Advertising taglines crafted to increase awareness of, and ultimately sell, the redesigned 2006 Volkswagen GTI revolve around the concept of a devilish little monster, the fast. Consider him (or her, but the voice in the television commercials is either a dude or a woman who smokes a carton of Marlboro Reds every day) the progeny of a steamy nighttime encounter between Darth Vader and a gremlin. Spurred on by the fast, there’s only enough time in your life to drive and thoroughly enjoy your new GTI, leaving no excuse for sitting at home, and nary a spare moment for a nagging partner. To drive home the emphasis on the GTI’s capacity for speed and the urgency with which owners must get their next driving fix, VW leaves out the spaces between the words. Clever, eh?
Designed to slightly resemble the shape of a rabbit (the VW model on which the first 1983 GTI was based), every buyer of a 2006 GTI will receive their own configurable fast, which even features a red lip meant to mirror the car’s grille. Gimmicks are great, especially when they’re memorable and impressionable, such as the fast commercials that had more than a few journalists laughing during the GTI’s press launch in San Diego. But then a few more folks at the office got a look at the footage, and felt it was a few chuckles shy of funny.
That’s the funny thing about marketing – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And in the car business, that’s a big deal, because some mediocre cars sell only because of ingenious advertising, while others don’t move even with thousands of dollars and a scantily clad model on the hood. Thing is, Volkswagen needs neither rebates or enticements to sell the 2006 GTI – the car’s unique styling, top-notch interior, outstanding powertrain, and athletic handling all make this turbocharged sport hatch well worth the $22,620 base price.
If Darth Jr. is appealing, that’s great – he’ll increase awareness of this hot little ride. However, if you’re thinking you’d like to flipoffyourfast, skip over the marketing bull and head directly to your VW dealer for some seat time in the 2006 GTI. Company executives are hoping you will, and they’re confident that you’ll love what you find. Dave Wicks, VW’s director of sales, goes as far as to suggest that “there may not be a better performance value” on the market, while director of brand innovation, Kerry Martin, claims that Volkswagen’s goal “is to make the brand famous and relevant again.” If first impressions count for anything, this reinvented pocket rocket appears ready and willing to do just that.
For indecisive buyers, the 2006 Volkswagen GTI is a dream come true because there’s only one trim, and most everything is included in the $22,620 base price (price includes the $630 destination charge). Among the standard features are power heated mirrors, air conditioning, an anti-theft alarm, cruise control, a trip computer with an outside temperature gauge, a 10-speaker sound system with a six-disc CD changer and an MP3 player, front sport seats with manual lumbar adjustment, and a thickly-padded, three-spoke leather steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. That’s all in addition to the 200-horsepower turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission that motivates this pocket rocket.
That’s the basic package, but the options list allows for some personalization. There’s the DSG automatic transmission that sells for $1,075; a power sunroof and satellite radio (XM or Sirius) combo that’ll set you back $1,370 (or get satellite radio individually for $375); five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels which retail for $750; an $1,800 DVD-based navigation system; a rubber floor and cargo mat set selling for $185; and a pimped-out $3,160 bundle that offers satellite radio, the power sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated leather seats with front power lumbar, and heated washers. All told, a fully-loaded 2006 VW GTI retails for $29,590.
Nuts and Bolts
At the heart of the 2006 Volkswagen GTI is the same engine that has drawn praise for its use in the redesigned VW Passat, the overhauled Jetta GLI, and Audi models like the new A3 and updated A4. For this application, the 2.0-liter, dual overhead cam, 16-valve, turbocharged four-shooter generates 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,800 rpm, and is ULEV (ultra-low emissions) rated. It doesn’t take much to get from idle to 1,800 rpm, where all of that twist is available, so drivers are guaranteed healthy off-the-line launches with the GTI. The standard transmission is a six-speed manual with a leather and alloy-wrapped knob, while a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) six-speed automatic is optional and adds only 34 pounds to the 3,308-lb. curb weight. This is the same unit offered on a variety of more expensive Audi models, and can be operated in either normal or sport modes with steering wheel-mounted paddles or a gentle nudge up or down of the shifter. Of course, you can leave the gear selector in drive and worry only about the throttle, brakes, and steering, but that’s not as much fun. With the DSG, VW claims a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds.
