Like a puppy at a fire hydrant, the motorized claptrap now scorching the coned-off parking lot is on three legs. With its inside rear wheel tucked up neatly as the front tires dig deep for the corner, you don't even have to wait for the car to return to the paddocks to know that what we're looking at is a Volkswagen GTI.
The Volkswagen GTI invented the hot-hatch market. Before the 90-horsepower super-Rabbit hit the states in '83, the term could be applied only to Chevettes that had been parked in the sun too long. But it didn't take long for people to figure out that a small, inexpensive car doesn't mean cheap and certainly doesn't mean slow. GTI clubs and track days followed and the car became a cult icon for cheap speed.
It's with this mentality that we enter a 12-month, 20,000-mile, long-term road test with the 2010 Volkswagen GTI.
Why We Got It
With a brand-new 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 in our garage and a brand-new 2010 Volkswagen GTI on the market, the real question should be why we waited so long to buy this VW. The release of a new GTI is an exciting time, even if this new model does carry over the same drivetrain as the outgoing car. This 2010 GTI is quiet, refined, comfortable and good-looking, and it offers excellent build quality besides. But does it really deserve the hot hatch moniker with only 200 horsepower and a stability control system that cannot be disabled, not to mention heated seats?
The 2010 VW GTI has deep tracks to fill. This one looks right, sounds right and after our Full Test, most of us walked away impressed. As we noted, "For all its just-shy-of-class-leading performance, the 2010 Volkswagen 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. If you want something with a sharper edge, you'll surely be giving up some comfort, some space or some more money."
So a grown-up boy racer goes head-to-head with our bruiser bad-boy Mazdaspeed 3 for a full year? We're in.
What We Got
Once we decided on a GTI, we had a few tough decisions to make. Two-door or four-door? Six-speed manual or dual-clutch DSG automated manual? Nav or no nav? Leather or plaid cloth? What to do, what do to. So we resolved all this by going back to our personal roots with the GTI. When we were racing one back in the 1980s, we did so because it was cheap enough and fast enough, not because it had leather and a high-tech dual-clutch gearbox. As a result, we decided that price should be the focus here.
We did have one caveat, which is that we wanted four doors. Two doors may have worked in our racing days, but truth be told, this GTI needs to be wife/kids/dog-friendly.
Turns out, though, if you want a four-door GTI, it's probably because you've gone completely soft and opted out of the go-fast-spend-less mentality all together, since finding one with a manual transmission and few options is nigh on impossible. Finally a candy-white GTI with six-speed manual and minimal options caught our eye. Unfortunately, it was a two-door. When it became clear that there was some wiggle room in the price, the car caught not only our eye but also our checkbook.
Like every 2010 GTI, this one comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that spins out 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. Between the wheels and the engine is a six-speed manual transmission which is standard, with VW's oft-praised DSG as optional. Unlike our old GTI racer of the 1980s, the new GTI has a full array of driver aids, including antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and electronic differential lock, brakeforce distribution, plus what VW calls a "Cross Differential System." That's a lot of computers for something with only two driven wheels. The 2010 further differentiates itself from GTIs of old with electric power steering.
On the inside of the cabin, our GTI's standard equipment includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, air-conditioning, cruise control, trip computer, a touchscreen-operated radio with Sirius XM and iPod adapter, power windows, power exterior mirrors, red brake calipers, foglamps and halogen headlights.
Our car has minimal options, but we figured it made more sense to accept them rather than wait for a fully stripped car. The optional GTI mat kit consists of four rubber floor mats and a trunk liner and costs $215. The sunroof is $1,000 and the Bluetooth is $199. Also on the sticker is the package of 18-inch wheels, which includes cast-aluminum wheels fitted with 225/40R18 Dunlop SP Sport 01 A/S tires.
The sticker for our 2010 VW GTI says the total price should be $26,204, but with some haggling and smooth talking, we paid $24,798 excluding tax, title and license.
The Road Ahead
All things considered, there are those of us who doubt the GTI's ability to fire our enthusiasm with its performance, notably Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot, who noted in his test of the car, "This car is in no way the lightweight, back-to-basics, fun-to-drive machine that won the original its reputation. No, it isn't. Instead, it's an overweight, underdamped, slow-steering, not-very-quick wanna-be version of the original."
After 12 months and 20,000 miles, we should sort this car out. Is it the responsible combination of thrills and affordability we hope it is, or is it the soft, dumpy poseur's car, spitting on its badge heritage? And what about reliability?
It will all get hashed out on our long-term test blogs. Stay tuned.
Current Odometer: 1,091
Best Fuel Economy: 26.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 19.1 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 22.6 mpg
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.