Go ahead, laugh. Laugh at the little German car that wears its heart on its sleeve. Laugh at its plaid-covered seats, laugh at its abundance of cheekiness, laugh at its utter lack of displacement. Tell us how your supercharged nine-liter Vettebirdamino will eat it alive, all while you suck down a milk shake and make out with your girlfriend and read War and Peace with one eye shut. We will listen. We will nod politely. And then we will find some winding, twisty road, and we will blow your doors off.
Volkswagen's GTI is magic. What else do you call a diminutive hatchback that can shame supercars? The latest version of VW's iconic hot bunny may offer only 200 horses under the hood, but a fantastically usable, abusable, and forgiving chassis makes the best of each and every one of them. Steering feel, long a GTI hallmark, is remarkably direct and unfettered. The turbo four that drives the front wheels does its job with minimal lag and a cheery brup! out the tailpipe. The whole package turns every off-camber, back-road yump session into a flat-footed exercise in giggles. Porsches, BMWs, and the like struggle to keep up.
The icing on the cake, though, is the sticker price. (Less than twenty-three grand.) Or maybe it's the practicality. (Four adult-sized seats hold - get this - four adults. In comfort.) Or maybe it's the fuel economy. (Nearly 30 mpg on the highway.) Wait. No. Scratch that. Everything is icing. The GTI eclipses even the class-clown Mini Cooper for sheer spark and verve, it makes sense for real people who actually have to lead real lives, and it does it all without breaking the bank. If that doesn't make for All-Star status, we don't know what does.