I've recently been accused of being a car hater. I understand the diss; I've written a lot of hateful things lately. But that's only because I've driven a lot of hateful cars. If you, dear reader, seek pusillanimous pabulum, there's an entire rack of that shit down at Barnes & Noble just itching to hop into your knapsack. I'm a cybernetic car critic for Christ's sake, not a middle-aged grease monkey constructing passive sentences for some narcolepsy inducing rah-rah rag. Me, I save my accolades for cars that deserve them, like the new Golf GTI DSG.
Just in case you thought I'm going soft on the people whose ads adorn this site (and inadvertently subsidize my liquid stimulants), let me state for the record that the Mk V is the ugliest-looking Golf I've seen since Jackie Mason donned plaid trousers for Caddyshack II. Clearly, some literal-minded VW designer decided a severely raked front windshield would give the new Golf a rakish personality. The design went downhill from there. Literally.
Giorgetto Giugiaro's 32-year-old two-box design has been ditched for a car with sloping asymmetry; proof positive that the Vapors aren't the only style-makers capable of turning Japanese (I really think so). The GTI's blacked-out, honeycombed, Audi-esque snout does nothing to help the car's dignity-challenged aesthetics, and much to ruin any hope of Q-ship street cred. Now, the good stuff...
The GTI's interior is... plaid. (There's that Caddyshack thing again.) Why VW would want to harken back to the days when David Hasselhof dominated the German pop charts is anybody's guess, but the rest of the GTI's cabin presents a welcome return to form for fans of Vee Dub's automotive noir. The soft touch plastics are, and everything clunks and clicks with Wolfsburgian precision. The squashed crown steering wheel is easily the best bit, offering the enthusiastic driver instant confirmation that something wicked this way driveth. In fact...
Forget the whole hot hatch pocket rocket thing. The GTI is a cruise missile. Cruise, as in it'll happily zizz along not pummeling your spine into sawdust or inflicting deep vein thrombosis on your progeny like its arch enemy, the MINI Cooper S. Missile, as in it'll sashay around anything between you and your final destination, at speed, without requiring any reduction in forward thrust.
I repeat: A GTI used in anger is a scarcely credible four-wheeled munition. The car's four-link rear suspension, 17" run-flat summer rubber and e-Nanny is understeer's worst enemy. Its 200hp in-line turbo four (mit fsi) has the kind of torque curve that gives curves a bad name: 207 ft.-lbs. from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. And the electro-assisted steering makes a mockery of BMW's system, offering plenty of feel both on and off-center and tightening up the rack when tightening's good.
In short, whereas previous GTI's traded safety (i.e. weight) for speed, challenging pistonheads to maintain momentum, today's model trades nothing for no one and challenges you to keep your license. Oh, and an extra grand on top of the GTI's affordable sticker buys you the world's best gearbox. We're talking DSG (Double Sequential Gearbox): a far better paddle shifter than the ones endured by drivers of the Lamborghini Gallardo, BMW M5 or Aston Martin Vanquish.
A working class hero is something to be. Ah, but if you tie your option-ticking hand behind your back, a 2.0-liter Audi A3 DSG is less than three grand more than the Golf GTI. The GTI is faster, the A3 more luxurious. Oy. All I can say is this: there's never been a better time to paddle around in the hot-hatch gene pool. Or make your living as a car critic. [by Robert Farago]