My GTI Makes it to Vegas and Back (Remarkably) Unscathed
Today, while driving from the Las Vegas Strip to the suburbs of Los Angeles that I call home, I was reminded of an article that was to be the first story published on Downshift Autos back when the site existed only on Tumblr. I mothballed the story about my Volkswagen GTI and decided to publish it another time. It seems the time is now. My friend who initially inspired the story was with me again this trip, although the circumstances recounted in the first paragraph thankfully were not repeated:
There comes a point in every car owner’s life when he or she realizes exactly how much their car means to them. For me, this moment of clarity came while navigating the traffic-soaked side streets of the Las Vegas Strip, when my extremely hung over friend in the back seat kindly implored me to pull over to the side of the road as quickly as possible. It’s not the sort of phrase you want to hear in a three month-old Volkswagen GTI with the legendary plaid cloth seats. You begin to wonder if you can properly balance the 200hp, 2.0 liter turbo with a left hand turn to get to the abandoned parking lot quickly but smoothly, as to not disturb the increasingly restless passenger in the back. Of course, your mind doesn’t exactly render this thought process logically; it usually begins with a one-sided pleading/bargaining arrangement with the deity of your choice, and ends with you either making it or…not. In my case, we made it with seconds to spare, and, being a man of my word, I now must wash my car every four days. Even in the rain, I suppose. My one-sided bargain never covered weather-related exceptions. Damn.
The drive from Los Angeles to Vegas was far less climactic and stressful. The Mk VI GTI, on sale since 2010, uses the same engine as its predecessor, along with a great deal of the VW and Audi autos available today. My car, fitted with the optional six-speed DSG twin-clutch transmission, performs like a pro in the El Cajon mountain pass, with an impeccable shift logic that gives you exactly the power you want when you need it. With 200hp on tap and 207 lb/ft ripping through the front tires on the higher end of the tach, overtaking the car in front of you is nothing more than a quick lane change, planting the floor-mounted acceleration pedal to the floor, and counting to three. A Smart Fortwo this is not.
So we have plenty of power to make it from sea level through Mountain Pass, CA (at 4,730 feet, the most highly elevated point of our trip) without the oil temperature gauge even budging from its dead center position. So how much gas are we going to have to burn to get there? A bit more than half a tank, unless my consumption gauge is broken. Comparatively, my old turn-of-the-century V8 Mustang would have been running on fumes right around Primm. So score one on the economy front; EPA estimates peg the GTI at 32mpg on the highway, one less if equipped with the manual. The constant elevation changes on our trip show that the EPA doesn’t test on mountain passes, but 29-30mpg is still pretty good.
The little 4-door hatch performs amicably in the twisty mountain passes as well. A little too well, to be honest, as the fitted Pirelli P Zero Nero tires are stellar at taking corners but transmit too much noise and harshness at freeway speeds to be entirely comfortable. The same goes for any streets with an abundance of broken pavement or manholes (read: practically the entirety of Los Angeles). You’ll also want to be extra careful with the DSG in areas of heavy traffic or extra long red lights. Volkswagen recommends drivers shift into Neutral when paused for too long, as to not overheat the clutch and transmission fluid. If you want a less fussy transmission, go buy a Jetta.
Aside from the tire quirks, the GTI is a great little car for long trips. The bucket seats are a nice middle ground between sporty and comfortable; ingress and egress are easy compared to other autos in this segment, although I wouldn’t recommend anybody over the age of 50 or with back problems to sit in the front. Best to hope they are less than six feet tall and keep them confined to the rear 60-40 folding bench. The dash has plenty of soft touch plastic and carbon fiber-esque inserts; you can really tell that the extra $10k over the standard Golf has gone to more than just engine upgrades. The touch screen radio in my car (a standard radio is offered on lesser trim levels and navigation is available at the top) is good but slightly sluggish, at least compared to the responsiveness I’m used to from my iPhone. There are some goblins in that radio as well; when using the optional iPod connector, albums automatically repeat no matter what the settings are on either radio or iPod. There were also numerous times when connecting an iPod didn’t actually pull up the music library, and multiple attempts to connect are required. Hopefully a software update is available that will solve the bugs floating around in the system. While VW build quality and reliability have improved over the last few years, there are still quite a few trim pieces that will creak and groan during cornering or hitting bumps in the road.
Don’t let those last few points discourage you; all of the pluses definitely outweigh the minuses when it comes to the GTI. From the responsive engine and transmission combo to its excellent handling in almost every real-world driving scenario and its ability to entertain driver and passengers on road trips, the GTI is a complete package. I can’t wait to see the next iteration of the GTI, on sale sometime after the Mk VII Golf is released this year.