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Motoring: VW GTi big on power

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 15th, 2007

This is the hottest new hatchback in VW's lineup, but this is not a Golf GTi (while it is just that in the rest of the world) or a Rabbit GTi.

Nope, for some reason I still cannot understand, this model is only referred to as a VW GTi in Canada.

So the name might be confusing, because if you tell anyone you have a VW GTi, they'll look at you and ask “GTi what?”

However don't let the name put you off from the car, because it is a little marvel.

This GTi has a wonderful engine, an Audi sourced 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit, which has an eager turbocharger bolted on it. This unit thus produces 200 hp and 207 lb/ft of torque. Power is fed to the front wheels via either a six-speed manual gearbox, or the six-speed DSG gearbox, as was fitted to my test car.

I know some of you must be asking, what is DSG? Well it stands for “Direct Shift Gearbox” and essentially it works like an automatic gearbox most of the time. You slot it in “D” and drive like you would drive any automatic. But calling this gearbox an automatic is wrong, because it works more like a manual gearbox. Through the shifter or by the paddles placed behind the steering wheel, you can select which gear you'd like to be in. I know you must be saying, so what's new about that, semi-automatics have been around for over a decade now. But what makes this system unique is the fact that it has two-clutches. That is what makes it similar to a manual gearbox. The two clutches work simultaneously and is always ready to engage the next gear for you. So as you accelerate away, the car knows you're about to engage the next gear up, and it readies it for you. Plus having dual-clutches mean that the gear changes are very smooth.

The system is even cleverer than you might imagine, because if you decide to shift down instead of up, it'll do that in an instant too. How do they do it?

This gearbox is either very advanced or the work of witchcraft.

All I can tell you, it just makes driving one of these even more fun than it can be.

Believe you me this car is a lot of fun to drive. Thanks to that engine, this will run from zero-100km/h 6.9 seconds and onto an electronically limited top speed of 209 km/h.

That is plenty fast enough, and just be careful where you test that performance too. This car is just way too easy to drive fast.

It's a similar story through the corners too. This car handles very well, but it is slightly let down by the non-feeling steering wheel (you never quite know what the front wheels are doing) and by its front-wheel drive platform.

However make no mistake, this car is fun to drive, but what about the rest of the driving experience?

For a start, it is frugal. Despite the performance it's quite economical to run. I averaged about 10-litres/100km that is very good indeed.

It is good on equipment too. Apart from the sunroof, power windows and mirrors, and a decent stereo, it had wonderful leather seats with a five-stage setting for heat, so you can set to just toast your bum, or cook it.

The seats are also comfortable to sit on, so the car should be a comfortable cruiser, right? Not quite. Due to the short wheelbase and sports suspension and tires, this car has a jumpy ride. I was on the phone with a friend while driving (bad habit I know) and he asked me, why I sounded like I was out of breath. I wasn't, but I was bouncing about so much, I sounded like I had just run a marathon.

But that is not the end of the world and you do begin to learn to live with that, as you do with the rather bland, and very black interior. I do wish the interior had as much flair as the styling does. This car is a looker, especially with those tasty 18” wheels.

So would I buy one?

If I were in the market for such a car, my decision would come down between this GTi or the new Honda Civic Si coupe.

The Civic Si is more fun and involving to drive, has a rev happy engine that makes you feel like you're in a race car, handles better thanks to better steering feel, and to cap it all, it is a lot cheaper.

The GTi has a base price of $29,375 that is $4000 more than the Civic Si. While the GTi is more user friendly on a daily basis (thanks to the available option of that DSG transmission), the Civic Si is just a bit more exciting.

Both cars put up a good fight to earn your driveway space, all I can say is this, no matter which one of these two you pick, you'll be a happy owner.
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