We owned a 2010 Volkswagen GTI for the last 16 months and it was one of the most polarizing long-term test vehicles we've had in awhile. One early blog entry stirred up controversy between GTI supporters and opponents.
"This VW GTI is some great car," it began. "It's not that it's less than half the price of an M3; it's that it's more than twice as good as an M3.
"I'd argue that the GTI is better than an M3 because it combines the M3-style virtues in a car that is not only affordable but also responsive and nimble. The disappointment we all felt when the BMW 2002 was replaced by the BMW 3 Series had to do with size and weight, and we preferred a nimble, lightweight car.... I'm tired of driving 4,000-pound sedans masquerading as coupes.... For me, the Volkswagen GTI is the kind of M3 I prefer, less like a V8-powered truck and more like the Whispering Bomb. It's a great car."
Why We Bought It
For 2010, the new VW's 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 ranked it among the most powerful GTIs to date. Yet each generation of GTI seemed to arrive with a little less edge and a bit more comfort. The latest version followed that trend and we wondered if the GTI we knew so well was finally gone.
The fact that we already had a redesigned 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 in our long-term test fleet would help the comparison. There was a time when the GTI was the car to beat. Now the Mazdaspeed wore those shoes. Would time favor the seasoned, sophisticated VW? Or would its softened edges push us toward the all-or-nothing performance attitude of the Mazda? Only a long-term test would tell.
We answered one question early on. Volkswagen officially hung up the keys to the GTI we once knew. A nondefeat stability control system and conservative suspension tuning reflected the GTI's transition from a performance-only hatch toward broader acceptance.
A large contingent disagreed with VW's use of the GTI badge for this vehicle. And the discontent in our hallways ranged from mild to extreme. "It's lacking all of the character and personality the earlier generations had. This car is soft, the steering is over-boosted and not informative," chimed one editor. Another added, "Why can't I disable stability control on this sport compact car? Silly. Just silly." Also overheard, "There's too much sound deadening. When you have to funnel engine sound into the cockpit with a tube, you might have gone too far." Not everybody agreed with the hallway banter.
Executive Editor Michael Jordan spoke for the opposition. Jordan wrote, "As before, the GTI is cheap, with a price that we suspect is actually thousands of dollars less than the real cost, as VW uses it to build showroom traffic. As before, the GTI is comfortable, a car spacious and poised enough to help you withstand a cross-country trip. And most important of all, the GTI offers the same, honest high-performance dynamics for which Volkswagen has always been noted. There are guys who wish this car was some raspy Japanese piece for fan boys, all roll stiffness, limited suspension travel and torque steer. But the GTI was never like that before, and it makes more sense to be different than the Mazdaspeed 3 or Subaru Impreza WRX rather than the same."
Inside the cabin our 2010 Volkswagen GTI was accommodating and the build quality was excellent. The front seats were supportive and highly adjustable, though we found the seating position favored the slight whistle from the B-pillar on the highway at various times.
Routine service on the GTI was easy since there was free maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles. The only qualifier was that we had to take it in at the prescribed intervals of 6K, 10K, 20K and 30K miles. In addition to the usual items, Volkswagen Santa Monica performed two warranty repairs. At the damaged irreparably.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 16 months): None
Additional Maintenance Costs: $274.27 for 1 new tire
Warranty Repairs: BCM update, YS campaign
Non-Warranty Repairs: Replace one tire
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 3
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: None
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
We track-test our long-term cars twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of each test period. The 2010 Volkswagen GTI stuck around longer than the usual 12 months. Since it was around, the VW was subject to a couple of additional tests.
First, let's compare standard instrumented test results. After 24,000 miles acceleration from zero to 60 mph remained unchanged at 6.6 seconds (with 1-foot rollout). The elapsed quarter-mile time was 0.10 second quicker, 14.9 seconds at 95.0 mph. Veteran brakes stopped the GTI from 60 mph in 120 feet, which was 10 feet less than during its first test.
From a dynamic perspective, the GTI was improved slightly in both the slalom (66.7 mph) and around the skid pad (0.90g). Road Test Editor Mike Monticello noted, "The GTI does not have a true ESP off button even though it is labeled as such. It only eliminates traction control. Smoothness is the key to keep ESP from intervening too much. Despite being overly soft, the chassis feels like it would be willing if not for the nanny state."
Extra time with the VW allowed for more tests. We entered the GTI into a front-wheel-drive burnout contest with our long-term Mazdaspeed 3. The GTI lost in yawn-inducing fashion and taught us to stick with RWD burnout contests for the future. Spurred on by our readers, we also put the GTI through an 87-octane-versus-91-octane comparison test on the dyno. To our surprise the cheap sauce reduced peak output by just 4 horsepower and 3 pound-feet of torque. The largest observed difference at any engine speed was 10 hp and 11 lb-ft, still less than expected.
After more than 24,000 miles of testing the 2010 Volkswagen GTI returned respectable fuel economy. We averaged 25 mpg, though the VW proved capable of nearly 34 mpg on long highway cruises. And on such cruises we traveled as far as 391 miles on a single tank. Not too bad for a sport compact.
Best Fuel Economy: 33.6 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 16.9 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 24.7 mpg
We turned into the CarMax driveway with more than 24,000 miles on the odometer of our 2010 Volkswagen GTI. Edmunds' TMV® Calculator valued the VW at $20,934 based on a private-party sale. So when CarMax offered us a competitive $19,000 we accepted.
Just over 16 months ago we purchased our GTI for $25,454. And after an extended test it depreciated 25 percent of its original purchase price. Its main competitor in the long-term fleet, our 2010 Mazdaspeed 3, depreciated 26 percent under similar circumstances.
True Market Value at Service End: $20,934 private party
What It Sold for: $19,000
Depreciation: $6,454 or 25% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 24,315
One year with the VW supported our full test conclusions. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton summarized, "For all its just-shy-of-class-leading performance, the GTI is still a very attractive, comfortable and competitive hot hatch. That it is not the hot hatch of the hour only shows a sense of maturity that comes from age and experience."
This was no longer the GTI of old. Volkswagen gradually altered the hatchback to appeal beyond its traditional niche. Along the way VW traded some raw fun for softer edges and refinement. A strong resale value suggests this combination was well-received. To find a private buyer who would pay $19K for our used VW was one thing. When a dealer franchise like CarMax offered that amount, it told us the car was in even more demand than our calculations predicted.
Like it or not, our 2010 Volkswagen GTI took everything we threw its way. No breakdowns. No mechanical issues. No routine maintenance costs. In the end, this is one of the cars we'll miss.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.