OK, let’s get this embarassing admission over with. I was wrong. Last year we roundly thumped Volkswagen on these very pages, yet now we're about to sing the praises of the 2013 VW GTI. As Ricky Ricardo once said, "Lucy, you got some 'splainin to do!"
With the GTI appearing year after year on the Car and Driver Top 10 List – we finally had to relent and drive it, purely in the name of journalistic objectivity.
We really didn’t want to love the VW after our disappointing experiences with a 1999 Passat (see VW's Campaign for World Dominance - and Why We’re Conscientious Objectors) But the 2013 GTI simply rocked our world - scoring higher on our test scale than any new car we’ve ever driven. Unlike the similarly high rated Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ, however the GTI is no one-trick pony. It channels your inner race car driver just as adeptly as your inner housewife. This is a car that anyone can love, Jackie Stewart or Martha Stewart.
This kind of about face doesn’t happen often at Gyrhead & Sons. So if you must - gloat for a moment at the crow we're eating. Then get over it, shut up and move on.
Of 33 vehicles we’ve tested in 2012 none have scored higher than the GTI. Nor have any been so consistently excellent in both the performance (9.3 points higher than average) and practicality (6.4 points higher than average) dimensions.
The GTI’s 2.0 direct injected Turbo motor is an absolute jewel, with incredible smoothness and a freakishly strong torque curve. The six speed manual gearbox is smooth and direct, with perfectly spaced ratios. Magazines contend that the DSG automatic is faster than the manual, but we don’t care. Buying this car with an automatic - no matter how good it may be - just feels wrong.
The GTI possesses a harmonious, well sorted feel in all driving conditions that is unique. The GTI's handling limits are not fantastically high, but the combination of sharp turn in, sublime steering feel, chassis control and ride comfort are astounding. Mazda’s “Skyactiv” vehicles (notably the new CX-5) are beginning to approach this level of dynamic excellence, but most Japanese and Korean vehicles miss the GTI's dynamic standard by miles.
The interior is stylish and intelligently laid out, with legible instruments, simple controls and high quality materials. Front and rear seat comfort is good, and cargo capacity with the rear seats folded is cavernous.
The standard Bluetooth and Satellite radio equipped sound system is very good. The Bluetooth pairing process is a little confusing, but once connected, operation of the phone is intuitively simple with very good sound quality.
The exterior styling is boxy and stealthy but somehow still manages to be rather iconic and hip. In candy white our GTI looks very much like a 150 MPH Westinghouse washing machine. We've got a pretty heavy foot - but so far the GTI appears nearly invisible to State Troopers. We like it that way.
Underway, the GTI is refined and luxurious but has an easily accessible wild side – so we guarantee you’ll find yourself caning it at every opportunity. 0-60 comes up in the low 6 second bracket and the GTI runs the quarter in the high 14s at near 98 MPH. This is a very fast car, and not just by econo-box standards. Straight line speed aside - where the GTI excels are in those everyday moments - a fast merge onto the highway, a 270 degree exit ramp, blasting out of the apex of a turn. In every situation the GTI feels at home and happy in it's work.
After 3,000 miles of driving, fuel economy is averaging 31 MPG on highway drives and 29 MPG in mixed driving. But the GTI’s excellent fuel economy is partially offset by added cost of the required premium fuel.
The list of GTI shortcomings is really trivial in nature. That we have to reach this far down to find fault merely illustrates how good the GTI is:
Factoring in the most reasonable $24,111 purchase price of our well-equipped base 5 door, the GTI is untouchable. On it's merits, the GTI feels every bit like a $40k car. From a quality and reliability perspective, Consumer Reports recommends the GTI as their pick of the sporty car segment. Should ours also prove to be reliable over the long haul, this GTI will certainly go down as one of our all-time favorites.
Well done VW, your GTI has made me a believer again.
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