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car review

2011 Volkswagen GTI

Essentially unchanged from 2010 to 2011, this generation of the VW Golf GTI model actually debuted in 2006, and power was ably provided by a turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder that developed 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque.

Transmission choices were either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with a DSG/Tiptronic manual shift mode that had steering-wheel-mounted paddles. You could also choose from a two- or four-door version by this stage of the game. Premium gas was required.

One thing that remained intact was the GTI's exceptional handling and braking, thanks in large measure to a stiffened and upgraded suspension setup and oversized disc brake front and back. Among other things, it featured anti-roll bars on both ends, which really added to its tossability factor, plus a traction control system, anti-locking brakes and a stability control system.

Few of its competitors could keep up when things got interesting and the GTI was more than enough for most drivers. It also had a priceless exhaust note: with every shift of the transmission, the turbocharger wastegate closes briefly and it sounded like a muffled Formula One racer – music to the ears of any self-respecting motorhead.

Both configurations of the GTi came with a full roster of modcons and standard equipment, including heated front seats, one-touch up and down front windows, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius satellite radio, fog lights and dual-zone climate control. Standard equipment also included extremely cool Jackie Stewart-inspired "Jacky" cloth-insert bucket seats. The four-door GTI accommodated five adults, but those in the back were up close and personal, with little in the way of elbow room.

A 60/40-folding back seat revealed 413 litres of cargo space, which was enough to handle modest amounts of cargo. Most GTI buyers weren't particularly concerned about its carrying capacity, anyway. Available extras included leather upholstery, navi system and power sunroof.

One safety recall is on file with Transport Canada, and it concerns the DSG automatic transmission for the 2010 model. It could transmit a faulty high temperature reading and cause the transmission to shift abruptly into neutral. A possibly incorrectly crimped wire is the culprit.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, has 15 technical service bulletins out there. These include possible issues with the DSG, problems with the steering rack, rough-running engines, the airbag warning light coming on at random, and a possibly slipping timing chain. Some complaints from owners: "false neutral with the DSG transmission," "condensation covered all of the windows, preventing [him] from seeing the roadway" and "from second day of ownership, car has had DSG transmission problems." This last complaint is by far the most common malfunction registered with NHTSA.

Consumer Reports is a fan, but has reservations. Noting that the GTI "excels at combining everyday practicality with being fun-to-drive," it nonetheless gives it a "worse than average" used car prediction. Areas of concern include the fuel system, squeaks and rattles and the audio system. The '11 edition fares better than the '10 despite being virtually the same car. Some comments from owners: "the sport seats are VERY comfortable," "a few more storage spaces would be nice" and "a marvel of engineering."

Market research firm J.D. Power has mixed feelings about this one. It loves the GTI's performance, giving the 2011 edition top marks for overall performance and design, but is less than enthusiastic about its overall quality and predicted reliability. It gets a fail in this last category. What owners say: "the engine is an absolute gem," "touch-screen audio system is fantastic" and "just doesn't look sporty."

From a base price of less than $29,000 in 2011, the GTI has held up well. You'll be lucky to find one for less than $20,000. Depending upon the trim level, the four-door model is valued at $500-$1,000 more than the two-door.

Tech specs

2011 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Original Base Price: $28,875; Black Book: $24,625-$25,100; Red Book: $20,275-$20,425

Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 200 hp/207 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual and six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual shift

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 city/6.3 highway (manual); premium gas

Alternatives: Acura RSX, Audi A3, Mini John Cooper Special, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Scion xD, Mazda MX5