Yes, the VW GTI is our Automobile of the Year. Again. The last-generation car got the nod only three years ago and now its successor, the sixth-generation GTI, walks away with the trophy as well. How is it that, for the first time since we started naming an Automobile of the Year exactly twenty years ago, we have deemed a single make and model vehicle worthy of our top award not once, but twice? It's very simple. Because the Volkswagen GTI continues to burn the affordable-enthusiast-car flame like no other vehicle in the world. Because the new, Mark 6 GTI, although only a mild update to the Mark 5 GTI, made a good thing even better. Because, as we pointed out in our February 2007 issue, the GTI is "the right car for our times. Hell, it's the right car for any time." And because, as we also stated three years ago, "what the world really needs now is not cars that are fast, but cars that are practical, fuel-efficient, and fast." Not to mention affordable and fun. The 2010 VW GTI is all this, and more.
We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: It's one thing for an automaker to create a car for fifty, or seventy-five, or a hundred thousand dollars or more that gets our pulses racing. Cars that cost that much certainly better be exciting to drive, rewarding to own, and well-built, with quality interiors. But it's another thing entirely, a real achievement, when an automaker creates a car that starts at only $24,239 - well within the reach of most new-car buyers - that is, as our West Coast editor, Jason Cammisa, says, "just as much fun to drive and with just as much street cred as cars costing three times as much." Volkswagen alone has managed to do this, with varying degrees of success, longer than any other automaker: the first GTI reached the U.S. in 1983 and single-handedly created the whole "pocket rocket" genre. Lots of other cars, most recently two successive generations of the Mazdaspeed 3, have attempted to replicate the GTI formula, but none have quite cracked the code.
The key to that code, of course, is the blend of athleticism, practicality, and performance that was the basis of the original GTI and which was resurrected so well in the Mark 5 edition. In 2007, we grooved to the remarkable 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and even went so far as to say that we might take the dual-clutch DSG transmission over the standard six-speed manual. Both gearbox choices have carried over to the 2010 car, but it's a little-known fact that the 2.0T engine was, as of mid-2008, new. Code-named EA888, it's still a 2.0-liter turbo four, and it still makes 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque in the GTI, but it reflects a ground-up redesign of VW's four-cylinder engine and offers as its biggest benefit improved fuel economy. The 2007 GTI with DSG was rated at 22/29 mpg by the EPA, while the 2010 GTI DSG jumps to 24/32 mpg.