MK VI Gets The Three Big LettersFirst things first-I have to dispel the rumor that the Mk VI GTI is just a nip-tuck face-lifted Mk V. While the engine, drivetrain and a few other components remain the same, everything else has changed. Quick glances around the vehicle interior and exterior reveal subtle changes that are extremely welcomed, but also not radically different. The Mk VI GTI stays true to the lineage.
However, the problem with driving a European-spec GTI is indulging in a laundry list of features and options that the U.S. will not get. The reason has nothing to do with safety or emissions; it's purely monetary. Some get left out for what seems like no good reason, like the adjustable cup holder with a bottle opener and retractable door. Then again, consider that we pay 40 percent less than the rest of the world for the same basic vehicle; if you really want that cup holder you can buy it online for about $70.
Before even getting behind the wheel it's clear the entire vehicle has been upgraded in terms of fit and finish. The interior is nearly perfect-nearly because of the continual use of the tartan "plaid" fabric seats, a cross between a Scotsman's kilt and an executioner's hood. I understand the heritage aspect and this newer version is more tolerable, but I'd pay extra and upgrade to black leather.
The Euro-spec GTI is equipped with a second-generation 2.0 TFSI engine with 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. New to the European market, this is the same power unit that appeared in the U.S.-spec Mk V in mid-2008 with 200 hp. (Where did the 10 hp go? Volkswagen of America rates the EA888 2.0 TSI on 91 octane; if you run 93 octane you'll get about 210 hp.) Both transmission options were at our disposal: six-speed manual and DSG. Being a DSG owner, I had no desire to drive the former. But in order to give a fair assessment, I tried both, and I was surprised how much faster the manual felt compared to the DSG. It was fantastic to have a greater connection with the car-but as soon as I returned home to the daily traffic grind I realized that the manual is a fun mistress, but my marriage to DSG is eternal happiness.
It's easy to see why VW kept the same engine-if it ain't broke, why fix it? But from a performance perspective, like the Mk V, the Mk VI needs about 30 more horsepower and torque, just enough to take it from the high-6-second to a low-6-second zero-to-60 run. Hopefully this will be a starter engine and the 2011 model will come with more power.
When it comes to the suspension, VW did something very despicable, equipping every test vehicle with the dynamic chassis control (DCC). This is by far one the best options offered and it will not be available in the States. The system is amazing; when roads get twisty, a simple push of a button puts the car in Sport mode. In an instant, shock damping is stiffened and the electromechanical steering firmed up. And if it happens that your navigator gets you lost down some wayward dirt road, the ability to instantly switch the system into Comfort makes any off-road excursion bearable.
Attention Volkswagen of America: The DCC system is a perfect match for the U.S. if you consider our varying roads and weather conditions. Not to mention our picky American consumers. The ability to switch between three suspension settings-Comfort, Normal and Sport-would solve complaints with any one of those settings alone.
The new GTI is also equipped with XDS, an electronic transverse differential lock designed to improve traction and handling characteristics by applying brake pressure to any wheel that is losing grip. There are myriad technical aspects to the system, but honestly, under really aggressive driving and light-to-light flogging, I was unable to notice any difference over my Mk V. If you recall the Mk V's ability to tear through a canyon, it's the same here.
Having owned at least one of every GTI iteration, I can truly say the sixth generation GTI is a huge leap forward. One of the most impressive things about the Mk VI is the utter lack of interior cabin noise, making it possible to have a speaking conversion with passengers at freeway speeds. Disregarding the fact that the Mk VI gets the same horsepower as the Mk V, it's still a force to be reckoned with. Add about 30 horsepower and the DCC suspension system as standard, the bar would be raised yet again, and the Mk VI will have truly earned the title of "perfect."