2005 Volkswagen GTI VR6
Photos: Volkswagen. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

At first glance, the Volkswagen GTI doesn’t look like a great snow car. It’s small, it’s low to the ground, it has big tires, and has that overtly sporty sort of look that makes you think that maybe you should just leave it at home when the white stuff flies.

I hadn’t anticipated driving from Toronto to Montreal recently – right in the middle of a major storm – in the GTI, but a little scheduling conflict with another car, which was still on summer performance radials, landed me fortuitously in its seat. Volkswagen confirmed that the car had been fitted with four Pirelli winter radials, I signed the insurance waiver, and off I went.

On the 401, with the cruise control set at 120 km/h (and with my right foot doing the rest for the occasional passing manoeuvre), the GTI behaved like any other well-engineered German road machine. Other than an offbeat grumble from the aggressive snow tires, it was remarkably refined, with very little wind and road noise working their way into the comfortably-heated cabin. My tester, equipped with a 200-hp narrow-angle VR6 engine and a manual gearbox with six closely stacked gears, was revving at an eager 3000 rpm most of the time, but was as silent and refined as you could hope for. Passing power was but a twitch of the right foot away, as well, with the engine already revving right where the power is.

It’s a testament to modern tire technology that you can have a whole lot of fun on ramps and on winding roads in the snow these days. Rumble they might, but the Pirellis cut right through the snowy Quebec roads and always found plenty of grip; the GTI VR6 is equipped as standard with electronic stability control, but I didn’t once find I actually needed it. The three-spoke steering wheel guided the front wheels with excellent accuracy and fine road feel. The GTI brakes were powerful, easy to modulate, and connected to a firmer, more responsive pedal than I’m used to in Volkswagens. The tradeoff? A pretty stiff ride on all but the best of surfaces, and one that got downright uncomfortable over some of Montreal’s poorly-maintained and frost-ravaged streets.

2005 Volkswagen GTI VR6

2005 Volkswagen GTI VR6
Click image to enlarge

The two-door GTI proved to be an eminently practical vehicle for a weekend in Montreal, too. Its compact size, with a super-short rear overhang and front corners that are easy to see from inside of the car, made it perfect for ducking and weaving through tightly-packed urban streets, made it a cinch to back into tiny parking spaces, and generally made driving like a truly crazy Montrealer that much easier. On the flip side, despite the small size, the interior seems positively gigantic, with huge space for front-seat riders, a rear seat that’s decently usable for short trips, and a cargo area that will take more luggage than I’m ever going to cart around. Even with some holiday shopping packed into the trunk, bags were still flying around in back during hard cornering.

It’s hard to believe that the Golf and GTI have been around for more than five years, with their replacements just around the corner – a new Golf is already on sale in Europe. Their ageless quality comes partly from the almost obsessively-clean design, with its tight shutlines, geometric shapes, and perfect detailing (unlike the Jetta, the Golf and GTI didn’t get an extra lashing of chrome for a 2004 “facelift”). It also comes partly from an interior that is still as well-designed and well-made as in cars that cost many times as much. Even base Golfs feel like little luxury cars, and a GTI like mine, with leather-wrapped sport seats, steering wheel, shift knob, and a sunroof, feels more upscale than many BMWs or Mercedes-Benzes.

2005 Volkswagen GTI VR6

2005 Volkswagen GTI VR6
Click image to enlarge

Still, it’s usually the truth in the automotive industry that newer designs are usually better, and there are elements of the Golf’s interior that haven’t aged as well as its overall design. A couple of the flaws are ergonomic: the climate controls, while large and easy to use, are mounted very low down on the centre console, and are hard to reach and operate at a glance (they sit under a new, and much larger, Monsoon radio that’s a cinch to operate). It’s impossible to activate the front windshield washer without turning off the rear wiper because of the way the stalk has been designed. Despite there being a handle and a “lock” on the hatch like other hatchbacks, the rear door doesn’t unlock when you unlock the rest of the car; you still need to press the trunk release.

These are minor complaints about what is a really nice car. The GTI VR6, with prices starting at just around $30,000 – though a few options can elevate that number to $35,000 very easily – is a great-looking car that’s fun to drive, practical, and really feels like a quality piece. If the charismatic sound of the 200-hp narrow-angle VR6 engine doesn’t do it for you, there’s also a 180-hp turbocharged four-cylinder available; it’d be a great choice for tuning thanks to the huge number of soup-up parts available. Either way, the GTI continues the legacy of the original “hot hatch” that Volkswagen introduced more than twenty years ago: practical and sporty in equal doses, it remains a truly attractive proposition for up-and-coming, enthusiastic drivers.

Technical Data: 2005 Volkswagen GTI VR6

Base price $31,380
Options $1,485 (Luxury Package: power moonroof, Monsoon sound)
Freight $1,290
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $34,275
Type 2-door, 5-passenger hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.8 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 200 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 195 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Curb weight 1,380 kg (3,036 lb.)
Wheelbase 2512 mm (98.9 in.)
Length 4188 mm (164.9 in.)
Width 1734 mm (68.3 in.)
Height 1440 mm (56.7 in.)
Cargo capacity 1,183 litres (41.8 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.7 L/100 km (22 mpg)
  8.1 L/100 km (29 mpg)
Warranty 4 years/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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