Supporting the capable powertrain is a fully-independent sport-tuned suspension system, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard. Four-wheel disc brakes, vented up front and solid out back, work with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution to slow things down, including the standard 225/45 summer tires and multi-spoke 17-inch alloys (all-season tires are a no-cost option). Above it all is a body that is up to 35 percent more rigid than that of the outgoing GTI.
Love it or hate it, there’s no mistaking the new Volkswagens for anything else, especially with a wide swath of chrome on the face. However, that sea of blinding chrome is gone on the 2006 GTI, replaced by a shiny black insert, a subtle red line as found on the Jetta GLI, and a simple GTI badge. The smoked headlights bear high-intensity xenon bulbs, the grille is black honeycomb, and the lower corners are home to bright fog lights. A view from the side unveils a smooth body devoid of creases and exaggerated shapes, subtle wheel flares, and a raked windshield that works with an upper rear spoiler to create an aerodynamic roof line. Multi-spoke silver alloy wheels dress up the standard model, though gorgeous 18-inch alloys with black pockets are optional. At the 2006 Volkswagen GTI’s tail is a prominently displayed chrome VW badge, large wraparound lamps, a wiper and washer for the rear glass, and dual chrome exhaust tips. In comparison to the pocket rocket and tuner cars blaring their coffee-can exhausts up and down the streets today, all in an attempt to somehow make their ridiculously large wings and neon add-on lights look cool, the understated yet aggressive ’06 GTI is a refreshingly tasteful alternative.
A quick evaluation of the early-production models available for journalist testing in San Diego suggested VW is not only focused on design and power, but also quality. Body panels all lined up nicely, bits and pieces all felt snug and secure, and the gaps were mostly narrow and consistent, though the space between the headlights and the hood looked a bit wide. Same went for the interior, which was outfitted in soft-touch plastics, durable cloth or leather seat and door panel material (we tested versions with the standard cloth and the optional leather), real aluminum trim, and sturdy buttons and knobs that felt as though they were ready for at least 100,000 miles of abuse. Primary controls, like those for the air conditioning, radio, and power features, are clearly marked and logically placed within easy reach.
Spend a few minutes in the 2006 VW GTI, and you’ll need to be reminded that this car starts at less than $25,000; however, there are a few points that would make the experience even better. The front center armrest adjusts for optimum comfort, but it doesn’t lock into place and continuously moves under pressure from your elbow. We’d also rethink the hard plastic grab handles on the lower console, which rub against knees in hard corners. And why is there lower center console grab handle for the driver? If things are getting hairy, shouldn’t his hands be on the wheel?
Driving enthusiasts may look upon the old muscle-car days with fondness, but chances are they wouldn’t have wanted to experience a wreck in a 350-horsepower straight-liner without the optional seatbelts. It was kind of like the football players who used to play with leather helmets – they walked in smart, but probably stumbled away much worse for wear.
Today, electronic safety systems and airbags are the name of the game, and the 2006 Volkswagen GTI provides them both in spades. Standard on every GTI are front dual airbags, front side airbags, and dual side-curtain airbags. The front passenger’s seat has an occupant detection system, each front bucket boasts an active headrest to help prevent whiplash, a crash sensor unlocks the doors in the event of a crash, and all five passengers, even the one riding the middle hump out back, gets a three-point lap and shoulder seatbelt. Furthermore, engineers have included standard antilock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, a traction and stability control system, and a limited slip differential that puts power to the front wheel with most grip.
Unlike many turbocharged engines, the 2006 Volkswagen GTI’s 2.0-liter exhibits very little lag, with just the slightest hesitation between planting the pedal and getting an exhilarating launch, thanks in large part to 207 lb.-ft. of torque coming out to play at only 1,800 rpm. Dig deep into the throttle from a moderate pace, and after a short delay it’s away she goes. All this may sound like the GTI has a touchy accelerator that’s either on or off, yet in reality modulation is very easy, making for smooth acceleration around town and on the highway. It just takes a few miles to get used to, and newbies should be aware that dropping to second and hammering the floorboard can unleash a rush of power and a shot of torque-steer.
