The Volkswagen GTI is the original “Pocket Rocket” from the early 1980’s. Although many enthusiasts would lament that subsequent GTI’s never quite lived up to the original, VW have sought to redress the balance with their latest version. Based on the 5th generation Golf (now called Rabbit again in North America), the new GTI is stuffed with safety features as well as numerous luxury features.
Last year’s GTI had a 1.8 litre 4-cylinder engine pumping out 180 horsepower and 173 lb/ft torque. The all-new 2007 GTI is endowed with a turbocharged 2.0 litre 200 horsepower engine and 207 lb/ft of torque at a very low 1,800 rpm, plus it gets 6 forward gears instead of 5. Also this year there is an available 5-door version in addition to the traditional 3-door variety.
When I picked up the key for the GTI, the color was labeled as silver and the usual “Ugh” went through my head – another boring color, yet it works with the GTI. Maybe it’s the black accent bits on the car along with the bright red brake calipers, I don’t know, but it looks quite smart in silver. The proportions of the 5-door GTI, as well as the benefits of having four doors, make it the one I’d choose over a 3-door.
For those of us that don’t have a VW logo tattooed on our butts, there isn’t a huge difference in looks between this year and last year’s model, even though they are two completely different generations. Still, it is a good looking car – especially with the optional 18” rims on the test car. I wasn’t behind the wheel for very long when I noticed a couple of Golf owners taking second and third glances at my car, realizing it was the new 5-door.
Opening the door reveals a familiar interior for anyone that’s been inside a Golf or Jetta in the past year. I was quite taken aback at the “German Tartan” seats. I had no idea the Germans even had a tartan! VW call it “Interlagos.” Regardless, it’s not offensive (even to a Scotsman) and suits the car. Climbing inside I found the seats very comfortable and the material feels like it will stand up to many years of abuse. The thigh bolsters are very prominent and certainly help keep you in place when zipping through the twisties in search of wild haggis hiding in the German Heather. The driver’s seat is manually height adjustable by using a lever on the left to crank it up or down. I found it a very useful feature and easy to operate even while driving. There’s also a lumbar adjustment on the side that’s operated by a dial, as is the seat back tilt/recline. Much like the Beetle, the seat cushion bolster sits right behind my knees and made it a little bit difficult to find the sweet spot, but by cranking up the seat it helped make it less prominent. The heated seats were welcome and worked very well during a cold spell in early October.
The very fat leather steering wheel is the perfect size and has both tilt and telescopic adjustments. It has indents exactly where your hands sit at the 10 and 2 o’clock position, and has a flat bottom just like a Formula 1 racing steering wheel. Also on the wheel are the telephone and radio controls, as well as toggle switches for the information centre located right in front of the driver. Below the information centre are the fuel and temperature gauges with the tachometer to the left and the speedometer to the right. It all looks very clean and uncluttered. The cruise control lever is on the left, just below the turn signal lever. Another thing I noticed right away was the huge dead pedal that is perfectly placed for the left foot. The pedals are very stylish – silver and black which is in keeping with the sporty appearance of the GTI. On several occasions I felt that the clutch was just a little too much to the right and would have been a little more comfortable if it were perhaps an inch more to the left. Otherwise, the GTI is perfectly set up as a driver’s car but doesn’t forget to pamper the front passenger either. The front passenger is also treated to a very comfortable seat that gets 6-way adjustments along with lumbar and height adjustments too.
The top of the dashboard is covered in a dull-black high quality plastic material that blends into the centre console that has a smooth finish. The centre consol houses the audio system and “Climatic” – semi-automatic climate control. Also located there are the 5-stage dials for the heated seats, the rear window defogger and traction control off switch. The climate control is very simple and easy to operate. You choose the temperature you want and you get to make the decision as to how much strength you want the fan speed to be. The premium 10-speaker audio system is an AM/FM radio with an in-dash 6-disc CD player that is also MP3 capable. There’s a nice large glove box that has a separate shelf for storing the owners manual.
