2010 Volkswagen GTI Review

By Kevin Miller

In the autumn of 1982, I fell in love with the Volkswagen GTI. I was at a downtown Seattle Volkswagen dealership where my parents were buying a brand new Vanagon for use as our family hauler. While our folks languished in the F&I office, my brother and I climbed in and out of all the new VWs in the showroom, including the then-exotic-looking GTI. As an impressionable eight-year-old, the black hatch with sporty red accent stripes colorful seats made quite an impression; one that has lasted decades.

In the 28 years since, much has changed. The store where the Vanagon was purchased so long ago is now a Toyota-Scion dealership, where I helped my sister-in-law buy her new xD last year. Just as the Vanagonis long gone from both VW’s lineup and my parents’ driveway, the GTI is now in its 6th generation; but it continues to catch my eye and linger in my mind.

Model Year 2010 marks the first year of sales of the sixth-generation GTI in North America. Although the new model’s styling falls squarely in the “evolutionary” category, designers at Volkswagen have kept visual cues from the first-generation car which keep the GTI true to its roots. The exterior has a distinctly German look, with uncluttered, stylish-yet-simple shapes. The standard 17-inch alloy wheels look a bit small but are quite stylish.

The GTI has a uniquely good-looking interior featuring charcoal fabric with plaid inserts, which recall the upholstery in the original GTI. The seats, handbrake and steering wheel feature red stitching. The flat-bottom steering wheel feels great in my hands.With clear instruments and nice soft-touch dash material the GTI’s interior exudes a premium feel. The charcoal-colored headliner, without the optional sunroof, causes the interior atmosphere to be fairly somber and dark. But still premium.

The GTI’s front seat has an amazing amount of legroom. At 6′ 4″ tall, in almost every car I must position the driver’s seat as far back as possible, and often I and still need a bit more room. In the GTI, I had to move the seat forward three notches from the back in order to fully depress the clutch. In addition to having ample legroom, the front seats were nicely bolstered and were quite comfortable, though my bottom fell asleep after about two hours nonstop driving.

The GTI I tested was a three-door, though it has as much space in the back as the five-door. The manually-adjustable front seats have a clever mechanism that folds and slides the seats forward for accessing the rear seats, but “remembers” the original position of the seat when it is returned to the upright position. I’ve used too many two- and three-door cars that don’t remember the seat position or don’t’ slide forward properly, so this little feature really impressed me. When the seats are folded forward there is enough room to stand in the back seat to buckle children into forward-facing car seats. Only when parking with the nose of the car pointing uphill did I have a tough time with the seats, as gravity caused them to slide rearward instead of maintaining their open position.

The GTI’s climate controls are a straightforward three-knob affair with controls for heated seats. Identical to the control used in Volkswagen’s Golf TDI, the Climatic system’s markings for air distribution are difficult to read because of the small marking size, the bezel shape and because the knob obscures the right and bottom markings. Also like the Golf TDI, the GTI has a trunk with plenty of cargo space (enough for a family of four to pack for a weekend getaway) and nice interior materials like soft-touch dash materials and felt-lined door pockets.

After a particularly rainy day followed by a hard freeze, the GTI’s defroster had a tough time clearing the windshield. While the windshield was clear when I got in the car, as soon as the HVAC turned on the interior windows misted up, and it took more than five minutes driving with the defroster and AC at full speed to clear the windshield. On that frosty morning, the GTI’s standard electrically-heated mirrors were appreciated and made quick work of clearing the exterior mirrors.

The 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder in the GTI is rated 200 HP. There is notable turbo lag below 2000 RPM, especially if poking along in traffic then punching it to pull out quickly. When the turbo finally spools up the car wakes up, as does plenty of torque steer. It makes a great sound in high RPMs as it approaches redline, which is a great contrast to the odd clatter at idle.

I came to love running quick accelerations, where I could run to redline, spinning the front tires in first and second gears.- just what hot hatches are all about. Quick runs from 0-60 MPH do require a lot of shifting, as redline is at about 35 MPH in first gear, and 55 MPH in second gear. The engine revs quickly and gears spacing is short, meaning that there is a lot of shifting to do but a lot of fun to be had; you’ve just got to wring the engine out to get the performance from the car.

