So, you pay a $7000-$10,000 premium over a Golf. You could have had a variety of not as exciting semi-premium sedans or even a lightly used Audi or BMW. The big question then is whether the GTI is a souped up Golf or a scaled down Audi. After over a thousand miles, does its cheapness show through or does its premium character, instilled by its slick Audi derived drive-train, shine like a luxury sports sedan beacon?
Well .... neither.
At the low end of that question is the standard Golf, which is no slouch when it comes to Euro style quality and ride. It's not a cheap economy car and the reviews of the Golf's refinement are well established. At the high end is the Audi, which adds luxury to the Euro refinement and that ever so sweet 2.0 liter turbocharged engine. What the GTI has, however, is something else. It's got refinement, but it also has a sports car soul, or at least a sports package. It can't get past its short wheelbase, which with 18" tires gives it a choppy ride over rough pavement. The ride can be harsh and you find yourself thinking about pavement quality as you're driving.
Interstate 5 was a chore in the GTI. It was generally unpleasant (more so than normal) with no payback. That said, the 1 and 101 were blissful, mostly because they were lower speed, more scenic and more engaging for the driver. The GTI is heavenly when you're shifting gears, not droning along at 80, and it does drone. I'm sure driving a Ferrari down I5 is equally as unpleasant while the latter roads would be monumentally more enjoyable. With the GTI, you find yourself in your European car wishing very much you had European roads, or at least the European GTI active suspension.
The overall quality, however remains. The interior is beautiful, albeit not as cleanly put together as a Japanese car. There are minor rattles over bumps, but that's true of most German cars I've owned (BMW's). That's apparently the price for a car with soul. If you're coming from something lower market, cough - American - cough, you'll be impressed with the quality of the materials, the soft textures, plastic that's not shiny and hollow, lots of cloth and a dash board that is simple, functional, and not designed to look like a Cylon's helmet, like the Ford we recently rented. Oh dear God Ford, why?
The GTI seats are now very comfortable and after 400 miles in one day on I5, I've got no back pain or fatigue the next day, unlike my Mazda 6. The Mazda would have been more pleasant at the time, but I would have felt flogged and exhausted the next day. I guess what I'm trying to say is the GTI feels authentic. It delivers on its promise of sportiness and premium quality. At least so far at 1,767 miles.
The car trip reality: Rattles from water bottles and Legos, Cheerios and potato chips on the seats, "The Cat Threw Up" playing on the satellite radio.