Firing up the intercooled turbo engine is uneventful and to be perfectly honest I thought it was a little under-whelming at first. Having just come from the wonderful 2.5 litre inline 5-cylinder in the Beetle, it didn’t feel as though it was as powerful. Sure the engine was smaller, but it’s turbo charged and has an extra 50 horses under the hood. The torque in the GTI is up on the Beetle too (207 lb/ft. @ 1,800 rpm versus 170-lb/ft torque from 1,750 – 5125 rpm) but it just didn’t feel as powerful. So why didn’t it feel quicker? It was obviously the turbo-lag, because once I buried the right foot and waited a second it wasâ€¦ hold on Trigger we’re running outta road!! Now that’s what I was expecting! Entering the freeway I was into triple-digits before I’d run out of ramp, I had to brake hard to enter the highway!
Driving around town the GTI is very civilized and you’d never know there was so much power available below your right foot. If you need it, just gear down, bury the throttle and you’re off like a rabbit running from a hawk. Coming up the hill during one of my hill-tests, the road was a little damp and the traction control kicked in briefly – just enough to keep me out of trouble. The GTI took the steep grade as if it were a flat piece of tarmac. On flat sections of road you have to keep one eye on the speedometer because it doesn’t take long before the scenery starts to blur. At the other end of the scale, stopping is achieved in a no-fuss effort. I had the opportunity to go from 80 – 0 mph [130 – 0 kms] in a split-second thanks to Toronto’s many rubber-neckers. The GTI stopped so fast and straight I was holding my breath – just waiting to get thumped from behind. Fortunately the guy behind me was a left-lane hog and had about half a mile to brake. By the time he reached me I was already back up to 60 mph.
The moonroof operation is the now familiar dial on the ceiling. You rotate the dial to whichever setting you want and forget about it. If you want it fully open – rotate it and forget it. If it’s in the vent option and you want the roof fully open just dial in the fully open notch and it takes care of it for you – no need to close it and then open it all the way – very handy.
As comfortable as the rear seats are, I’d consider the GTI a true 4-seater, not a 5 even though there are 5 seatbelts – call it a 5-seater in a pinch due to the tunnel on the floor which would intrude greatly on foot space for three. Leg, hip, head and foot room are very good for two, and the folding armrest (with a pass through) made it very comfortable. The rear seat folds completely flat in a 60/40 configuration, making the GTI a very appealing car to consider for anyone. I’m a big fan of hatchbacks and the GTI/Rabbit is probably the best one out there at the moment. Entry and exit is effortless thanks to the wide opening doors. The seat cushion is firm but very comfortable, offering plenty of support for long drives. Although the doors lock automatically, it’s a two-stage unlock feature to get out of the car. The first pull of the handle unlocks the door and then the second pull actually opens the door. I found this a great feature – especially for passengers in the back seat who usually have to wait for the driver to unlock doors.
Noise levels are exceptional in the GTI. While traveling at speeds of 100 mph [160 kph] it was completely quiet and hushed. In fact many times I’d look down at the speedometer and was shocked at the speed I was traveling. Usually larger vehicles like pick up trucks are a little harder for me to judge my speed, but the GTI is so solid and quiet it was very easy to drive well over the speed limit without knowing it. The German autobahn heritage is alive and well in the GTI’s nature. The steering is very sharp and responsive, communicating everything the driver needs to know what’s going on, while at the same time soaking up expansion joints and potholes with aplomb. My biggest worry while driving the pot hole infested roads of Toronto were the 45-series tires – they don’t leave much room for error without damaging those lovely rims.
