Over the last few years, a host of carmakers have introduced hot-rodded performance variants of their mainstream models. Honda has the Civic Si, Mazda the Mazdaspeed3, while Mitsubishi and Subaru have the Lancer Evolution and Impreza WRX STI, respectively. Volkswagen has done the same with the VW Golf/Rabbit since the early 1980s with the GTI. Now VW has introduced a 4-door variant, which is quite possibly the best GTI yet. The 2007 VW GTI 4-door has a base price of $23,230 ($27,465 as tested) and EPA fuel-economy estimates of 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway (automatic).
First Glance: Good things come in small packages
A few years ago I was the proud owner of a Subaru Impreza WRX (read review). I enjoyed every drive in that car, thanks to its grippy all-wheel-drive system, brisk performance and grin-inducing handling. Sadly, a WRX isnt much help when it comes to carrying lumber, piles of sod or a heaping garage full of worldly possessions for a new home, so the blue Subie was swapped for a Ford F150 pickup. As useful as the F150 is, it definitely didnt make for a driving experience I looked forward to.
I recently test-drive the 2007 VW GTI 4-door which happily reminded me of all the good qualities of the WRX: sporty handling, a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a sticker price in the mid $20s. It may lack the Subarus all-wheel-drive, but the GTI tops my beloved WRX in a number of areas.
VW introduced the 2-door GTI last year (read reveiw), but I personally think the new-for-2007 4-door variant looks just as good, if not better, plus it's infinitely more practical. The GTIs wheels (link goes to photo) are pushed out to the corners of the vehicle, which helps give this hot hatchback a well-planted road presence. Im fond of understatement when it comes to vehicle design, so the GTIs conspicuous lack of wings, ducts, decals and spoilers (except this little one at the back of the roof) was fine by me. Only true VW fans will likely be able to spot the differences between the standard Rabbit and the GTI: a red grille stripe, GTI badging, larger wheels and tires and some other modest exterior styling cues.
In the Driver's Seat: Not spartan - Tartan!
Upon entering the GTIs cabin the first thing I noticed was the tartan seat cloth. VW dubs it "premium cloth anthracite", but it looked to me like it was cut from some spare kilts. Regardless, the material was put to good use, covering seats that are firm and supportive, boasting a good array of height adjustment controls.
VW claims that the odd pair of handgrips positioned above the shifter are to be grabbed during hard cornering, but I found them too far forward to grasp without some degree of contortion maybe these work better if youre less than 6' tall. The dash is constructed with high-quality materials with commendable fit and finish.
The GTI is loaded with standard safety features, including 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, front airbags, front seat-mounted torso airbags, two-row side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control. Rear-seat torso 'bags are a $350 option. (If you order them, make sure you use a compatible child seat; you'll find a list in the GTI owner's manual.) The second row LATCH child-seat anchors were easy to access in fact I found them easier to find and reach in the GTI than they in the much larger VW Touareg SUV.
Speaking of the second row, seating is comfortable for two adults, although a bit cramped for taller passengers. All three of our children could sit in the back seat comfortably, with one in a car seat, one in a booster and one sandwiched in the middle. The extra set of doors was a godsend here if you plan on carrying passengers regularly, or if you have children, the 4-door is the GTI to have.
On the Road: Born to run
The engine also features direct fuel injection, which squirts the fuel directly into the cylinders rather than just above them into the intake manifold. Ill spare you the gory technical details, but the design helps improve performance and fuel economy by allowing the fuel to be burned more efficiently.
My tester came equipped with the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission, which is a marvel. It can be left in automatic mode just like a traditional automatic transmission, and it smoothly selects the gears for you. I preferred the manual mode, where you can quickly upshift and downshift by using the gear shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel. Gear changes were smooth and fast, without a hint of delay or shudder when shifted. VW explains that the DSG transmission shifts faster than humanly possible with a manual, and I believe them. (Read more: DSG - what it is, how it works)
The powerful engine and fast-shifting transmission helped give the GTI impressive acceleration, and the handling was very responsive. The car responds quickly to steering wheel movement, and the suspension is tight and responsive, if a bit soft during more aggressive cornering.
Journey's End: Drivers with passengers wanted
In my opinion the 4-door body style, only $500 more than the base 2-door GTI, makes this a far more usable vehicle. While youre at it, Id recommend the impressive DSG transmission, a $1075 option. Even if youre an avowed devotee of manual transmissions, you should give a DSG-equipped GTI a spin before deciding otherwise its that good.
The subdued, tasteful exterior and the superlative gas mileage are nice extras. Best of all, the GTI always made me smile when I slid behind the steering wheel, which may just be the most important feature of all. -- Jeff James