July 29, 2014

Confession #51: There's never going to be a VW GTI like the first VW GTI

Photo: VW
For the third week in a row, Consumer Reports' Talking Cars segment has decided to bring up the 2015 Volkswagen GTI. It's not a car I thought of as being particularly controversial, considering it sticks to a similar format as its immediate predecessors.

But CR has made it controversial because of remarks by one of its auto guys who thinks it's a "thumbs down." Why is that? He thinks it's just not fun enough, not engaging enough and, crucially, not enough like the original GTI.

I think he's going to be waiting a long time for VW to make another Mk 1 GTI.

I've mentioned I own a Mk 6 GTI and have driven the Mk 7 GTI. Both are such complete cars. You can quibble over some details that irritate, and there are some you have every right to complain about. And yet the overall impression I, and others who aren't rapacious VW fans, have is that there's very little you could do to make the GTI better.

Yet panelist Mike Quincy still thinks the new one sucks because it's not memorable. He thinks it feels just like a normal Golf. Which to me doesn't sound like much of an insult, or accurate since the GTI has a noticeably better engine than the other 2015 Golfs. It's like he wants it to be a Mk 1 GTI so badly that he wants the new car to crash over bumps and be noisy and tiresome to drive. This is someone with Consumer Reports who thinks a car would be better if it were worse.

Don't get me started on him comparing it to an Accord.

Volkswagen Golf Mk 1 (Photo: VW)
No GTI since has ever felt like the first one, and there are very obvious reasons for that. The Mk 2 Golf was much bigger than the first one, which was about 2,100 lbs. and had 90 horsepower. In the rest of the world, VW came out with the Polo that was a similar size to the original Golf, which has always resulted in the Golf getting bigger and plusher. People have complained, and then learned to love every GTI for their own specialness (a Mk 3 VR6 GTI sounds really great right now).

Then there's the GTI's position in the world of hot hatches. Is Quincy under the impression the Mk 6 was the last word in hot hatches, because it wasn't really. Its engine was good, not great. The handling is also very good, but not pin-sharp. But it doesn't beat you up as a daily driver, the interior is a quality place to be in and it looks pretty good overall. That's an overall package a Ford Focus ST or Subaru WRX can't quite bring together. That's why I really like it.

The new one does the same thing, only better. A GTI is always going to be fun enough compared to rivals, but it has its fans because it's a satisfying package as a whole. You trade off the lunatic sounds or looks of a Mini or 500 Abarth for the fact the VW is the perfect size to live with as your only car. That's what this car has been all about, at least for the last 20 years or so. Why have people like Quincy not gotten that message yet?

The new Mk 1 GTI is probably the Ford Fiesta ST and we should stop moaning about VW not making it and embrace the GTI for what it is now. Or rather, those who write about cars for a living should stop moaning.

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