Slightly bigger than the previous GTi, the 1999 GTi returns with a standard 115 horsepower 2.0 litre 4 cylinder engine on GLS models, and a 174 horsepower 2.8 litre V6 engine in GLX models. More standard equipment and a new bodystyle have pushed the base price of the GLS to $23,950 and the GLX to $29,800.
V-6 Power plus hatchback versatility
It was in 1996 that Volkswagen first made their 2.8 litre V6 engine available in the Golf GTi. With 168 horsepower and a curb weight of 1300 kilogram (2800 lb), the GTi VR6 offered an excellent power-weight-ratio and lightning-quick acceleration. GTi drivers also appreciated the fact that the VR6 model was considerably quieter and smoother-running than the four cylinder GTi.
Now restyled on a larger platform, the 1999 GTi returns with refined versions of the same powerplants: a base 115 horsepower 2.0 litre SOHC 8 valve four cylinder engine and a 174 horsepower 2.8 litre DOHC 12 valve V6 engine. As before, a 5 speed manual transmission is standard and a 4-speed automatic transmission is optional.
The 1999 GTi is slightly bigger than its predecessor, has a revised rear suspension, more standard equipment, and a higher price-tag. The V6-powered GTi has always been considerably more expensive than the four cylinder GTi. Back in 1996, the base price of the four cylinder GTi was $19,645 and the GTi VR6 was $25,710, a difference of about $6000. The 1999 GTi four cylinder is now $23,950 and the GTi VR6 is $29,800 – still a difference of about $6000.
1999 GTi prices are up 12% to 14% from 1998. The increases can be attributed in part to the Golf’s new body style, new interior, and more standard features – the VR6 model now has standard leather seats, automatic climate control, premium stereo, side airbags and 16 inch tires and alloy wheels.
Still, to some people, $30,000 might seem like a lot of money to pay for a hatchback.
GTi’s can be distinguished from ‘regular’ Golfs by their larger, wider tires, prominent wheel arches, alloy wheels, projector beam fog lamps, and a discreet chrome GTi badge on the rear of car. Four cylinder GTi’s are designated GLS and V6 models are called GLX.
The GTi’s V6 engine, with its narrow 15 degree angle between the cylinder banks, is up slightly in horsepower to 174. It has the same smooth, even power progression as before with excellent launch characteristics, average mid-range acceleration, and excellent cruising performance. At 100 km/h on the freeway, the engine turns over a barely-audible 2400 rpm. This is the same engine used in the Jetta and Passat. Premium gasoline is recommended, but the GTi’s owner’s manual says that it will run on Regular with reduced performance.
The GTi’s standard 5-speed manual shifter is one of the car’s weak points – shift action feels a bit sloppy and the throws are longer than they should be. The optional four-speed automatic transmission, however, is an excellent transmission.
With an extra 4 cm of wheelbase and a wider track, the GTi has a smoother ride and more lateral stability. Its semi-independent track-correcting rear suspension has been redesigned to be more compact, freeing up rear cargo and passenger space. Handling limits are high, due in part to the low-profile 205/55R-16 inch Goodyear Eagle RSA all-season performance tires, however, there is a little too much nose-dive under braking – I found the longitudinal bobbing when braking and accelerating a little unsettling. Perhaps stiffer shocks would help here. Braking distances are extremely short thanks to the GTi’s relatively light curbweight and standard 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS.
The 1999 GTi has a very roomy interior, despite a relatively small exterior. The GTi’s tall roof and fairly upright body sides provide a space-efficient design. There’s lots of headroom for front and rear passengers and adequate legroom as well.
The GTi’s new interior is extremely attractive and well-finished. The front sport seats have excellent lateral thigh and mid-section support, height-adjustment with a pump-action lever, lumbar adjustment, and standard seat-heaters with 5 temperature settings. Standard side airbags are built into the front seats. There’s a lovely three-spoke steering wheel with a thick, grippy rim, a prominent tachometer with a 6600 rpm redline, and easy-to-see instruments that are backlit in blue at night. Two pullout cupholders are positioned just above the radio in the center dash area, and unlike many cars, the radio can still be operated with the cups in place.
The doors have unusually wide armrests which allow the driver to rest his/her left arm while holding the steering wheel and there’s also an adjustable, center armrest with built-in storage compartment.
All GTi’s are two-door models, and access to the rear bench seat is aided by both driver and passenger front seats that tilt up and forwards. All three rear seats have height-adjustable head restraints.
With a low liftover hatchback and split, fold-down rear seatbacks, the GTi will carry a lot of cargo when called upon for practical tasks.
Standard equipment on the $23,950 GTi GLS includes the 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission, 15 inch tires and alloy wheels, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, power steering, air conditioning, 8-speaker AM/FM stereo with CD preparation, power windows with ‘pinch protection’, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, front and side airbags, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, remote keyless entry and central door locks, anti-theft system, cruise control, front fog lamps, power moonroof, and rear wiper/washer and defroster.
The $29,800 GTi GLX VR6 adds the 2.8 litre V6 engine, 16 inch tires, leather upholstery, dark wood trim, automatic climate control, trip computer, an automatic rain sensor that turns on the wipers, and heated windshield washer nozzles.
Volkswagen’s are covered by a 2 year/40,000 kilometer bumper to bumper warranty and a 5 year/80,000 kilometer powertrain warranty. That’s less than the standard 3 year/60,000 km warranty offered by most other automakers.
Though pricey, the GTi GLX is unique in the Canadian marketplace: a premium small car that is both a pocket rocket and a practical people/cargo hauler.