Full 2009 Volkswagen GTI Review
What's New for 2009
The Rabbit-based Volkswagen GTI hops into 2009 with the newly optional Thunderbunny Package, which includes sportier bodywork and exhaust tips. This is also the first year that every GTI will be PZEV-rated.
When the current-generation Volkswagen GTI debuted in 2006, it could go toe to toe with the top performers in the "pocket rocket" segment. Its turbocharged four-cylinder engine boasted a then-competitive 200 horsepower as well as bountiful low-end torque that put high-revving Hondas to shame. The segment has evolved substantially since then, however, with muscle-bound sport compacts like the 260-hp Chevrolet Cobalt SS and 263-hp Mazda 3 stealing the performance spotlight. But the GTI's refined road manners, tasteful styling and high-quality interior help make up for whatever it may lack under the hood.
Like every sport compact, the GTI is a performance-tuned version of a basic economy car -- in this case, VW's venerable Rabbit, née Golf. Starting from this top-rated runabout, VW engineers have tacked on go-fast goodies like VW/Audi's highly regarded 2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged engine, better brakes, a sport-tuned suspension and the optional Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission, which is an automated-clutch paddle-shifted manual. Another feather in the GTI's cap is its autobahn breeding, which is evident in its exceptionally composed behavior at higher speeds. And unlike the Mazda 3 or Mini Cooper S, for example, the 2009 Volkswagen GTI is available in both two-door and four-door versions.
If there's a knock against the GTI other than its comparatively modest collection of horses, it's the car's shortage of all-out cornering ability. Don't get us wrong; the GTI handles well, but competing sport compacts generally offer sharper handling and less body roll. Of course, there are always trade-offs, and in the GTI's case, they come in the form of a genuinely comfortable ride, whereas some rivals ride so stiffly that they should be offered with a chiropractor. The GTI also boasts the richest interior materials in its class, and its restrained exterior design is almost completely devoid of boy-racer kitsch.
Choosing a sport compact these days is all about priorities. If you value powertrain excellence over styling and refinement, the Cobalt SS or Civic Si could be for you. If you want neck-snapping acceleration and sharp cornering in a practical package, the Mazda 3 is an excellent choice. If you're looking for go-kart handling (and go-kart ride comfort) along with an extra dollop of character, the Mini is the way to go. But if you prefer a more mature sport compact with a civilized demeanor, upscale appointments and hatchback utility, the 2009 Volkswagen GTI is still the only game in town.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Volkswagen GTI is a performance-oriented hatchback offered in both two-door and four-door body styles. 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-folding rear seat and a 10-speaker, six-CD/MP3 audio system with satellite radio, an auxiliary jack and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
The Autobahn Package adds a sunroof, a premium audio system, leather upholstery and heated front seats with power-adjustable lumbar support. Most of the Autobahn's features are also offered as stand-alone options. The Thunderbunny Package adds sporty exterior styling elements such as a front spoiler and a rear valance. 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
The front-wheel-drive 2009 Volkswagen GTI is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injected four-cylinder engine that pumps out 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automated manual called DSG is optional. The DSG transmission can be shifted manually via paddles on the steering wheel, or it can shift on its own in automatic mode. A GTI with the standard six-speed manual will sprint from zero to 60 mph in just under 7 seconds.
EPA fuel-economy estimates stand at 21 city/31 highway and 25 combined for GTIs with the standard six-speed manual, while DSG-equipped models are rated at 22, 29 and 25, respectively. One change for 2009 is that GTIs sold in California-emissions states earn a cleaner partial-zero-emission vehicle (PZEV) tailpipe emission rating.
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 but unavailable on two-doors.
In government testing, the four-door Rabbit/GTI earned four stars out of five in frontal-impact testing and a perfect five stars in side-impact testing. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a "Good" rating (the highest possible) in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The GTI's interior is the antithesis of the Civic Si -- it's subtly styled and traditionally laid out, which suits us just fine. Scattered metallic trim pieces dress things up a bit, and the GTI-specific sport seats are nicely shaped and well-bolstered. The standard cloth upholstery's retro plaid print is something of an acquired taste, but any driving enthusiast will appreciate the flat-bottomed steering wheel. Access to the rear seat is far easier in the four-door GTI, of course, but even the two-door proves capable of periodic people-hauling duty, thanks to adequate backseat space and relatively painless entry and exit. Behind the rear seat, the GTI can hold a respectable 15 cubic feet of cargo, and folding said seat down yields a downright capacious 46 cubes.
The 2009 Volkswagen GTI has one of the throatiest factory exhaust notes we can remember in a four-cylinder sport compact. It definitely talks the talk, and happily, the widely praised 2.0T engine walks the walk, boasting excellent low-end torque and smooth power delivery. While both transmissions perform well, the DSG is particularly notable for both its world-class shift speeds in manual mode and its remarkable docility in automatic mode. In general, the GTI imparts a feeling of solidity through its suspension and controls that one rarely finds in this segment. It might roll more and grip less than higher-strung competitors, but those who must commute as well as carve canyons will appreciate the GTI's impressive combination of responsive handling and everyday livability.