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2008 VW GTi Review / Road Test

By Craig Howie

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Muscular looks on the GTi Mk4

Sometimes German carmakers eschew their traditional stoic exteriors and opt for something, well, a bit fluffier.

Like the Rabbit, which is both cute and fast and packs almost as much fun as fits into a small car package.

Then there is its toothier cousin.

Meet the GTI Mk4, a twitch-legged sprinter that shoots from the gate in pursuit of anything fluffy, German or not. It's the same basic shape as a Rabbit, but it's sleeker, sportier and has muscles in all the right places.

Basics: It comes in two trims, the three-door tested here and the five-door, which runs $1500 more. Both have all the features that let you know you're in an upscale sporty hatch: leather wheel and sports bucket seats, alloy pedals and trim, and neon everything, including the 10-speaker soundsystem, which has an iPod attachment.  Both share the 200 horsepower 2-liter engine.

One thing to note here: the Rabbit and Jetta use a 2.5 liter engine that has led to concerns about gas mileage expected of a compact car.  VW engineers have chosen the smaller, lighter engine for the GTi, but have filled it with mondo fun bits like a turbocharger and intercooled and direct fuel injection. The GTi will get a respectable 21 and 29 town and highway, or about the same as the Rabbit (but gets bonus points as it's a performance car).

And it shows.  Squeal those front tires – but not too much – and keep an eye out around you for hazards. All too quickly you're through the first three gears of six, then ease off and  feel the lowered sports suspension easily guide its aluminum frame around snug corners. Time to a mile a minute is about 7 seconds for both manual and automatic transmission. It tops out at 130 mph.

Most importantly for some, this is a design that subtly screams style. The GTi Mark – not the oft-criticized Rabbit – was a European design icon on its US release in 1983, even though it was prone to break and expensive to fix. Now it's the car of choice for young professionals and streetrace enthusiasts, and boasts honeycomb vents, VW's trademark sweepingly dropped grille and a low-profile (by half an inch) stance.

Nicely compact to the rear

Best bits are close-together pedals for heel-and-toe maneuvers and acceleration through corners. Its fantastic gluttural exhaust note it shares with its cousin, the drop-top Eos. Other great things are parking in tight spots and all the other usual advantages of a compact car including maneuverability and cost efficiency, while knowing that at any moment you can open it up and beat most anything on the road.

Circular imprint rims

  Fluffiness aside, you get all the ergonomic efficiency you expect of a German sports compact.  Build quality is solid and safety ratings are excellent across the board. Rims boast circular imprints and look good. Four-door variant is better for kids or a dog, obviously, but the two-door I'm guessing is a better bet for a single or young couple.

But honestly the best bit?  I got this one the week of the wife's birthday. Did she love me? Oh yes.

MSRP starts at $22,800 for the three-door, and is $24,300 for the five.

Sports interior with quality trim


Published on Sep 04, 2008

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