Five years ago Volkswagen tried to crack the sports car market with the ill-fated Corrado.

There was nothing wrong with the way the Corrado was built or how it looked or performed. The car was aces in most respects. It was the Corrado's $25,000 (and up) price tag that scared off many potential suitors.

VW officials found out the hard way that few buyers are willing to spend that much on a Volkswagen - no matter how good a car it is.

Instead of abandoning the high-performance market, VW withdrew after 1993 and retooled.

The result is the 1995 Golf GTI VR6, a car that performs every bit as well as the old Corrado, but it's more practical, just as well-equipped and, most importantly, about $5,000 cheaper.

The GTI is based on the entry-level Golf hatchback. However, it has a bigger engine, better suspension, minor trim changes and a sportier interior - and it comes fully loaded with luxury items such as a sunroof and heated seats.

In other words, the GTI delivers the solid punch of the Corrado without knocking out buyers on a tight budget who are looking for a versatile hatchback. It's a winning formula for these value-conscious times.


The GTI is powered by VW's delightfully spunky VR6 engine and five-speed manual transmission, basically the same setup VW used in the last versions of the Corrado. The engine delivers 0-to-60 mph acceleration in the seven-second range; top speed is 130 mph.

Those sterling performance figures should be good enough to satisfy the needs of most sporting drivers. The GTI can run with such notable performers as the Ford Probe GT, also outfitted with a six-cylinder; the Toyota MR2, and the turbocharged Mitsubishi Eclipse and Eagle Talon.

Unlike those sporty-looking vehicles, the VW has a squared-off and more formal appearance. If that is a bit of a turnoff for you, chances are you'll overlook the GTI's less-than-exciting styling once you fire it up and experience the car's marvelous engine.

VW engineers tuned the 2.8-liter, 172-horsepower V-6 so that it delivers at least 85 percent of its power (engineers call it torque) between 2000 and 6000 rpm. That gives the engine an unusual amount of strength.

For example, once or twice I inadvertently started out in the wrong gear (second or third), but the GTI proceeded with barely a strain. Revving the engine hard and shifting fast are two of the things that make driving the GTI such a blast.

The engine's performance is amazingly linear. It pulls hard in all rpm ranges; you can reach 65 mph in second gear. The shifter glides smoothly into each gear, and the clutch is easy to operate. VW does not offer the GTI with an automatic transmission.

Overall, our shiny black test car delivered 23.9 mpg in combined city/highway driving.


You wouldn't expect a rather dowdy-looking hatchback to be able to accelerate fast and carve up curves as well as the GT I. It turns out that that is part of the fun of driving it - no one else expects the car to perform this way, so you can catch plenty of Mustang and Camaro owners napping as you zip by.

The GTI's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering provides the driver with an excellent feel of the road. It's a system that is not too light and not too heavy; when you turn the wheel response is quick and crisp.

VW says the GTI's ''Plus Axle'' front suspension tuning eliminates torque steer, a pulling to the left or right during full acceleration. But I say it doesn't eliminate it - our test car had a tendency to wander a bit to the left or right when the car sprinted away from a stoplight.

That said, credit must be given to the GTI's powerful four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, which haul the car down from high speeds with absolute firmness and stability. The anti-lock system is standard equipment on the GTI.

The GTI is very quiet over the road. You don't hear much from the ca 's somewhat firm four-wheel independent suspension system.

Our test car was built well. The doors closed with a very solid and sturdy thunk. Also, road noise is well-muffled, giving the car the solid feel of quality.


Our test car came fully loaded. Such accessories as a power sunroof, central locking, heated seats, electric mirrors, cruise control, alloy wheels, air conditioning and rear wiper were standard.

In fact, a freight charge of $390 was the only item on the window sticker that added to the car's price.

Our test car sported a set of comfortable but firm cloth-covered bucket seats. The upholstery featured an eclectic array of colorful shapes that some of my passengers liked and others didn't (the seats appealed to youthful passengers).

As far as I could tell in one week and 350 miles of driving, the GTI has only one shortcoming: The rear seats fold forward only about halfway.

Most people who buy a hatchback expect to be able to put a bicycle or a large package in the back. But big packages don't fit well in the rear of the GTI. In fact, you can get a longer, though not taller, package in VW's midsize Passat sedan, which has rear seats that fold forward.

In any case, rear passengers will find plenty of leg and foot room. Also, our test car was bolted together tightly. I heard no rattles or noises.

The glossy black paint job was particularly nice. It was as smooth as wet glass.

You might think $19,000 and change is a lot of money for a hatchback. However, when you compare the performance and equipment on the GTI with what you get on competitive cars, you'll see that VW has created a viable and family friendly high-performance car.

Truett's tip: VW's new GTI is fast, powerful, fun to drive and built well. Think of it as a five-passenger sports car.