Essentially unchanged from 2010 to 2011, this generation of the Volkswagen Golf GTI actually debuted in the fall of 2006.
Power was ably provided by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that developed 200 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque. Premium gas was required.
Transmission choices were either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with a DSG/Tiptronic manual shift mode that had steering wheel-mounted paddles.
You could also choose from a two- or four-door version by this stage of the game.
One thing that remained intact was the GTI’s exceptional handling and braking, thanks in large measure to a stiffened and upgraded suspension setup and oversized disc brake front and back. Among other things, it featured anti-roll bars on both ends, plus a traction control system, anti-locking brakes and a stability control system.
Few of its competitors could keep up when things got interesting and the GTI was more than enough for most drivers.
It also had a priceless exhaust note: with every shift of the transmission, the turbocharger wastegate closes briefly and it sounds like a muffled Formula One racer – music to the ears of any self-respecting gearhead.
Both configurations of the GTI came with a full roster of modern conveniences and standard equipment, including heated front seats, one-touch up-and-down front windows, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, fog lights and dual-zone climate control.
Standard equipment also included very cool Jackie Stewart-inspired “Jacky” cloth insert bucket seats. The four-door GTI accommodated five adults, but those in the back were up close and personal, with little elbow room.
A 60/40 folding back seat revealed 413 litres of cargo space, which was enough to handle modest amounts of gear. But most GTI buyers weren’t particularly concerned about its carrying capacity.
Available extras included leather upholstery, navigation system and power sunroof.
There’s one safety recall on file with Transport Canada and it concerned the DSG automatic transmission for the 2010 model. Apparently, it could transmit a faulty high temperature reading and cause the transmission to shift abruptly into neutral. A possibly incorrectly crimped wire is the culprit.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the U.S., meanwhile, had 15 technical service bulletins. These included possible issues with the steering rack, rough-running engines, the airbag warning light coming on at random and a possibly slipping timing chain. Some complaints from owners:
- “false neutral with the DSG transmission;”
- “condensation covered all of the windows, preventing from seeing the roadway;”
- “from second day of ownership, car has had DSG transmission problems.”
The last complaint is by far the most common malfunction registered with NHTSA.
Consumer Reports was a fan but had reservations. Noting that the GTI “excels at combining everyday practicality with being fun-to-drive,” it nonetheless gave it a “worse than average” used car prediction. Areas of concern included the fuel system, squeaks and rattles, and the audio system.
The 2011 edition seemed to fare better than the 2010 one despite being virtually the same car. Some comments from owners reported by Consumer Reports:
- “the sport seats are VERY comfortable;”
- “a few more storage spaces would be nice;”
- “a marvel of engineering.”
Marketing researcher J.D. Power had mixed feelings. They loved the GTI’s performance, giving the 2011 edition top marks for overall performance and design, but were less than enthusiastic about its overall quality and predicted reliability. It got a fail in the last category.
What owners said:
- “the engine is an absolute gem;”
- “touch-screen audio system is fantastic;”
- “just doesn’t look sporty.”
From a base price of just under $29,000 in 2011, the GTI has held up remarkably well. You’ll be lucky to find one for less than $15,000. Depending on the trim level, the four-door model is valued at about $500 to $1,000 more than the two-door one.
2011 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Original base price: $28,875
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual and six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual shift
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 city and 6.3 highway, with manual transmission and premium gas
Some alternatives: Acura RSX, Audi A3, Mini John Cooper Works, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Scion xD, Mazda MX-5
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). For interview requests, click here.