The two best hot hatchbacks, the Volkswagen GTI and the Honda Civic Si, showed up with new designs last year, keeping them firmly at the top of their class. But Volkswagen, not content to hold even with Honda, threw a curveball this year by adding a couple of extra doors to its car, ending up with the four-door 2007 Volkswagen GTI.
Even with four doors, the GTI is a good-looking car. But we have to question Volkswagen's decision to alter a particularly fun car with the practical note of making access to the back seats easy. The rear doors might actually tempt people to use the back seat, which will add weight to the car and lessen its fun factor. Or even worse, imagine a baby seat back there, forcing the driver to temper her or his driving passion.
But even with the extra doors, it's still a GTI. Its engine still makes a satisfying growl and the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), with which ours was equipped, is still extraordinarily fun to use. We never got over the desire to do fast launches at every opportunity during our week with the car. When forced by deadlines to sit at the desk and write, we dreamed of putting the car through its paces on twisty mountain roads.
While evaluating the GTI, we also concluded that it's time for Volkswagen to upgrade its cabin electronics. On that basis, we would rather have the Honda Civic Si.
Test the tech: Fully loaded zero to 60mph
When we tested the Audi A3, which has the same powertrain as the GTI, we did zero-to-60mph runs with the intention of seeing if the car's automated shifting could go faster than our manual shifting. Because of the extra doors on the GTI, we decided to see how fast it would go from zero to 60mph with four people in it.
To run our test, we loaded up the car with Car Tech editors Kevin Massy and Wayne Cunningham, Car Tech contributor Mike Markovich, and Dino Salee, from our photography team. Although none of us would consent to get on a scale, we estimate somewhere between 600 and 700 pounds of people in the car. We found a nice straight, deserted road and hooked up our performance computer. Each driver made two runs, shifting with the steering wheel paddles, and we took the best times.
When we did our runs with the Audi A3, we got lots of initial wheel slip, and the driver had to struggle to keep the car under control. Whether due to the passenger weight or its suspension tuning, the GTI only showed a little wheel slip under our fast launches. Torque steer wasn't felt very strongly, either, making the car pretty easy to keep in line as we mashed the gas pedal. Although we all shifted manually, only Mike Markovich was canny enough to hold the brake and get some revs up before letting the car go, producing our best time.
Here are the results for our four-person zero to 60mph runs-- Kevin Massy: 7.2 seconds, Mike Markovich: 6.8 seconds, Wayne Cunningham: 7.35 seconds, and Dino Salee: 7.88 seconds.
In Volkswagen's technical sheet for the two-door GTI, the company gives the car 7 seconds from zero to 60mph, making our numbers look spectacular. However, Car and Driver wrung 6 seconds out of the two-door GTI from zero to 60mph. The four-door version of the GTI is only 62 pounds heavier than the two door, which should only add a tenth or so to the time. Notably, our rear-seat passengers were fairly comfortable during our timed runs, saying something for the back-seat space of the GTI.
In the cabin
Although the fit and finish of the Volkswagen GTI's cabin is very good, it doesn't have the same strong luxury feel of a car like the BMW 328xi that we tested recently. The cabin of the Volkswagen GTI, and the Audi A3 for that matter, feels like the luxury is only skin deep. As the GTI has a base price in the low $20,000s, this level of luxury is entirely reasonable.
As it's a GTI, and not a Rabbit, the car has a few performance touches around the cabin, such as a flat-bottom steering wheel and alloy-look pedals. The steering wheel includes stereo volume controls and up/down buttons that scroll the center display or choose radio presets. It also includes a star button that mutes the stereo, and a telephone button, which does nothing. Bluetooth cell phone integration isn't offered as an option here, so this button is most likely a legacy from the European market. As part of our GTI's option package, we had dual climate control.