Volkswagen AG thinks we want the latest iteration of its GTI coupe. And considering our penchant for wanting the best of everything without substantial penalty, either in terms of the purchase or operating cost, Volkswagen could be right.
The new 2.0 GTI, which is not to be confused with the old 1.8 GTI -- although both are derived from Volkswagen's Golf/Jetta platform -- offers a reasonably acceptable compromise for the conflicted automotive consumer. It is a tad longer, wider and heavier than the predecessor model.
It has 20 more horsepower to help placate people for whom 180 horsepower was not enough. And although it looks hot with its oh-so-wide-mouthed grille and sporty "GTI" badging, it is not an ode to the fading World of Bling. It's not so wild and crazy as to cause embarrassment to anyone who takes seriously the notion of adulthood. Nor is it so staid that it would discourage an adolescent from ever considering the possibility of growing up.
With a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic gearbox that also can be shifted manually (compromise, see?), the front-wheel-drive, 200-horsepower 2.0 GTI gets at least 30 miles per gallon on the highway. But the car comes with a turbocharged, high-compression, in-line four-cylinder engine. Such engines, designed to offer more oomph without using significantly more fuel, usually require premium unleaded gasoline. This one does.
Hey, life is a matter of trade-offs. In this case, you at least get a little hatchback that moves with the authority of a more powerful, more expensive sports coupe. But if your primary concern is how much money you can save, instead of how fast you can drive, there are an ample number of 180-horsepower 1.8 GTI coupes still available.
None of this is to suggest that the new GTI has been transformed into a blazing pocket-rocket that will appeal to the weekend racetrack breed, or to those recalcitrant types who long for a return to the era when city streets often served as high-speed drag strips.
Those days are gone, kaput, over -- except, perhaps, in a state such as New Hampshire where drivers 18 and older have the option of not wearing seat belts and where state-sanctioned highway signs dutifully tell motorists which exits lead to liquor stores. Such permissiveness, uncommon elsewhere, may stem from a misunderstanding of the Doctrine of Trade-Offs inherent in New Hampshire's state motto: "Live free or die." Death is not an option, and it's often hastened in beltless vehicle crashes and drunken-driving incidents.
But I digress.
What Volkswagen has done with the new GTI is what many car companies are doing with their "affordable" automobiles. It has given the new car enough power to satisfy normal drivers, enough good handling and road feel to make them think they are behind the wheel of a substantially more competent machine at a price that will make many of them believe they've got a good deal. To enhance that impression, Volkswagen also has given the new GTI a top-notch interior, all expertly assembled and upholstered, available with all of the latest electronic gadgetry, such as a 10-speaker premium sound system, to help ease the pain of sitting in traffic jams during suburban-urban-suburban commutes.