I initially felt that despite the 200 HP rating, the legendary hot hatch didn’t feel as “hot” as I would have expected. There were also comments on Autosavant’s Facebook page that the GTI needs more power to be taken seriously, though after spending a week withthecar I tend to disagree. The hot hatch segment historically takes a commuter car and gives it a bit more performance and a bit better handling, and that is what Volkswagen has done with this sixth-generation GTI. It isn’t a supercar, and it isn’t intended to be. It is a 200 HP, front-wheel-drive hatchback, which has better power (and fuel economy) than Golf on which it is based. In that sense, the GTI totally delivers. It is a refined package that really works, and you really do get to use all of the engine’s power in daily driving, something that isn’t really possible in more powerful vehicles.

The steering is remarkably precise, almost intuitive in precision driving maneuvers- truly remarkable for a front-wheel drive car. The car’s 3000 lb curb weight, balance, and steering feel conspire to make the GTI incredibly chuckable. On the highway it did tend to wander a bit on center, and it tended to follow ruts in the road which exacerbated the torque steer. The GTI’s suspension is firm and communicative but never harsh, though the ride was somewhat unsettled on unsmooth pavement.

Its brakes consistently slowed the GTI from any speed with confidence, though stepping hard on the brakes on steep hills or low-traction situations I had three different occasions where the rear wheels (at least the driver’s sited wheel) locked just a few feet shy of the stop; each of those occasions I noticed because the driver’s window was opened and I heard the sound of the skidding rear tire.

During my week with the GTI, my logbook comments repeatedly noted that the GTI suffers from a lot of road noise. Intrusive road noise. The kind of noise that makes conversation at normal sound levels nearly impossible. Somehow the GTI created a type of conversation vortex inside of the car; my wife and I actually had a tough time hearing one another in the car.

The 2010 GTI has an EPA fuel economy rating of 21/31/25 MPG city/highway/combined. During the week I spent with the GTI, I covered 630 miles (with almost 500 of those on the highway), I saw a 29.9 MPG average as indicated on the car’s trip computer. A day trip from Seattle to Portland saw a 190 mile freeway run at 65-80 MPH, with an impressive fuel economy average of 34.3 MPH.

When the 2010 GTI was delivered for my review, the fuel gauge indicated that the tank wasn’t full, so I stopped to top it off to ensure that I would be able to get an accurate fuel economy calculation. So I stopped at a gas station and put in about a gallon of premium unleaded, with the pump turning itself off. When I pulled away, though, the fuel gauge still didn’t indicate a full tank. It seems that the shape of the filler neck was causing the pump to shut off early, though I didn’t have the same problem at a subsequent fill-up.

The GTI I tested was delivered without any optional equipment. The $24,414 price tag (including $750 destination charge) reflected standard equipment such as 17 inch alloy wheels, XDS electronic limited slip differential, heated seats and windshield washer nozzles, a touchscreen stereo system with SIRIUS satellite radio and six-disc CD changer (though the touchscreen has a lower resolution than the one with the optional nav system, which I sampled in the Golf TDI), a multifunction steering wheel, and Bluetooth connectivity for phone and music systems.

The GTI is a comfortable and nicely-equipped hatchback with a premium feel to both its interior and its drivetrain. When not driving with spirit, the GTI is fine; docile but not particularly inspired. When driven vigorously, though, the GTI comes alive- rowing through the gears becomes addictive. The feedback through the stick, wheel, and clutch all come together. It took me a few days to realize that and to truly appreciate the GTI’s balance. But by the end of my week with the original hot hatch, I totally got it, and was having a great time.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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2 Comments

  1. Road noise?? Sorry, beg to differ. My similarly equipped GTI I’ve had for a week is remarkably quiet, even at highway speeds. Most reviews have singled out its noise-suppression as one of its virtues. Maybe you should speak up!

  2. @Tim – Kevin calls it like he sees it. You’ve had just as much time with the car as he did (since he used his on a road trip, it’s possible he actually drove this press car more than you have driven yours), so it’s entirely possible you haven’t yet driven it on all road surfaces. Some pavement surfaces really tend to let a lot of noise into a cabin that is otherwise whisper quiet.

    I’m happy you like your new GTI. Congrats – very cool ride, and glad we could help you validate your purchase.

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