The formula for producing the GTI is a simple one. Start with one standard-issue Volkswagen Golf two- or four-door hatchback, drop in a spunky engine and other sporty content and watch them literally fly out of dealer showrooms.
Sounds straightforward enough, yet surprisingly few automotive brands have dared challenge Volkswagen's three-decade-long domination of the performance-infused compact-car niche. And the few that do, including Mazdaspeed3, Honda Civic Si, Mini Cooper and most recently the Ford Focus ST, have a tough fight on their hands.
The sixth-generation GTI that came to our shores for the 2010 model year is due for replacement late this year or the spring of next, and will originate from VW's production facility in Puebla, Mexico. That means if you're looking to acquire an honest-to-goodness German-manufactured GTI, this could be your final opportunity.
Since it is Golf-based, the GTI benefits from that model's uncomplicated design and generously sized hatch opening. From that point, VW replaces the nose with a blacked-out egg-crate grille and installs a larger air intake and running lights below the bumper. And for that final touch, the GTI comes with a set of unique 18-inch "Detroit" alloy wheels that can be easily spotted from afar.
Of course the GTI shares the Golf's ability to stow about as much luggage as most mid-size sedans. It can more than triple its normal cargo space for accommodating bulkier objects when the 60:40 split rear seat is folded flat.
That makes the GTI a useful as well as a sporty vehicle.
The GTI further distances itself from mainstream Golfs with its well-bolstered front seats with plaid inserts, as did the very first GTI. For driving convenience there's a thicker flat-bottom steering wheel, size-large tachometer and speedometer and brushed aluminum pedals.
Drivers will enthuse over the standard 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. By comparison, base Golfs make do with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder with 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.
The turbo-four functions through a six-speed manual transmission or optional dual-clutch automated manual gearbox (DSG).
The former comes with hill hold assist that gives you sufficient time to move your right foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator without having the car roll backward.
Selecting the DSG assures you of rapid-fire shifts, in as little as four-hundredths of a second (much faster than your typical automatic transmission), and contributes to the GTI's estimated fuel economy of 24 mpg city and 33 highway, compared to 21/31 if you stick with the stick.
Gear changes can be left to the transmission to figure out or they can be controlled manually using finger-controls on the steering wheel (or by toggling the floor shifter).
The DSG also includes a launch-control program that, when the GTI is stopped, allows you to rev up the engine before the clutch is engaged. The result is an extra-quick start compared to a manual-trans versions, with virtually zero wheelspin.
On the open road, the sport-tuned suspension, consisting of stiffer front and rear anti-sway bars, helps the GTI remain relatively flat through the turns while maximizing steering control. In addition, larger-diameter front and rear disc brake rotors deliver some serious stopping power for the 3,100-pound hatchback.
GTI pricing begins at $25,000 ($25,600 for the four-door), which includes destination charges, all the go-fast stuff plus most key comfort necessities. A convenience package featuring a power sunroof and touch-screen audio controls is optional. Beyond that, adding a navigation system, push-button start, leather-covered seats, pivoting headlights, premium sound system and more exotic wheels will push your acquisition cost well into the $32,000 region.
However you choose to equip your GTI, you will be piloting a seriously competent sports machine famous for its quick reflexes and with a level of road-holding agility that other compact models of any stripe can only dream of.
What you should know: 2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Type: Two- /four-door, front-wheel-drive compact hatchback
Engine (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (200)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual, six-speed twin-clutch automated manual (DSG)
Market position: Small cars with torquey engines when properly equipped can be a blast to drive. For the past 30 years the GTI has been the go-to ride for enthusiasts seeking performance and handling competency in a tidy package.
Points: Smart and practical, it's a rapid little workhorse; DSG option is relatively affordable and delivers ultra-quick gear changes as well as launch control; Too bad AWD isn't on the GTI's menu; Firm suspension isn't jarring like that of some competitors; Mexico-built 2015 model will be significantly different, but will it be better than current version?
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 24/33 (DSG);
Base price (incl. destination) $25,000
Chevrolet Sonic RS
Base price: $21,000
Budget-priced hatchback offers decent turbo power in a smaller package.
Base price: $25,000
GTI's primary competitor is a bit raucous, but many fans prefer it that way.
Ford Focus ST
Base price: $24,500
Ford's newest hot hatch looks sharp and runs with 252 horsepower.