GTI Test Drive

Don't worry. I am not about to jump ship and buy a VW. But after Motoringfile posted a review of the MKV Golf GTI (w/DSG) recently, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss is about. I have to say the new DSG auto manual transmission is very smooth. I would shift to the next gear I did not get the usual lag in power between gears. It reminded me of a CVT transmission where there was no noticeable shifting going on. There was plenty of push but it was held at almost a constant that it was not obvious that shifts had taken place.

Depending on what you like, this is a great feature for such a powerful engine, rated at 200 HP, but for me I was a bit turned off. I happen to like the noticeable yet smooth shifts in a regular slush box transmission as in the MCSa. When I shifted manually with the DSG I had to look at the information cluster to make sure I had indeed shifted. And it did not seem to feel much faster than my MCSa, probably due to the considerable weight that the GTI has to lug around.

As in the MCSa, there are paddles on the steering wheel, but they are a bit awkward. The right one shifts up a gear and the other shifts down, so you have to be careful shifting while turning the steering wheel. Also, in the info cluster, the gears are listed (6,5,4,3,2,1) but the paddles are assigned to move the selector in the opposite direction. For example, when in third gear, a box graphic would highlight the "3" in the info cluster. To shift down, you would have to tap the left paddle and the graphic box would move to the right to highlight the "2". An obvious fix would be to list the gears in the opposite direction (1,2,3,4,5,6) to match which paddle you would need to tap.

One of the major turn offs was the blah of the interior. There was just nothing interesting to look at inside and was simmilar to every VW interior that they produce. I did not noticed any rattles in the sunroof or anywhere else, but engine noise was very noticeable inside the cabin. Infact, at higher revs the exhaust sound was a bit obnoxious for my taste but that might be of some interest to others.

Overall, I don't think I would like to buy the GTI, even with the DSG transmission, but it did get me in there showroom for a test drive. (which is half the battle for a dealer in February). What I would be more worried about is the clever advertising that is going into the GTI campaign. MINI's ex-advertising agency is now spinning its wheels for VW and its starting to show with their new ads. The ones featuring the drivers "fast" alter ego are especially entertaining. The obscure sometimes dry humor is reminiscent of what they did with MINI before. They also produced a tounge in cheek promotional DVD featuring the "scientific research" done to learn more about the "fast" in everyone. It showcased a German accented man who asked various psychologically revealing questions about one's "fast" to a number of control subjects. One of the scenes that was especially funny was when he asked a group of people where on the human body did they think their "fast" was located. The first said in his right foot which was an expected answer. The second person gestured that his fast was located in the general vicinity of his groin as he thrusted. The look on the German guy was priceless.

With that, It seems VW has their goals set on steering some potential MINI buyers in their direction. And with the solidly built and powerful GTI and some clever advertising, they sure might do that. Hopefully people will not do this in masses and realize that MINIs are more than just horsepower ratings. They actually look good both inside and out, and they turn on a dime. I couldn't imagine driving a car without the very distinct and unique character of a MINI.

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