- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

For the driver who one day hopes to own a Porsche, aspirations to big dreams start small, such as owning a hot hatchback such as the Volkswagen GTI.

The 2006 GTI is a highly responsive off-the-start, fun-to-handle fast hatchback, featuring a fully independent, sports-tuned suspension. Volkswagen’s GTI is targeted to mostly the young male “tuning culture” with a need for speed.

This small hatch has styling flair starting with the black honeycomb grille, accented with bright racer red piping in the center frame. VW’s signature styling cues pop with the Candy White exterior paint. I saw the full lineup of other colors available on the GTI, but none had the same showmanship. Other signature cues are the plaid seating fabric, a roof spoiler and 17-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires. Bright red brake calipers can be seen behind the four wheels.

The Volkswagen GTI develops its power from a 16-valve, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, the engine generates 200 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm.

The all-new GTI has a base price of $21,990, plus a destination charge of $630. This five-passenger, compact two-door with a hatchback tail end requires premium gasoline in order to achieve maximum performance. The front-wheel-drive GTI will operate on regular unleaded gas, but expect a reduction in performance output.

Volkswagen’s six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox automatic transmission is optional on the GTI. The DSG transmission is very popular with many of my fellow auto-writing colleagues who engage in spirited, enthusiastic driving.

The DSG automatic manual Tiptronic transmission features a clutchless shifting system that is extremely responsive, utilizing fingertip paddle shifters located behind the left and right steering wheel spokes. DSG offers sports performance, yet is highly fuel-efficient.

The DSG-equipped GTI had fuel economy ratings of 25 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway.

This city figure is better than the GTI’s six-speed manual transmission city rating of 23 mpg. The DSG automatic manual is an additional charge of $1,075.

When I opened the driver’s door, the tartan-plaid fabric seats were an eye-catching retro design that signaled the well thought out re-introduction of the GTI.

The sport seats had snug side bolsters with adjustable lumbar support for the driver and passenger’s seats.

Because it is a two-door model, VW allowed for wide access to the three-passenger rear by having the two front seats slide far forward with a tilt-lift on the seatbacks.

In addition to the tartan plaid, GTI-exclusive interior treatments include alloy trim on the doorsills, door handles and pedals.

The leather-wrapped, telescoping steering wheel contains redundant controls for the audio system and telephone.

Volkswagen offers an optional basic package with a sunroof and satellite radio. My tester had this package, which carried a $1,370 charge.

I think it’s outstanding that VW allows the buyer to choose either XM or Sirius as the preferred satellite system.

An upgraded package includes automatic dual-zone climate controls, heated front seats and leather seating surfaces, plus the sunroof and satellite radio, for $3,160.

Standard safety features are stability control, head curtain air bags, as well as dual-front and side-impact air bags.

For the wannabe Porsche driver who is looking for something affordable, hot and fast, check out the GTI.

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