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SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide

1996 VW GTI

by Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 16,000
     Price As Tested                                    $ 16,575
     Engine Type                             2.0 Liter I4 w/EFI*
     Engine Size                                 121 cid/1984 cc
     Horsepower                                   115 @ 5400 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               122 @ 3200 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   97.4"/66.7"/160.4"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2557 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  14.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                    P195/60HR14
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/disc-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Five-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                 15 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            23/30/28          
     0-60 MPH                                        9.2 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17.9 seconds @ 74 mph


     * Electronic fuel injection

(When the original Volkswagen Rabbit GTI hit the American auto scene in '83, it was a one-of-a-kind, mini-muscle car in the econocar field. Back then it was described by Bob Hagin as "...a Rabbit with an attitude - an economy sedan with sports-tuned suspension, a pumped-up engine and blacked-out trim." Matt and Bob Hagin try out the '96 version and find it nearly as beguiling and appealing as its ancestor.)

BOB - I was happy to see Volkswagen rechristen last year's Sport as the GTI this year. With the venerable 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine, it's the same configuration as the original Rabbit GTI that I tested in '82. Back then, it was the first of its kind. That little two-door hatchback defined the term "Pocket Rocket" and over the years, the GTI has developed an almost cult following akin to the mystique that went with the original VW Beetle.

MATT - The current Volkswagens still have a certain appeal to a special segment of the over-25 group, Dad. They're out of college, into the business world and don't have to make the selection of a car based on how many sacks of groceries it will carry or if a portable crib will fit in the back. All European cars are "in" and the VW is especially attractive since the monthly payments are low enough to still leave money for rent and eating. They're the least expensive of all the European cars that are sold here.

BOB - I know that the power-seekers are going to go for the GTI VR6 since it has over 50 more horses than the four-cylinder version, but it comes with a significantly higher price tag. And to most drivers, every stop light isn't an invitation to a drag race. But the accouterments are the same on both of them and I like the typically Teutonic front bucket seats of this VW. The whole car has a sense of firmness to it but I think that VW would do well to tighten up the suspension a bit. It would bring back that "hot-rod hatchback" feeling that made the original GTI so invigorating 13 years ago.

MATT - I'm especially thankful for one small item, Dad. Volkswagen has reinstalled a glovebox in the GTI and like a lot of other small amenities in life, you don't realize how handy it is until it's not there. The two-door hatchback can also be had as the standard Golf version but the GTI comes with such "goodies" as alloy wheels, more aggressive tires, rear disc brakes and an 18 millimeter sway bar attached to the rear suspension to make it handle better. The alternator is also a bit more powerful, but the most prominent difference between the two are the GTI badges in the nose and the rear deck.

BOB - Even though both of the Golf GTI's are touted as sports coupes, they're really more on the order of sporty two-door station wagons. There's enough room in the back for that portable play pen you mentioned earlier when the rear seat is folded flat, and passengers in the back won't get claustrophobia if they have to go farther than around the block. I'm not sold on the daytime running lights - I think that it's more on the order of a sales gimmick than a safety necessity.

MATT - Well, Dad, the company's research contends that having the headlights on during daylight hours makes other drivers more aware that there's another vehicle on the road, but I guess that only time will tell. The fuel mileage is pretty good, too. The EPA gives 23 MPG around town and 30 on the highway. I never got any better than 20 in the city but then I didn't squirt through traffic with optimum gas mileage in mind. At that, the mileage is about five miles per gallon better than the V6 version. Over the course of a year, that's a savings of almost $200 in favor of the four-banger. That money would put a pretty good dent in one month's payment on the car.

BOB - When the GTI was introduced in '83, it only came in three colors; black red and white. I thought that was a classy idea and I wish that the company would make those the only available colors again.

MATT - Dad, if Volkswagen didn't offer a full range of metallic colors, it would cut itself out of half of those Generation X buyers who buy as much for flair as for substance.

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