For 2003, Volkswagens energetic GTI hatchback gets a sporty, three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a leather-covered handbrake lever and gearshift knob. After the start of the 2003 model year, premium CD radios added backlit buttons, and an enhanced windshield-wiper system was installed. New 17-inch wheels are standard on the GTI VR6 and optional on the GTI 1.8 T coupe. Volkswagens Electronic Stability Program, which uses yaw and position sensors, is now standard on the VR6 and optional on the turbocharged GTI. For 2002, the GTI gained stronger turbocharged four-cylinder and VR6 (V-6) engines.
Structurally related to the automakers Jetta, the performance-oriented GTI comes only as a hatchback coupe, while its Golf hatchback companion is available with two or four doors. Both were last redesigned for the 1999 model year. The GTI coupe is a charter member of the group of small cars known as pocket rockets or hot hatchbacks.
The GTI coupe and Golf hatchbacks all measure 164.9 inches long overall, which is more than 7 inches shorter than the Jetta sedan. Styling on both models is the same as the Jettas, but the Jetta has a longer rear end with a regular trunk. The GTI is equipped with a sport suspension, fog lights, darkened taillight lenses and dual tailpipes. Alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires on the GTI 1.8 T, and the VR6 edition gets 17-inchers that are optional for the turbocharged model.
Upright styling allows the driver and passengers to sit more vertically than in most small cars. Space is adequate for four adults, though the seating arrangement is intended for five occupants. Height-adjustable rear headrests are standard. The area behind the rear seat holds 18 cubic feet of cargo. Split, rear seatbacks in a 60/40 configuration fold for additional storage space; folding the seats creates a total of 41.8 cubic feet of cargo area. Four round instrument dials on the dashboard feature red needles and are backlit in a vibrant blue hue.
Under the Hood
GTI buyers have two engine choices. A turbocharged, intercooled, 1.8-liter four-cylinder in the 1.8 T produces 180 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 173 pounds-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. The GTI VR6 holds Volkswagens narrow-angle 2.8-liter V-6 engine, which generates 200 hp at 6,200 rpm and 195 pounds-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm.
A five-speed-manual gearbox is standard in the 1.8 T, and a five-speed-automatic transmission with Tiptronic operation for manually selected gear changes is optional. Only a six-speed-manual gearbox is offered with the VR6.
Standard curtain-type airbags protect the heads of passengers in side collisions. Side-impact airbags, all-disc antilock brakes and daytime running lights are also standard.
Performance is most notable in the 1.8 T because of its 180-hp engine and Tiptronic transmission. Having so much energy at hand can raise the fun quotient even higher, and this hatchbacks confident handling talents are even more appealing. But be a little wary of the 17-inch tires and sport suspension. Even though the 1.8 Ts ride doesnt qualify as punishing, occupants do get tossed around more when the going gets rougher. The ride remains pleasant on smooth pavement, but small imperfections in the road can produce a jolt.