power than unusual.
With such a dowdy shape but such a winning mix of power and handling, the GTI poses an interesting question. Should you make a pass at the zingy Honda Civic Si or the MazdaSpeed3, or set your sights higher with a MINI Cooper? With its boxy demeanor, high-quality cabin and punchy performance, the GTI can compete on either of those fronts, in every way except for style. Its turbo four has wads of torque down low, where the Civic struggles to get on boil. The same's true with the MazdaSpeed3, which nearly nails the GTI's magic blend of perky power and nifty handling, but is forced to wear a silly happy face 24/7. The Mazda also doesn't have the rock-solid feel of the VW.
Neither does the MINI Cooper, for that matter--and to get into a turbo Cooper S, you're talking nearly $7000 more on the base price tag.
If you're not easily swayed by showy displays, by all means, seek out the VW. The GTI's a solitary machine. It's nowhere near as showy as its classmates, nor does it have the badge to command as much respect as the MINI. It doesn't need any of those things to win us over, thanks to its brilliant handling and to one of the great transmissions in the automotive universe.