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The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a legend. It’s the car that created the “hot hatch” category back in the 1980s. But its triple-threat — small, fast, and surprisingly versatile — has been supplanted in the US over the past 10 years by consumer preference for larger vehicles. SUVs and pickups sell. Compact hatches don’t.
So my recent test of the 2020 GTI forced me to grapple with how a great car can fall out of favor, even when it’s as good as it’s ever been.
Basically, the Volkswagen Golf is everything the American auto market doesn’t want right now: a modest car with room for … let’s call it four, uncomfortably, less-than-awesome cargo capacity, and a relatively teensy engine. But when the Golf arrived, it was a revelation.
Introduced in 1974, it succeeded the Beetle as the VW people’s car, and for Americans already educated in the virtues of German engineering, an object of desire. Easy on gas, fairly reliable, fun to drive — who needed a V8 and eight mpg?
By 1983, when I got my license, the performance-happy, GTI version of the Golf had arrived in the US, after captivating the European enthusiast crowd for about a decade. I wanted one. My friends wanted one. By the early days of the Reagan administration, it was possible to be a complete snob about VW’s hot hatch. Why pay more for performance? The GTI offered all the punch required, and the popularity of what was then called the Rabbit — later rechristened the Golf, to match the Euro designation — had established the boxy liftback as a player.
Outgrowing the GTI, but coming back
I never owned a GTI, but I got my share of rides. Then the mood changed. Hatches gave way to wagons and then to SUVs. The 2020 equivalent of the Golf for most customers is the VW Tiguan crossover. The Golf, in assorted variants, has sold capably in the US for the past ten years, at times breaching 60,000 annual units, but lately falling below 40,000.
Then VW loaned me a GTI “Autobahn,” at $38,215 the top trim of the aging icon. (The base GTI S is about $30,000.)
The GTI is a light, lively, even jittery thing, throwing power to the front wheels in quick, turbocharged surges and often advertising its sporty insubstantial-ness.
But after a day or two, the inverted learning curve kicked in, and I remember why the GTI has been beloved: because it’s a light, lively, even jittery thing, throwing power to the front wheels in quick, turbocharged surges and often advertising its sporty insubstantial-ness.
Once we were reacquainted, the Grand Tourer Injection (back in the day, fuel injection was a so tremendous an innovation that automakers touted it in their cars’ monikers) and I settled into a familiar pattern: I hunted down corners, and the GTI made them a reason for being.
Minus the front-wheel-drive, this is what driving a sports car is supposed to feel like. I mean, I like the new Porsche 911 4S about as much as …read more
Source:: Business Insider