2008 Volkswagen GTI
2008 Volkswagen GTI. Click image to enlarge

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Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Michael Clark

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2008 Volkswagen GTI

“Kleiner GTI, du siehst prima aus…”

For those of us who remember when an Atari 2600 game console wasn’t an eBay auction item, you’ll probably recall the Deutschland rendition of ‘Little GTO’, paying obvious homage to one scared little Rabbit. The ‘whoa-whoa’ chorus of the ditty was punctuated by images of airborne 1983-vintage VW GTI’s, coming in for their respective three-point landings.

The original GTI was a gamble; could a simple (AKA ugly), practical hatchback capture the hearts and minds, and the wallets of the budding enthusiast? More importantly, could the latest edition of this diminutive Bahn-Burner inspire as well on the inside as it does in the hairpin? Let’s ask this week’s Inside Story tester; a Tornado Red 3-door hatch, which settles in at an MSRP of $31,685.

The cockpit

2008 Volkswagen GTI
2008 Volkswagen GTI
The GTIs interior is dedicated to providing proper driver positioning (top photo), while the driver’s door offers auto up/down power windows and remote releases for the rear hatch and fuel door. Click image to enlarge

The GTI is dedicated to providing the proper driver positioning for your personal ‘whoa-whoa’, with a manual tilt/telescoping three-spoke wheel. Once you’re done massaging the oversized thumb locators, you’ll notice the audio and driver information menu controls, located on the horizontal spokes. Keeping you as close as possible to those spokes are quick action/access stalks for cruise control, as well as front and rear wipe/wash.

The driver’s door gets auto lift/descent control for the front panes, with power releases for the hatch and fuel door tucked into the lower cubby. There’s power, and heat, for the breakaway-style exterior mirrors, which are trimmed with thin turn signal lense strips. Instrumentation is all business, though it does seem strange to present a Gran Turismo Impressico version of a vehicle, without oil pressure and turbo boost gauges.

The driver info centre is simple to read and access. The six-speed manual gearbox gets no complaints for shift action and gear spacing.

The centre stack

There’s little to frustrate for audio and HVAC, with EZ-Punch controls for the six-CD tune factory, and dial-in climate controls with LCD temperature display for driver and passenger. Below the HVAC array is a flip-up door, (22) which reveals the 12-volt DC powerpoint. The stability control cancel switch is nearby.

Cubbies!

There’s plenty of hiding places within the GTI confines. The side door pockets get impressive width, with carpet-style bedding material, and bottle holder insets. The front console cupholder affords no cinch mechanisms, which seems apropos for anything wearing a 6500 RPM redline. The GTI does realize that the rear passengers might have mistakenly brought a bevvie, so the flip-down holder at the rear of the console gets C-clamp grabs with impressive levels of tension.

2008 Volkswagen GTI
2008 Volkswagen GTI
An MP3 input is found inside the console cubby (top photo) while the glove box, is lockable, flock-lined and cooled via the A/C system. Click image to enlarge

The rear side interior panels get smaller pockets, suited for cell phones and MP3 player stowage. Speaking of MP3 players, the input jack is found in the centre console cubby. The lid of the console sports a rachetting-style armrest, for long haul comfort. Important to note is that the armrest descends low and away, for periods of intense cornering enjoyment. The locking glove box is flock-lined, with a proper cubby reserved for the owner’s manual binder. At the rear of the cavity is an HVAC-fed outlet, perfect for chilling the Guarana-laced speed cola of your choice.

Both seatbacks sport soft storage pockets. Just when you think you’re done, there’s a massive drop-down cubby, directly south of the headlamp dial.

The overhead

Like most VW and Audi products, the GTI gets a dial-in cavity control for the power moonroof. There’s a drop-down cubby for sunglasses, while extendable sunvisors wear dual backlit vanity mirrors.

Seat treat

2008 Volkswagen GTI
2008 Volkswagen GTI
Even the front passenger gets a fully-adjustable seat (top photo), and the GTI’s cargo area is as practical as they come. Click image to enlarge

The problem with most seating systems is that the front passenger is usually the last person to receive any form of comfort modification. Not so with the GTI; both driver and passenger benefit from manual height controls, as well as dial-in lumbar bladders. Five-step front seat heat control dials are found in the HVAC array. Rear ingress/egress gets EZ-Entry on both sides of the vehicle. The rear seat employs shingle-style headrests for unobstructed vision.

Spare care

It may not be a matching alloy with Speed Racer rubber, but it is still a full-size spare tire in the lower stowage well. The cargo floor stays out of the way during changes, with an overhead hook-and-tether system. Vee-Dub will change it for you, for the first four years, regardless of mileage.

Cargo embargo

This hatch is a natch for swallowing large items, with a low gate height, and integrated interior grab handles for hatch closure. Alloy cleats are found within, for cargo net tiedown. There’s a sensible, and removable cargo hatch cover. The 60/40 rear seat boasts a centre pass-through, while fold-down angles of the seatbacks rate a mark of Acceptable.

The mill

The 2.0-litre turbo four rates a snug fit, so gravitate towards VW technicians with small hands. At least there’s no prop rod to wrangle with, thanks to a hydraulic hood strut. Day-to-day fluid checks and fill points should not annoy.

The Verdict

The GTI continues to provide both the purist, and the novice, with a driving experience that is more fun than a bathtub stocked with a family of sea otters. For this kind of bread, that’s not a tall order, until you realize that most sports cars in this realm assume that the last thing you’ll be doing with it is transporting people and dry goods. It may be just a Hot Rod ‘Wabbit, but the GTI continues to save face in the practicality department. This is the kind of sportster that you hang onto, even when the Tornado Red has changed to Oxy Pink, and the Interlagos plaid seat material has come back into vogue. 5 stars.

Next week: Lexus LX 570

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