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."