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Volkswagen GTI Autobahn – THE GOLF CHANNEL

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Volkswagen GTI Autobahn – THE GOLF CHANNEL

Volkswagen GTI Autobahn

THE GOLF CHANNEL

Dan Neil, whose regular reporting on cars, trucks and SUVs for the Wall Street Journal makes its weekend edition must reading for me, recently wrote an article on the appeal of the pre-owned automobile. Along with his analysis (The Sex Appeal of Previously Owned), Dan provided examples of viable pre-owned buys in a number of categories, including sports cars (given the WSJ audience, it was a pre-owned 911!), sports coupes, sedans, trucks and SUVs. Not referenced in the article was the hot hatch. And in its absence, I’ll mention it now – as VW’s 2024 GTI makes a strong argument for itself, and perhaps a stronger argument for its late-model, pre-owned counterpart. Even for readers of the Wall Street Journal

Volkswagen’s GTI was first introduced in 1976, and the response was far greater than anticipated – although it could have been predicted. The oldest of the Boomers, entering their 30s, would begin to marry and start families. Those families couldn’t be easily – or safely – accommodated in the traditional sports car, tightening fuel supplies rendered ponycars expensive to operate, while emissions had saddled those Mustangs and Camaros with far fewer ponies. A light, nimble hatch with something north of 100 horsepower was perfect for the times – and perfect for the audience. Almost 50 years later, while the specifics are significantly different (twice the horsepower is the most obvious), the combination of a light, nimble platform with adequate power and reasonable efficiency continues.  

You won’t get any argument from me regarding the design of today’s GTI, known as the Mk 8 since 2022. On the outside, the most obvious differences between it and the Mk 7 are in the front fascia (which I regard as just a bit too fussy on the new one, but that’s me) and the ‘GTI’ moniker occupying the center of the rear hatch. The overall look remains clean, and while sitting on a wheelbase of 103.6 inches and occupying 168.8 inches of overall length, today’s 2024 GTI is proportional – and when compared to Volkswagen’s 3-row Atlas (or upcoming ID Buzz) positively anorexic.

Under the hood of all three trims – S, SE and Autobahn – is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four producing 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. That power is directed to the front wheels via either a 6-speed stick or 7-speed DSG automatic. And its performance is credible. Car and Driver magazine arrived at 60 miles per hour in 5.7 seconds driving the DSG, while in an earlier test the manual took 5.8.  And if you’re on the Autobahn you’ll see something around 125 miles per hour at the top end. But at that 125, don’t expect to see the EPA estimate of 34 Highway; it’ll probably be south of the estimated 25 City.

Beyond the stats is the simple joy of piloting a 4-passenger hatch with the degree of immediacy and composure Volkswagen’s GTI continues to deliver. To be sure, its immediacy doesn’t match that of today’s Miata, but then, I’ve never driven a Miata with two adults in the trunk. Nor do I want to park my convertible outside, and I’m even less inclined to drive it in inclement weather. Install winter tires on the GTI and get yourself to a ski resort, or throw your gravel bikes on top in the summer. Not only is the GTI’s platform recreational, it’ll serve as a platform for your recreation.

If there’s a disconnect between what I want in a performance hatch and what today’s Mk 8 GTI delivers, it’s in the g*dd*mn infotainment. As I’ve suggested whenever an OEM gives me a chance, I’m baffled by product teams composed of 20-somethings building control layouts for an older, driver-oriented clientele. The dash-mounted infotainment, to again cite Car and Driver, supplies an “annoyingly convoluted infotainment interface.” Along with, both they and I might add, plastic surfaces that work better on a $30K Golf than on a $40K GTI. I’m fine with high tech and touchscreens, but make them available as an option; or better yet, give me an ability to delete them from the order sheet. 

The other disconnect is the same one I hear from car shoppers almost everywhere: What you perceive to be a $35K transaction is suddenly a $40K transaction. To be sure, you can still get the base GTI for under $35,000, but the GTI lineup is closer to $40K, a space where the more performance-oriented, all-wheel drive Golf R once occupied; that model is now pushing $50K. Those numbers would be easier to rationalize if VW didn’t sell a Jetta GLI with essentially the same powertrain – attached to four doors and a trunk – for about $30K. Its Value is Wonderful!

Which brings me back to Mr. Neil and the sex appeal of previously owned.  The Mk 7 GTI, available in the U.S. through the 2021 model year, has a more intuitive dash, slightly lower horsepower and a simpler presentation in its front fascia. In North Texas I found a 2020 Autobahn automatic with 66K miles for under $21K, and a 2019 GTI S (base model) manual with 44K miles for just under $23K. If you don’t have your calculator close, that’s a savings of over $10K when compared to a base 2024, and almost $20K when compared to the new Autobahn. Those differences will, of course, buy you plenty of bier and schnitzel, while avoiding that annoying convolution. 

Obviously, many simply prefer buying new, while (I’ll guess) an equally large number aren’t technophobes. But if open to a clean, no-accidents pre-owned GTI, go to CarFax and start scrolling. And then start driving.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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