Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Big GTI Question

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.

Miles: 1767


  1. So, how bad is the GTI on I-5? I did notice it bouncy on the freeway during my test drive, and this is my one big reservation before pulling the trigger. Does it settle down after a few thousand miles?

  2. I found it pretty bad on I5, although it might have gotten a little better and I might have gotten a little more tolerant since then. I'm now at around 6,500 miles.

    With 18" wheels and a short wheelbase, it tends to be jarring when the pavement is choppy, and I5 is all kinds of choppy, way worse than anything I've seen since.

    That said, I'm taking another road trip to LA this month and planning the 101 the whole way. That route is fun and easy. If I were going to do a lot of freeway driving over long distances, with choppy roads like the I5, I probably wouldn't want this car. I would also consider 17" wheels, if I really had to have one.

    As for daily commute driving on the freeway, it's fun and easy for 30 minutes each way. There are a couple very short stretches that are noticeably uncomfortable because of the pavement quality. However, I have to say I do look forward to getting into the car EVERY time.

  3. Thanks, BlackDiamond. I don't intend this for long distances as my commute is all of 5 miles each way. However, I would like it to be comfortable enough for a jaunt with my family from the Peninsula to Monterey.

    I guess if I do drive to LA, I'll take our Volvo station wagon.

    I'd be curious to hear how your next LA trip goes. Keep us posted.

  4. Hi. I am seriously considering a GTI, and am wondering if 30 minutes one way to work would be cause for concern. It's on Florida's tollways which aren't so bad, but do have coarse pavements in places. I currently own a wonderful 2011 Audi A5 that I need to give up to lower my payments. :-(

  5. I would test drive the GTI. If you think it's a rough, bumpy ride with those 18" wheels, you probably won't like it. If you appreciate how it corners like a much more expensive car and how you feel connected to the road, then it's probably a winner. If I were going for comfy ride, I might try to swing a used Passat or CC (don't want the new American made one). Also check out the Tiguan or maybe the TDI, which I'm told has slightly less stiff suspension.