German engineering is in da haus.
So says a billboard slogan that forms part of an ambitious ad blitz celebrating the debut of Volkswagen's GTI Mk V. The campaign barely disguises VW's disdain for the tuner crowd's extreme elements as it satirically disses their hip-hop swagger.
The trim silhouette of the “pre-tuned” '06 GTI restores welcome sanity to a segment given over to wing-backed, low-riding, hood-scoopified excess. In Teutonic fashion, the new GTI reminds that less is more, especially priced at $21,990 to start.
Its purposeful lines and clean surfaces are tasteful and understated. Its boldest design feature is a gaping grille trimmed with a red stripe. Upturned at both ends, the thin line suggests a devilish smile.
Again, to quote VW's clever promotional campaign, the new GTI goes like schnell — despite its relatively hefty curb weight.
The base version, equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, tips the scales at 3,308 lbs. (1,500 kg). Add the optional 6-speed direct-shift gearbox (DSG), and the GTI's mass swells to 3,352 lbs. (1,520 kg).
Still, there is no need to lay off the bratwurst and dumplings. The GTI's turbocharged 2L mill generates 100 hp per liter, and its torque yield — 207 lb-ft. (281 Nm) between 5,100 rpm and 6,000 rpm — feels as if it can move a small mountain. The pull from its top three gears implies GTI stands for Go To Infinity.
Its well-insulated cabin filters road noise exceedingly well, without stifling the engine's pleasing hum. The front seats, with their ample bolsters, are firm but satisfying — even though the base trim features some quirky styling.
In a nod to its predecessors, VW revives “interlagos plaid” as an upholstery accent. The result is proof that plaid's only place is in trench coat linings.
Leather seating, albeit heated, comes only in a $3,160 package with sunroof, satellite radio, dual climate controls and heated windshield washer nozzles.
Further upping the refinement quotient is the FSI direct fuel injection system feeding the GTI's well-balanced engine. Coupled with variable valve timing that features stiffened intake springs, the technologies contribute to combined city/highway fuel economy of 27.5 mpg (8.5L/100 km) for the 6-speed manual, and 28 mpg (8.4L/100 km) for the optional automatic.
The outstanding powerplant, appearing first in the all-new Audi A4 last year, earned a Ward's 10 Best Engines award in January.
The DSG — priced at $1,075 — is an outstanding value. It affords enough surprise and delight to make an enthusiast forget forever the rush of shifting a manual.
While one gear is engaged, the adjacent gears — either higher or lower — are pre-selected and ready to be engaged by a second clutch. This enables shifts to take place in about 0.2 seconds.
Combine such responsiveness with GTI's nifty steering-wheel-mounted paddles, and its console-mounted stick might need dusting to get rid of cobwebs.
With proper use, those other tuner cars could see a lot of the large VW badge — which cleverly doubles as the hatch handle — on GTI's rear.
Or as another VW billboard says: Auf wiedersehen, sucka.
'06 Volkswagen GTI
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger 2-door hatchback
Engine: 2L (1,984 cc) direct-injection DOHC I-4, aluminum block/aluminum head
Power (SAE net): 200 hp @ 5,100-6,000 rpm
Torque: 201 lb.-ft. (281 Nm) @ 1,800-5,000 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.3:1
Bore × stroke (mm): 82.5 × 92.8
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 101.5 ins. (258 cm)
Overall length: 165.8 ins. (421 cm)
Overall width: 69.3 ins. (176 cm)
Overall height: 58.4 ins. (148 cm)
Curb weight: 3,308 lbs. (1,500 kg)
EPA fuel economy, city/highway (mpg): 23/32
Market competition: Audi A3; Dodge Caliber; Ford Focus; Honda Civic Si; Nissan Sentra SE-R