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2006 Volkswagen GTI

The Almost Audi?

    This is not your run-of-the-mill Volkswagen Rabbit. This is the so-called friend of Fast VW GTI. No cute face here. Like the racy Volkswagen Jetta GLI that we spent some time in last fall, the face is familiar but the demeanor is polar opposite. The question is does the Rabbit-based GTI produce the smile-per-mile quotient that the GLI did?
     The GTI at least looks nimble. Instead of a long rear overhang, 13.5 inches to be exact, the tail end of the GTI stops abruptly behind the rear wheel well. At first glance the proportions seem a bit odd, but your eyes quickly get used to it. Instead of a cute little Rabbit’s nose, the GTI snout is representative of the Jetta GLI with a black center lip and honeycomb grille. The black insert suggests seriousness, but the thin red strip is a menacing smile. Black lower body molding reduces visual weight and projects a lower stance. Our model came equipped with the 18” rotary blade Hufeisen alloy wheels with summer performance tires, a $750 option. These produced great dry handling.
     Hidden behind that wicked red smile is none other than Audi’s 2.0-liter turbocharged, intercooled, and direct injection FSI I4 (FSI – see Tech Time.), coupled to the fantastic Direct Sequential Gearbox (DSG). With 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque on tap, moving the 3,100-pound GTI isn’t a chore. This 6-speed automated dual-clutch manual transmission routes the power to the front wheels with authority. With 157 fewer pounds to carry compared to the GLI, the GTI scoots along at a quick clip.
     Like in the A3, gearshifts are ridiculously quick with a sort of blat emanating from the tail pipe with each ratio change. Leave the gearbox in drive and it will keep the revs in the sweet spot of the torque band. Turbo lag is minimal, but once in motion hold on as scenery tends to fly by. There is a definite pull when the mechanicals hit full motion. Torque steer is kept under control, but in this GTI configuration we could feel it more the harder we jumped on the throttle. Sliding the gear selector over into the +/- cog enables the paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel, and unlike the typical Audi/VW tiptronic transmissions, this one almost anticipates the shift and is on to the next gear before your fingers even release pressure. For normal driving we left it in D as it had a pretty good idea of what we wanted it to do. The S (Sport) detent is fun as it holds on to gears until the upper end of the rev band, but unless you are feeling lazy while at the track, the drive or manual mode will do just fine. We also like the ability to call up a downshift or three even if the selector is in D by simply working the left paddle. After 15 seconds or so of not making any manual commands, the tranny reverts to full-auto mode.
     Aside from the trunk, the interior accommodations aren’t that dissimilar from that of the GLI. Most importantly the flat-bottomed steering wheel found its way home. With aggressive holds at 3 and 9 you can’t help but keep both hands on the wheel. The dash layout is similar, as is the instrument layout. The navigation system, which seems unnecessary in a compact “economy” car, is expensive and is not as user friendly as a touch screen would be. Also the volume and tuning control knobs are small and hard to grasp. The tall roofline front and rear provides plenty of headroom for all seating positions. Compared to some competitors whose roof’s sweep lower past the front seat, the rear seats benefit much the same as the front. Aside from flatter seating surfaces, the rear couch is supportive and roomy enough for short trips. Spirited driving will have passengers sliding side to side as lateral bolstering back there is non-existent. On the downside the two door configuration isn’t the most practical; rear seat entry is slightly awkward and child seat installation is a chore. Unfortunately, Volkswagen is reluctant to release the 4-door GTI here on American soil as such a model could intrude upon A3 sales and price territory. Cargo hauling isn’t bad, during my first trip I stuffed a 27” television in the hatch with no problem. Sure the parcel shelf was displaced to the back seat, but it worked in a pinch.
     Every time I drive a car equipped with the DSG transmission I am left more in awe of it. Yeah I still prefer a shift it yourself gearbox, but with how responsive the Audi/VW team has managed to make this transmission I think I would have to seriously consider it were I to pass over the option check box. My question is when do we get a version for the high horsepower cars? As far as the GTI goes, it is a go-quick, look-sharp, serious fun-mobile. For $29,405 I think I would start looking up market to the Audi A3 brethren, but it all depends on personal preferences. Skip a few of the high dollar options and a GTI could easily be had for about $24K. Now we’re talking.

The Good:
Superb engine and transmission duo, aggressive good looks.
The Bad:
Two door makes for difficult entry/exit to back seat, price tag encroaching on A3 territory.
The Verdict:
Fantastic car with awesome dynamics, but options quickly send GTI into richer waters.


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