Standard features on the GTI include: 2.0L DOHC 16-valve intercooled turbo engine with direct gasoline injection, Climatic manual air conditioning, cruise control, Power windows, with driver and passenger 1-touch down/up (the driver’s buttons operate all 4 with the 1-touch down/up feature), driver and front passenger 6-way manual seat adjustment with lumbar support, 60/40 folding rear seat, heated front seats (6 settings), leather steering wheel and shifter knob, 10-speaker AM/FM/Satellite-ready radio with 6-disc CD in-dash and MP3, steering wheel mounted radio and info centre controls, fog lights, trip computer with compass, outside temperature, miles â€˜till empty fuel display, locking glove box, 2 power outlets (one in rear cargo), 17” alloy rims with P225/45HR17 performance tires, alarm/anti-theft immobilizer, a folding key with a built-in FOB (the panic button is on the side – not the usual spot other manufacturers put it so you can accidentally set off the alarm), automatic door locks, dual vanity mirrors with lights, tilt and telescopic steering, outside mirrors with turn signals incorporated into them and a lane-change feature (touch the lever briefly and the turn signals flash 3 times).
Options included on the test vehicle: 18” Hufeisen Alloy rims with P225/40YR18 tires $663 [$900 Cdn]; Power moonroof $1,252 [$1,400 Cdn]. Rear side airbag ($310) is included in the Canadian GTI, but optional on the U.S. version.
As is now traditional in late model Volkswagen’s, the GTI is loaded with safety features – among them are: ABS with EBA (Electronic Brake Assist), EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), Traction Control, HBA (Electronic Stability Control) with brake assist, side impact door beams, automatic lock/unlock doors, dual-stage front airbags, front seat-mounted side impact air bags, side curtain airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters, security system with Immobilizer III ignition disabler, Bi-Xenon high intensity low/high beam projector beam headlights, headlight washers, window and moonroof pinch-protection and automatic headlights.
The GTI is a fantastic car. It’s compact but roomy and has the many benefits that a hatchback offers. It’s a ton of fun to drive and it’s a true driver’s car, yet not only does the driver gets to enjoy the ride – everyone does. The steering and suspension along with the wonderful engine and 6-speed transmission make it a joy to drive. You get to play a race car driver on the city streets – half the fun is seeing how fast you can take a corner without lifting off the gas pedal. It’s solid and quiet at any speed and gives you the confidence to faster and deeper into corners than you normally would.
One thing of special note was the top of the dashboard – out by the window. There’s a little lip on the dashboard that forces the air from the defroster up the window and over the ceiling. It stops the air from blowing directly into your eyes – perfect for those with allergies or contact lenses! My wife said she’d buy this car for that reason alone!
All Volkswagens come with a comprehensive 4 year /50,000 miles [80,000 kms] Bumper to Bumper warranty; a 5 year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty and 4 years/ unlimited distance Roadside Assistance.
Pricing for the 2007 VW GTI 5 Door:
As tested: $25,350 [$31,675 Cdn]
Base price starts at: $22,600 [$29,375 Cdn]
Fuel Consumption: [Premium Fuel – 91 Octane]
The Turbocharged 2.0 Litre with a manual transmission is rated at 24 mpg City [10 L/100 kms] and 35 mpg Highway [6.9 L/100 kms]. I averaged just over 24.6 mpg [9.9 L/100 kms] combined driving and during 100% Highway driving.
The original “Pocket Rocket” is back and better than ever!
Loaded with safety features
Superb fuel economy
So much fun and practical too!
Canadians are paying a 30% price premium over U.S. prices to drive it.
Would I Spend My Money On It?:
Back Seat Driver Test: 9 out of 10
“Plenty of room back here – for 2, not 3 – and the seats are really comfortable“ “The arm rest is great” “I’ve got tons of leg room back here!” “The reading lights are perfectly placed, which is unusual in the back.” “Getting in and out is good – the wheel well doesn’t interfere, that’s very good.”
Audi A3, PT Cruiser GT, Ford Focus ZX5, Mazdaspeed3, Mercedes B200, MINI, Subaru Impreza Sport Wagon.
By The Numbers:
Horsepower: 200 @ 5,100 rpm
Torque: 207 @ 1,800 rpm
0 – 60 mph 7.1 seconds
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (Heated Seats/ Sunroof etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
9 – Driving Position/Controls
9 – Drool Factor (extra points for those rims)
10 – Fit & Finish
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling
10 – Bang for the $$
9 – Fuel Economy
146 Total / 150
Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: PaddockTalk