Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
Our GTI was delivered on Volkswagen's standard Pirelli P-Zero all-season tires, which are fine, but not ideal. It's a "Jack of all trades, master of none" situation: By being designed to handle all weather conditions and road types, all-season tires are competent, but don't excel in any particular situation. Given the GTI's sporty nature -- and our Southern California staff's proximity to some of the best driving roads in the world -- we opted to ditch the all-season Pirellis and install some summer tires in the hopes of giving this VW a slightly sharper edge.
The fine folks at Bridgestone sent over a set of Potenza Sport summer tires, sized 225/40R18 for our GTI's 18-inch wheels. Potenza Sports are designed to offer the grip of a summer tire without making big sacrifices in wet-weather performance, and unlike a lot of other performance tires, they don't produce a ton of road noise. We love using the GTI as a daily driver when we aren't running it through the canyons, so this focus on quietness and ride comfort is important when selecting a summer tire.
Right away, we noticed a difference. Running the GTI along the winding roads in Angeles National Forest, it's demonstrably more surefooted while cornering, especially through tight hairpins. Combined with the GTI's electronic limited-slip front differential, understeer is nearly nonexistent. Turn-in response also feels more immediate, and the tires' traction limit is much higher, meaning we can confidently take turns at higher speeds than before.
True to their promise, the Potenza Sports don't ruin the GTI's ride. On a long slog from Palm Springs back to Los Angeles, the VW felt as nicely sorted as ever with no unnecessary harshness over rough sections of freeway. Summer tires often come with big tradeoffs in this department, but the Bridgestones are very well behaved.
How's the GTI been otherwise? Fine and dandy. The low-end torque is great for pulling away from stoplights and passing cars on the freeway, and we're still glad we opted for the six-speed manual transmission -- the light clutch has a clear take-up point making it easy to use, even in stop-and-go traffic.
As for the GTI's somewhat fussy multimedia system, we're getting used to some of its quirks, but a few missteps are hard to overlook. Why the panel for the temperature controls isn't backlit at night is absolutely beyond us, and the system tends to lag on startup. Several staffers have had the system drop Apple CarPlay connectivity randomly, too, whether using the wired or wireless connection. Oh, and did you know that pressing both the warmer/colder tiles below the screen is how you can turn on the heated seats without having to go into a separate menu? Yeah, neither did we.
We're planning a deeper dive into the GTI's tech for our next long-term update, and we've got some road trips and other stories planned for our hot hatch, as well. In the meantime, we'll enjoy the newfound performance potential unlocked by the simple switch from all-season tires to summers.