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Volkswagen golf gti 25th anniversary review



In the interest of full disclosure, we'll note that the author's driveway is shaded by his wife's almost-new Golf 1.8T and his opinions may be likewise shaded. It's a fine car, but buying it was brazen behavior considering this publication's repeated criticism of Volkswagen's junior lunchbox.

The fourth-generation Golf, introduced in 1999, wears expensive, finely tailored duds for a car of its price, but it remains prone to some slovenly habits. The marshmallow-sprung GTI GLX V-6 we tested for a December 1999 comparison of seven saucy $20,000-somethings leaned in corners like a torpedoed frigate. The howling from its sidewalls was a defilement of the memory of the original hot-hatch Rabbit. "Handling appropriate to a Passat" was how we justified its fifth-place finish.

Although the new GTI proved mediocre fare, VW had a few improvements scheduled. In 2000, VW slipped into the GTI catalog the turbocharged 1.8-liter four from the Passat, Audi A4, and Audi TT. With five valves Lindy-Hopping above each of its cast-iron cylinders, the sophisticated unit delivered 150 horsepower and 155 pound-feet, and it was $3395 cheaper than the V-6. This year VW has turned up the turbo's power to 180 horses and its torque to 174 pound-feet and, for European buyers, has produced this GTI 25th-Anniversary Edition with manlier styling, a new six-speed gearbox, and a few milligrams of Viagra for the suspension. As you read this, Volkswagen hasn't decided whether to sell this car in the U.S.

So why clutter up your already messy lives with a brief on this car if you can't buy one? Well, we haven't tested the 180-hp Golf yet, even though a November 2001 comparo involving the new Jetta GLS 1.8T confirmed the benefits from the new turbo's added urgency (the Jetta was both the heaviest and the fastest to 60 mph). Plus, bits of this Anniversary Edition will be on sale soon-the six-speed manual will appear this year in the New Beetle Turbo S and the GTI GLX V-6, which will be sporting a new 24-valve head.

And this car may indeed come here in one form or another if VW thinks it can attract enough bass to the bait. It likely won't be called the 25th-Anniversary Edition because the American GTI doesn't reach that milestone until 2007. However, it may approach in price this car's in-Germany tariff of $24,787. That would represent a $1047 premium over a loaded 2002 GTI V-6 and a $2787 hike up from a fully loaded GTI 1.8T.

For their extra deutsche marks, German buyers receive a new chin valance with increased duct work, a larger rear spoiler, ornate 18-inch BBS wheels laminated with 225/40ZR-18 Michelin Pilot Sport tires, and a cockpit trimmed with brushed-aluminum accents and fitted with a GPS navigation system and Recaro cloth seats sporting embroidered GTI logos.

The special Wiffle-ball shifter cycles a six-speed gearbox similar to the one in the Audi TT Quattro. To keep it compact, VW stuffs this odd unit with two separate layshafts plugged into two separate final drives, a 3.88 ratio for first through fourth and a 3.10 ratio for fifth and sixth. With this car's first and sixth geared nearly identically to the current five-speed GTI's first and fifth, the extra ratio resides somewhere in the middle and serves mainly to reduce the gaps separating the ratios of the current box. Keeping the engine spooled is easier, and unlike some six-speeders, this box has an overdrive you'll visit every day.

The Anniversary Edition shredded the run to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and topped the quarter in 15 flat at 93 mph, mere eye blinks off the times of a 225-hp Audi TT and a thorough drubbing of the V-6 GTI. That car reached 60 in 7.7 seconds and the quarter in 16.1 at 89 mph, while the old 150-horse turbo GTI did it in 7.3 seconds and 15.9 seconds at 88 mph, respectively.

Although the spring rates and the settings of the Monroe shocks are identical to those for U.S.-spec GTIs (Europe's base GTI is actually softer, so Germans must pay extra for the Yankee setup), the rear twist beam mounts on stiffer rubber bushings instead of squishier oil-filled units. They inject more neutrality into the steering by helping hold understeer-inducing camber changes in check. The body has also been lowered, the nose riding 0.8 inch nearer the earth while the tail sags an inch lower, and the brakes are larger.

All this and the fatter French tires help excise much of the cottage cheese from the Golf's stubby chassis. In corners, the Anniversary Edition obeys commands with unflinching servitude and tracks with micrometer accuracy. It also sways less, the front tires ruffling the ears with nothing more offensive than the squeaks and chirps from their scrabble for grip. Around the skidpad it pulled 0.88 g, sideways force that would have sent the V-6 GTI (at 0.81 g) spinning into oblivion.

Better yet, there's little sacrifice to the GTI's ride, which over the highway feels suspended by air bearings and across disintegrating pavement is comfortably damped. Because the springs are stock items, they still cushion the body from the thin, unforgiving sidewalls. What's left of bump energy dissipates in the Golf's rigid, tungsten-grade structure.

This GTI doesn't come cheap for a wee car, but it will represent an Audi on the clearance rack if it ever comes to the States. If you can find better driveway shade, buy it.