2008 Volkswagen GTI Review
Lowered ride height for improved handling.
While not as stylish as a Mini Cooper, the Volkswagen GTI has come quite a way from the square-cornered hatchback of yore. And though its creases may have been softened, its face has been made bolder. Plus, there's just enough of a muscular bulge to the fender wells filled by 17- or 18-inch tires, and just enough lip to the rear spoiler to hint at the performance potential.
The classic GTI emblem is displayed like a well-earned badge against a black honeycomb grille that features a red accent stripe in the shape of a slightly devilish smile, all traditional GTI styling cues.
The shape of the headlamp covers, which have an almost winking eye form, accentuates this mischievous attitude. Three large, black honeycombed air vents in the lower fascia enhance the strength of the front end, with large fog lamps housed in the outboard intakes.
Viewed in profile, the windshield rakes quickly back over the front of the passenger compartment and the roofline ends with a wind-cheating spoiler above the back window. This view also gains visual strength and a sporty stance from the way the car's waistline rises and the side windows taper above the rear fenders. Also noticeable in the profile view are the red-colored brake calipers that show through all of the various wheel choices and proclaim that this is an all-around performance car, designed to stop as well as it goes.
Even with the airy wheels and showy brakes, however, the five-door can't help but look a bit more utilitarian than the three-door. It's still undeniably sleek and handsome, but it surrenders some of the three-door's youthful chic.
Like the profile, the rear view is clean, with large tail lamps mounted high on the car's haunches with twin exhaust tips peaking out from the lower left side of the black bumper.
The Volkswagen GTI may look compact on the outside, but there's an amazing amount of room inside. The GTI offers passenger and luggage space on par with the Passat, VW's mid-size family sedan. Interior dimensions for the four-door GTI are identical to those for the two-door.
The GTI's cargo area is fully carpeted, and cargo can be secured via four tie-down hooks. There's also a cargo cover to hide your gear. The cover can be removed when carrying taller objects.
The rear seat can hold three people. It's best suited for two, however, who can get more comfortable by tipping out the wide center armrest. Those sitting in the back get cup holders and storage cubbies, and plenty of rear legroom if those in the front seats aren't tall.
In the two-door model, access to the back seat is easy because of a feature that VW calls Easy Entry. Here's how it works: You tip the front seatback forward until it snaps into a locked position, then you can slide the entire seat forward to open a good-sized path to the back seat. Slide the front seat back and it stops in its original position, and the seat back also returns to its former position, so the driver or front-seat passenger can climb in without having to make any readjustments. It works well.
The front seats are nicely bolstered so you won't slide around while exploring the car's dynamic capabilities. However, this is not a car for everyone. The seats may be too snug for some, and others won't like the black, gray, white and red-striped Interlagos plaid pattern in the seating and back area between the bolsters. GTI faithful will love these seats, however, and consider the Interlagos plaid an iconic part of the original GTI. It's named after the racing circuit used for the Brazilian Grand Prix. Those who don't like the plaid can opt for black leather seats with a small GTI emblem stitched into the upper part of the seat back. The front passenger's seat offers good legroom and easy access to climate and audio controls.
Drivers will like the way the three-spoke, leather-covered and flat-bottomed (like a racecar) steering wheel both tilts and telescopes to enhance steering control and comfort. The alloy pedals with rubber grips are nicely placed for heel-and-toe shifting, and there's a large dead pedal for your left foot when it isn't depressing the clutch.
The steering wheel houses audio and trip-computer control buttons. On cars with the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission, racecar-style paddle shifters are on the steering wheel right at your fingertips.
The instrument panel features VW's blue-lit gauges with red indicator arrows as well as a trip computer to track miles to empty or to display redundant navigation system instructions within the driver's line of sight. The gauge cluster is very readable, even in bright sunlight when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses.
Not only are the seats height-adjustable, but so is the arm rest on the center console, so you can put it high for comfortable cruising or lower it so it won't interfere when you get assertive with the six-speed manual shifter. Cup holders are positioned on the center console so they don't interfere with gear changing. And there's a grab handle on the center console so the front-seat passenger can hold on.
Cargo space is listed as 14.7 cubic feet of trunk space for the four-door and 15.1 for the two-door. Curiously, this is one of the few dimensions where the two body styles differ. Either number would do credit to a mid-size car. And that's before you fold down the back seat and double the cargo capacity.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2008 Volkswagen GTI, click here: 2008 Volkswagen GTI.