What's New for 2008
The 2008 Volkswagen GTI receives a lower ride height for better handling, and minor equipment and trim level changes.
When Volkswagen introduced its new GTI a couple of years ago, it ran a series of TV ads featuring a stereotyped German engineer, his leggy female counterpart and a variety of over-customized sport compact cars. The ad's Teutonic duo then "un-pimped" the cars by smashing or destroying them, hence allowing the introduction of the new GTI. The TV spots were fun (you can find them on YouTube, naturally) but more importantly, there was real substance behind them. After a string of lackluster GTIs, the latest edition is once again a key member of the hot hatch justice league. And unlike some rivals, it doesn't have to resort to spoilers, scoops and gimmicky interior trim.
The fifth-generation ("Mk V") GTI went on sale as a late 2006 model and heads into 2008 with minimal changes. As expected, the GTI starts life as your basic economy-minded Rabbit. It then gains a variety of upgrades that serve to increase sporting potential. VW and Audi's common but highly regarded 2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged engine (aka, the 2.0T) is used here, and it can be fitted to Volkswagen's excellent Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission, an automated-clutch, paddle-shifted manual. Also on the GTI are more powerful brakes and a sport-tuned suspension that's been further enhanced for 2008 via a 15mm drop in ride height.
This is definitely the best GTI in a long time. It's also versatile -- it comes as a two-door or four-door and has a roomy and well-built interior. Your only pause for concern might be that the GTI is a bit pricey and lacks in performance when compared to other top sport hatchbacks or coupes. The Honda Civic Si and Mini Cooper S are more nimble and fun to drive, for instance, and the well-rounded Mazdaspeed 3 packs more of a turbocharged wallop. There's also the Volvo C30 to consider this year as it, too, brings a refined European feel to this segment. Overall, though, the 2008 Volkswagen GTI is still a very good choice, especially for somebody wanting a hot hatch that's grown-up, comfortable and pleasingly "un-pimped."
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Volkswagen GTI is a performance-oriented hatchback. Both two-door and four-door body styles are offered. Standard equipment includes xenon HID headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, sport front seats, a 60/40-split rear seat and a 10-speaker, six-CD/MP3 audio system with satellite radio, an auxiliary jack and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. This year VW is offering an Autobahn Package; it includes a sunroof, a premium audio system, leather upholstery and heated front seats. Most of the Autobahn's features are also offered as stand-alone options. Other upgrades for the GTI include 18-inch wheels, an iPod adapter and, when equipped with the Autobahn Package, a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
Every VW GTI comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. It drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed, sequential-shifting automated manual called DSG. The DSG transmission can be shifted via paddles on the steering wheel or placed in fully automatic mode. For a GTI with the regular six-speed manual, expect a 0-60-mph time of about 6.7 seconds.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Rear side-impact airbags are optional on four-door models. In government testing, the four-door Rabbit/GTI earned four stars out of five for its protection of front occupants in frontal impacts. For that agency's side-impact test, the car earned a five-star rating. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the car scored a "Good" rating (the highest possible) in both the frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like the Rabbit, the GTI's interior design is straightforward and traditional, with upscale materials and excellent build quality. A few special metallic trim pieces grace the cabin, and the GTI-specific sport seats are very supportive. Distinctive design elements include the standard cloth upholstery, which has a retro plaid print, and the flat-bottom steering wheel. The main advantage to the four-door GTI is its more accessible rear seat, though the two-door's front seats slide forward quite easily to improve entry and exit. With either body style, there's plenty of rear-seat room for a couple of kids. Behind the rear seat, the GTI can hold 15 cubic feet of cargo.
Start the 2008 Volkswagen GTI and there's a deep, burbling engine note that increases in volume once the throttle is opened under load. It's an enjoyable tone that's rare in the world of turbocharged cars. The engine also provides plenty of torque at low rpm to make squirts through urban traffic quite easy. Around town, the GTI's ride quality is quite agreeable, and overall the car is an excellent choice for a daily driver. From an enthusiast's standpoint, however, the GTI falls a bit short of cars like the Civic Si and Cooper S in terms of handling and driver enjoyment. This year's lower ride height has helped matters somewhat, but the softy tuned VeeDub still suffers from a beefy curb weight and lackluster steering feel.