Volkswagen GTI

The 2014 Volkswagen GTI comes only as a 4-door model. The front-wheel-drive GTI is powered by a 2.0L, 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 200 horsepower. Because it produces its peak 207 pound-feet of torque beginning at a low 1,700 rpm, the engine feels more like a V6 in many respects, while returning EPA ratings of up to 24 mpg city, 33 highway. It works especially well with the available DSG automatic transmission, which is actually two small manual gearboxes, controlled by electronics, to deliver confident shifts in less time than you could shift yourself. A 6-speed manual gearbox is also offered. DSG includes steering-wheel paddle-shifters and to get the most out of DSG, it includes a Launch Control feature so that you can launch especially quickly from a stop.

A fully-independent suspension, with front damper-struts and a stiff tubular roll bar, plus a 4-link layout in back help to give the GTI performance tuning that is responsive but not too jarring or coarse for passengers. An electromechanical steering system also loads up nicely and can compensate for crosswinds or road surfaces. Brakes in the GTI are a step up from those in the Golf, with 12.3-inch ventilated discs in front and 10.7-inch discs in back and there's an XDS cross-differential system and electronic differential that functions as a limited-slip differential and helps send power safely to the wheels that can best use it. Exclusive to the GTI are polished exhaust tips with a "sound generator" that brings more sporty engine sounds into the cabin during spirited driving.

The GTI inherits the Volkswagen Golf's building blocks and same basic layout inside. What that means is that it offers a lot more interior efficiency and versatility than most dedicated high-performance models. There's a 15-cubic-foot cargo space, and the rear seatback is split 60/40 and folds down to expand the area for larger items.

The 2014 GTI is offered in two trims: Wolfsburg Edition and the fully loaded Driver's Edition. Wolfsburg models feature 18-inch alloy wheels, tinted glass, fog lamps, air conditioning, heated front seats, a cooled glovebox, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and an 8-speaker sound system with Sirius XM satellite radio and iPod capability, as well as an auxiliary input. Driver's Edition models add bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights, touchscreen navigation, power sunroof and leather seats front and rear.

Editors' First Take

When the Nürburgring's infamous Nordschleife once again removed its speed limits this year, it was only a matter of time before automakers would return to attempt to capture records. Volkswagen's done exactly that this week, recording the fastest front-wheel-drive 'Ring time in its all-new Clubsport S.

The Clubsport S puts out about 306 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. The curb weight is under 3,000 pounds (including the driver), 60 mph arrives in 5.8 seconds, and it comes standard with adaptive suspension with a special setting for the Nürburgring. The rear seat is missing, too. VW will produce just 400 of these cars, one quarter of which will stay in Germany.

VW's 7:49.21 lap time positively decimates the record of 7:50.63 set by a preproduction , which itself bested the previous record of 7:54.36, held by the Renault Mégane RS. But Honda has a new Civic Type R in the works, set to debut in the next year or two, so it's very likely that the crown could once again land on a Japanese hood.

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