2010 Volkswagen GTI: Taking the Back Road
September 20, 2010
I had some free time on Sunday, so I took our long-term 2010 Volkswagen GTI on a back road -- the same back road I traveled in our 2010 Mazdaspeed 3. Consistent with the discussion on this blog, it was, of course, a completely different experience. But it wasn't a bad experience and I enjoyed myself.
To start, the GTI's 2.0-liter turbo has plenty of torque for a tight and twisty road such as this. And it makes some great sounds when you're on the throttle hard. This feels like an upgrade over the Mazdaspeed 3, which is simply loud when you're running it hard.
I mostly used 3rd gear, but dipped into 2nd for a few corners. This, too, was enjoyable. We've mentioned the GTI favors tall drivers, and though I am not a giant, I have long legs -- and the seating position in this car is such that I am in a perfect position to rip off clean heel-and-toe downshifts. I love that.
You may have the impression that the GTI's suspension is so soft that it just falls all over itself when you dump the car into a tight corner. On the contrary, this car has a capable suspension that's just tuned to favor ride comfort. When you press along at a decent pace, the grip is there -- you've just got to wade through some body roll to get to it. It feels like everything's happening at a slower pace that in the Mazdaspeed 3 (which is just so frenetic and now, now, now in the way it turns in), but I wonder if I was really was that much slower. This is a public road, remember, with opposing traffic and the occasional cyclist (at least at this time of day), so my typical pace leaves a little room for the unexpected.
Other than the non-defeatable stability control, the major letdown to driving the GTI on a good road is the lack of steering feel. I'd never tell you the setup in the MS3 is perfect, but it gives you feedback you can use. The electric-assisted power steering in the VW is decently weighted, but it insulates you from what the front tires are doing -- this lowered my confidence and made the drive less interesting.
Although I came away from the afternoon happy, I've decided that, unlike the Mazdaspeed 3, the Volkswagen GTI isn't a car I'd drive on a back road just for the sake of going for a drive. It is, however, a car I'd enjoy driving if there happened to be a back road on the way to my destination -- like Brent's trip to Yosemite. The GTI is capable. It just isn't as hot as I think a hot hatch should be.
Yet, I don't dislike the GTI. In fact, I like it a great deal. But I recognize that this car fills completely different needs for me than the Mazdaspeed 3.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 13,351 miles