Though we were intrigued by news of a sixth-generation Golf, as enthusiasts and devotees of the current GTI we wondered when the next hot hatch would arrive. It turns out the 2008 Paris motor show will grant us our first official look at the 2009 Volkswagen GTI - though VW managed to slip some information out in advance.
Like the next Golf/Rabbit itself, the new GTI is what could be deemed a mild evolution. Though the platform has been considerably reworked, much of it still harkens back to the fifth-generation car - which, we'd argue, isn't necessarily a bad thing. We found that car's chassis to be a verifiable gem among small cars, and if Volkswagen can save money by carrying over some components, so be it.
Though one premise of the sixth-gen Golf is cheap assembly, VW knows it can't rest content with leftover hardware - particularly not for the GTI. A perfect example is the 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected (or, in VW-speak, 'TFSI') I-4. Though the Mk V GTI uses the same basic motor, the Mk VI model pumps out 210 hp, ten ponies more than the outgoing car. Torque, however, doesn't change - the TFSI's still good for 207 lb-ft of torque between 1800 and 5000 rpm. Transmissions, like the engine itself, are also carryover. Customers can still choose either the standard six-speed manual or the optional six-speed dual-clutch DSG semi-auto 'box.
Regardless of the choice, both transaxles send their power to the front wheels, but there is something new between them. Volkswagen's added "XDS," their buzzword for an electronic limited-slip differential. Though it's not a revolutionary piece of technology, this does mark its first appearance on a GTI.
The same goes for the Adaptive Chassis Control system. First seen on the 2009 Scirocco (itself sharing bits with the new Golf and GTI), ACC allows the driver to tailor the car's suspension and steering using normal, comfort, and sport modes.
But perhaps the greatest example of careful refinement comes not with the car's mechanicals, but with the GTI's appearance. At a glance, the new car resembles the old in all but the front view. Ah, but the VW stylists are a crafty bunch. Under the direction of design boss Walter de'Silva, they've quietly worked to give the latest Golf a subtly sporty look, and they've done the same for the GTI. The car's roofline tapers to a lower point in the rear, while the broad, chiseled beltline gives it a true sense of muscular power that the fifth-generation car lacked. Yes, the nose is a near clone of both the Scirocco and basic Golf, but we'd have to say the slim grille really works. Unlike the tall, tapered aperture of the Mk V, the new design makes the car seem wider, not taller - an effect amplified by a matching lower section.
Inside, the GTI still uses those retro plaid seat inserts, but it gains the refinement and style of the latest Golf interior. We've heard VW used the money it saved on the new car's assembly to take a long, hard look at refining interiors. Though we'll only be able to tell once we've felt (and driven in) it ourselves, the press shots seem to suggest an atmosphere that's much more hospitable to its passengers.
We'll see the car for ourselves in the first week of October, but those interested in purchasing one in North America will have to wait a bit longer. Volkswagen plans to begin shipping the new GTI to the U.S. by the summer of 2009, long after the Europeans get their hands on the car, but before the basic Golf/Rabbit arrives in the fall.