2008 Volkswagen GTI


$3,848 - $4,224

2008 Volkswagen GTI Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2008 Volkswagen GTI was new.


Performance: 8.7

There's almost universal agreement that the Volkswagen GTI is an impressive performer. Most specifically praise the car's 200-horsepower, four-cylinder engine for providing a great driving experience.

Test drivers also praise the smooth transmission, exceptional handling and braking abilities of this fifth-generation performer. Kelley Blue Book explains, "A powerful, flexible engine combined with flat, responsive handling, a lot of grip in the corners and front-wheel-drive predictability make the 2008 Volkswagen GTI a joy to drive enthusiastically wherever appropriate."

The optional DSG automatic transmission is overwhelmingly popular with reviewers for its performance and versatility. Autobytel writes, "This may be the most fun possible without a clutch, and is the perfect solution for the enthusiast who sits in traffic Monday through Friday, yet wants to have some back road fun on the weekends." Road and Track states, "The GTI is simply fun to drive."

Acceleration and Power

The GTI doesn't offer engine options, but rather comes standard with a smooth 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with little turbo lag. "The turbocharged four has outstanding punch, which results in a car that is both powerful and quick," says Velocity Journal. The engine makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. The Auto Channel explains, "When it comes time to move a vehicle down the road, torque is your friend. And turbocharging, correctly applied as it is in the GTI, makes for excellent torque characteristics." "The GTI's 207 lb.-ft. of torque figure isn't enough, in and of itself, to wow," reports BusinessWeek. "But the grip is available all across the power band, from 2,500 rpm to 6,900 rpm, and the engine loves to howl." Concerning the slight turbo lag in the VW, Autobytel says, "Dig deep into the throttle from a moderate pace, and after a short delay it's away she goes." Continuing the praise, "Acceleration is not a gradual press into the driver's seat; it's more like riding the tip of a bullwhip," finds the Sacramento Bee. "Neck-snap city," they add.

The standard transmission in the GTI is a six-speed manual transmission that reviewers generally find to be excellent. Kelly Blue Book calls it "slick-shifting," while Consumer Guide says it "shifts with exemplary precision," though "some testers would like shorter throws."

Even more praise is reserved for the optional DSG automatic transmission, which operates as a normal automatic transmission or a race-inspired paddle-shifting box based on the driver's preference. "Volkswagen's DSG gearbox -- an electronically controlled, twin-clutch device -- is simply the best automatic-type transmission we've ever driven," reports Automobile Magazine, "and it posts better performance and around-town fuel-economy numbers than the manual." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the manual gets an estimated 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, while the automatic gets 22 and 29, respectively.

Car and Driver details the automatic's mechanics: "DSG is essentially two manual transmissions in parallel and two clutches. One clutch is connected to the odd gears, and the other to the evens. The two clutches alternate back-and-forth to provide smoother and quicker shifts than a single-clutch manual with electronic controls." MSN points out the DSG "can operate like an automatic but has a fast-shifting Tiptronic feature, too." This feature, according to Kelley Blue Book, means, "In stop-and-go traffic it's a smooth-shifting automatic transmission," while "on your favorite road or track it's a quick-shifting, no-pedal manual."

"In a lot of cars, especially inexpensive ones, clutchless shifters are hokey, unnecessary gadgets that provide only the most vague sense of sporty driving," argues our own U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman. "But in the GTI, the Formula 1-style paddle shifters on the steering wheel offer rapid and precise shifting that tangibly improves performance."

Handling and Braking

The majority find the GTI's handling a nimble match for its substantial power. "During routine driving, the ride is compliant, comfortable, and freakishly quiet, with bumps and potholes silenced and handled with no effect on the passengers," reports Autobytel. The Auto Channel claims, "On the street, even at a good clip, grip is excellent and body roll is not excessive." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the "GTI feels racy and fun."

In agreement with most, Forbes notes, "Unlike many small sports sedans, the GTI feels rock-solid even at blistering speeds." This is partly due to the GTI's fully independent suspension, with McPherson struts in front and four-link setup in the back. Velocity Journal finds, "There is enough suspension compliance to allow the GTI to be comfortable for long distance cruising, yet not too much to detract from manic short blasts to the grocery store."

But the Chicago Tribune writes, "Though the GTI is nimble and spirited, the suspension is super stiff. You feel every ripple in the road transmitted back through the steering wheel and into the seat. The rougher the road, the harsher the ride. Small bumps feel like tree limbs were placed in your path." But Motor Trend says, "The suspension is stiff, but not harsh. You'll feel road irregularities, more as a confirmation that you've got a true driver's car and not a penalty box."

Steering is also widely praised as precise, responsive, and well-engineered. "We delighted in the GTI's quick and precise steering," says New Car Test Drive. Other reviewers share the sentiment, such as Motor Trend, which notes, "It has light feel, yet it's as precise and direct as any steering rack extant and offers good feedback."

Rounding out the overall wide praise for the performance of the GTI, reviewers like the GTI's four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-pressure distribution, anti-slip regulation, and electronic stabilization. "A set of strong brakes can be an enthusiast's best friend and the four-wheel antilock discs on the GTI are up to the job," argues The Family Car. As New Car Test Drive puts it, "The big ventilated front discs and big rear discs stop the GTI quickly and surely." Motor Trend deems the brakes "powerful and positive, in that way that makes you think that only Germans understand brakes," but complains, "The brake is too high next to the throttle pedal, making heel-and-toeing [a performance driving technique] less than ideal." Autobytel rounds out the praise, calling the pedal "easy to modulate," while agreeing that the brakes have "an abundance of stopping power." And finally, MSN makes a rarely heard negative comment, stating, "The brake pedal is a little soft, but has a linear action that allows smooth stops."

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