Controlling the engine’s output is a standard six-speed manual transmission featuring a light-effort clutch that engages early, and a gearbox with short throws that could be a bit more precise – there’s a little too much play when the stick is shifted into gear. Nonetheless, rowing through the cogs on a winding country road is a great way to spend the afternoon, running the tachometer up to redline and getting a nice chirp from the tires as you dump the clutch on second gear. And then there’s the DSG automatic that could convert even the most die-hard manual transmission fans. Shift into drive, and the 2006 Volkswagen GTI operates like any other automatic, or shift into sport mode to hold gears longer for improved acceleration. Bump the lever over to the right for manual shifts, or better yet, use the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. 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.
That’s where you’ll also comes to appreciate the suspension and braking systems. Volkswagens have often been criticized for sacrificing a bit too much ride control for the sake of comfort, and the 2006 GTI doesn’t entirely depart from this scenario. During routine driving, the ride is compliant, comfortable, and freakishly quiet, with bumps and potholes silenced and handled with no effect on the passengers. However, start reaching for the limits, and that’s when rear squat and front dive appear, as well as some body roll. The latter is minimal and well-controlled, providing for a commendable blend between handling and comfort, though it is there. Grip, regardless of whether it’s the job of the standard 17-inchers or optional 18s, is quite good, a point discovered when our twisty test loop was subjected to sudden rain and hail. On dry roads, the tires held on even when pushed hard, with no chirping or squealing, and the tail end stayed tucked in tight at all speeds.
Also worthy of praise are the brakes, with a pedal that’s easy to modulate and an abundance of stopping power, and an electromechanical steering system that offers plenty of feedback and provides the appropriate amount of heft and feel, whether it’s slow going in the neighborhood or exploring g-forces on an isolated country corner.
How does the 2006 Volkswagen GTI compare with the 2006 Honda Civic Si in terms of price and power?
The base price of a 2006 Volkswagen GTI is $22,620 (including a $630 destination charge), whereas the 2006 Honda Civic Si starts at $20,540 (including a $550 destination charge). A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque propels the VW, and a non-turbo 2.0-liter with 197 horses and 139 lb.-ft. of twist moves the Si.
What’s the best way to bet the most bang out of my buck with the 2006 Volkswagen GTI?
The base model sells for less than $23,000, and that’s well equipped, with a fun and eager powertrain, and a ride common to much more expensive cars. But when the GTI is fully equipped the total reaches near $30,000, a point where a whole slew of better cars become available. The best bet is to take advantage of the all of the fun to be had in the low $20s, though you might want to add a few bucks for the sunroof or flashier 18-inch wheels.
What colors does the 2006 GTI come in? And how long is the warranty?
Five colors are available – Black Magic, Candy White, Reflex Silver, United Gray, and Tornado Red. The GTI’s basic warranty spans four years or 50,000 miles, the powertrain is covered for five years or 60,000 miles, and you’re covered against rust-through for 12 years and unlimited mileage.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Volkswagen GTI
Base Price: $22,620 (including a $630 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 200 at 5,100 rpm
Engine Torque: 207 lb.-ft. at 1,800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Curb Weight, lbs.: 3,308
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 23/32 mpg
Length: 165.8 inches
Width: 69.3 inches
Wheelbase: 101.5 inches
Height: 58.4 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.2/35.3 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 39.3/38.5 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 15.1 cubic feet
Competitors: Acura RSX Type S, Audi A3 2.0T, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, Dodge Caliber R/T, Ford Mustang, Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Tiburon GT, Mazda 3s, Mazda RX-8, MINI Cooper S, Mitsubishi Eclipse GT, Pontiac G6 GT Coupe, Saturn Ion Red Line Coupe, Subaru Impreza WRX
Photos courtesy of Volkswagen