Happily, though, the sponginess is gone from the GTI's suspension, which consists of struts up front and a new, multilink setup at the rear. Compared with the new Golf, the GTI has firmer springs and dampers, thicker antiroll bars, and a 0.6-inch-lower ride height. It also has its body motions well under control, something that cannot be said of our current version or even the R32 Golf. The tall-bodied VW still doesn't dart around corners with the immediacy of a Mini Cooper S-the current gold standard in the category-but it was plenty happy, as were we, hurling through the hairpins in Germany's Eifel mountains. The GTI's eager responsiveness re-called its progenitor, which famously slalomed through white-lab-coat-wearing German engineers in one of the more memorable early TV spots.
We'll have seventeen-inch wheels standard (and eighteens optional), with 45-series Bridgestone Potenza tires. They grip well but also faithfully transmit bumps-much like that Brit-brand BMW.
Orders from the helm are transmitted via new, electric-assist power steering, a technology we're generally not thrilled about. At least this example is more like a Mini Cooper's (pretty good) than a Saturn Ion's (pretty awful). We've found that recent GTIs-though not the R32 Golf-suffer from steering that's too quick and too light on center. That's not the case here, with the new car offering a nice linearity and natural-feeling efforts.
VW claims the system can compensate automatically for crosswinds, giving as much as four degrees of steering correction while you hold the wheel straight. But we still had to do plenty of our own correcting on the blustery drive out of Wolfsburg. VW's other miracle claim for the electric power steering is that it helps eliminate torque steer, and we found this far more credible, as we were unable to induce any.
The brakes have grown an inch in diameter at the front (to 12.3 inches) and twice that much at the rear (to 11.3). The flashy metal-trimmed pedals-with a floor-hinged throttle-are well positioned for heel-and-toe shifting.
As we'd expect in a GTI, the driving position is very good. The front seats are comfortable, with firm lateral bolsters, but might be too narrow for those who can't pass an all-you-can-eat buffet. Unsurprisingly, given the GTI's boxy profile, the back seat is plenty roomy for adults. If your friends complain back there, make 'em walk.
The plaid seat inserts recall the original (1976 European) GTI; too bad the surrounding material is cheap and nasty. If the plaid induces bad '70s flashbacks for you, you can order full leather on an even more extreme sport seat.
The rest of the interior is contemporary VW. The steering wheel is nicely shaped, and the flattened bottom feeds F1 fantasies. The easy-to-use nav system will be DVD-based for North America and optional. With the nav system, you'll get a six-disc CD changer in the front armrest; otherwise, it will be in the radio.
Outside, you have a mix of old and new. The red grille outline and some of the colors-white, black, red, and silver-recall early GTIs. Laser blue and, if we get it, yellow, are more modern, as are the "Colorado" wheels, which will be an optional style for the States. What we won't have is the four-door GTI, which stays in Europe.
Both GTIs stay in Europe for a while, actually. U.S. cars won't set sail from Wolfsburg until late 2005, arriving a bit ahead of regular Golfs. We're guessing prices will be close to where the VR6 GTI is today, currently $22,645.
Volkswagen seems to have awakened to the importance of the GTI and has built a car that, although it doesn't go back to the original, is again the hard-core sportster that a GTI should be.