Full 2011 Volkswagen GTI Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, Volkswagen has simplified the GTI's trim levels. Otherwise, the GTI remains largely unchanged.
Mark Twain famously wrote, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Judged on statistics and track numbers alone, the 2011 Volkswagen GTI would be one of the least desirable of the currently available sport hatchbacks. But that's a lie. In reality, the GTI is a front runner among the competition.
Sure, the 2011 Volkswagen GTI isn't as quick to reach 60 mph as the competition, nor can it weave through the slalom or cling to a skid pad as tenaciously. How then, you ask, can the GTI rank so highly in such a sport-oriented segment? The answer is two-fold: refinement and drivability.
The VW GTI's interior is quite simply, the best in its class. It's so nice, in fact, that it could be mistaken for a cabin from sister company Audi, save for the plaid fabric seats. (About those private school uniform-patterned coverings -- it's a nod to the original GTI from more than three decades ago.) The GTI also boasts surprising amounts of rear legroom and useful cargo space considering its compact overall size.
Drivability is the other main advantage the 2011 Volkswagen GTI has over other sport hatches. Output from the 2.0-liter turbo engine is smooth and linear, and that power is more manageable in the real world than that of more feisty rivals. Competitors like the 2011 Mazdaspeed 3 and 2011 Mini Cooper S suffer from torque steer -- the sensation of the steering wheel tugging in your hands under hard acceleration -- that many drivers find distracting.
In addition to the Mazda and Mini, other performance hatchbacks to consider include the all-wheel-drive 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart and 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX. Certainly, there's a lot to like about all of these cars. But if you're like Mark Twain and don't blindly go by the numbers, you'll find the 2011 GTI an ideal pick -- the sum of its parts can't be quantified with statistics alone.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Volkswagen GTI is a high-performance compact hatchback offered in both two-door and four-door body styles. The four trim levels are intuitively named for the main feature additions in lieu of stand-alone options, starting with the base GTI and proceeding to GTI with Sunroof, GTI with Sunroof and Navigation and GTI Autobahn.
The base GTI's standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear roof spoiler, foglights, heated outside mirrors, launch control (with DSG only), a sport suspension, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, alloy pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles (DSG only), cruise control, a trip computer, air-conditioning, heated front sport seats, plaid cloth upholstery, split-folding rear seats with a center pass-through, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker stereo with CD player, satellite radio, auxiliary audio input and iPod integration.
As the name suggests, the GTI with Sunroof trim adds a sunroof, but also gets you a leather-trimmed sport steering wheel with multifunction controls, a touchscreen interface for the stereo and an in-dash CD changer. The GTI with Sunroof and Navigation adds adaptive xenon headlights and a touchscreen navigation system. The range-topping GTI Autobahn rounds out the lineup with leather seat inserts, keyless ignition/entry and a premium Dynaudio sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2011Volkswagen GTI is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (called DSG) is optional. The DSG transmission can be shifted manually via the shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel, or it can operate as a standard automatic.
In testing, the GTI accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, which is slower than the competition by at least half a second. It is also on the pokey side in terms of handling, turning in a 67-mph run through the slalom and pulling 0.84g on the skid pad.
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 24/32 mpg city/highway for DSG-equipped models and 27 mpg in combined driving. The manual transmission achieves slightly less, at 21/31/25 mpg.
Standard safety equipment for the 2011 Volkswagen GTI includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Last year's optional rear-seat side airbags for the four-door have been discontinued.
In government crash testing, the GTI sedan earned four out of five stars for frontal crash protection of the driver and front passenger and five stars for side impact driver protection. In performance testing, braking from 60 to zero mph required 129 feet, which is a full car length longer than the Mazdaspeed 3's impressively short 115-foot halt.
Interior Design and Special Features
Among sporty hatchbacks, the 2011 Volkswagen GTI's interior ranks at the top of our list. Plaid seat heritage aside, the overall cabin reflects a more serious and mature design language, with hints of Audi's upscale trim and switchgear throughout. Materials quality is as good as it gets in this segment, as are the well-shaped front seats.
Gaining access to the surprisingly roomy rear seats is naturally easier with the four-door GTI, but ingress and egress to the two-door's rear seat is a relatively painless ordeal. Behind the rear seats, the cargo area can hold up to 12.4 cubic feet -- double the capacity of a Mini Cooper, but about average for other hatchbacks. When down, the split-folding rear seats bump that figure up to 46 cubes.
On paper, the 2011 Volkswagen GTI isn't as quick or nimble as other sport hatchbacks, but unless you're battling for the quarter-mile or shortest lap time, it provides a better overall driving experience. Turbo lag is nearly undetectable and torque steer is apparent only when driven with reckless abandon. Either transmission performs admirably, with rapid and smooth shifts from the DSG. In everyday conditions the GTI feels solid and composed, though some enthusiast drivers will likely complain that the suspension tuning is too soft for truly aggressive driving.
The flip side, though, is that the GTI also gets high marks for comfort and ride quality when compared to the competition. At highway speeds, the cabin remains as quiet as some luxury cars, and bumps in the road are smoothed over by the compliant suspension. All told, the 2011 Volkswagen GTI provides enough sporting fun to satisfy most drivers.
Read our Volkswagen GTI Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test