2009 Automobile All-Stars

Charlie Magee

The Roots Rocker:  Volkswagen GTI

Hurry, the GTI is going fast. Although it might seem unlikely that anything is selling quickly in this market, the fact is, the current Volkswagen GTI isn't going to be around much longer. The hatchback's German assembly line recently retooled for the car's upcoming replacement, and this leaves only the 2009 GTI models that are left on dealer lots for enthusiasts to fight over until the new, sixth-generation GTI arrives here in September. So, the current GTI earns yet another Automobile Magazine All-Star just as the curtain closes on its act. That's quite an accomplishment.

And what an act it's been. We first drove this return-to-its-roots GTI in Europe in late 2004, when an elated senior editor Joe Lorio concluded, "The numbers are great, but what puts a smile on your face is the eagerness with which the GTI responds." Faster competitors, such as the Mazdaspeed 3, came but did not conquer. The manic, 8000-rpm Honda Civic Si was in the fight. But the VW's performance, comfort, and functionality kept it out front in the race to be the best sporty compact car and also made it our 2007 Automobile of the Year.

It's easy to understand our continued enthusiasm. A mere $23,640 buys a magnificent direct-injection turbocharged engine, a six-speed manual, a ten-speaker stereo with satellite radio, and heated seats draped in totally cool, hark-back-to-the-original-GTI tartan plaid fabric. If you need more utility, pony up $600 for the four-door version. You can also add a dual-clutch automatic transmission that keeps both manual-gearbox detractors and fans happy. Those not afraid to cross the $30,000 barrier can add options like leather seats, a sunroof, and a touch-screen navigation system.

Larding the GTI with too many options, though, just ends up taking away from the car's focus and purity, a problem suffered by nearly every variation of the VW since the 1992 GTI 16V model departed. Never mind that we've had only three years to enjoy the current GTI: this car carries the three-letter badge with pride. Let's just hope the next act in the GTI saga is as impressive.

-Marc Noordeloos

Base price range: $23,640-$24,240
Engine: 2.0L turbo I-4, 200 hp, 207 lb-ft

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