VW embraces crossovers; GTI still the driver

The VW Golf GTI is one of most popular of small hatchbacks. (Bud Wells photo)

Volkswagen over the past year has launched three new products, widening its stable of all-wheel-drive crossovers and wagons.

The new Atlas is a three-row competitor, the largest crossover ever introduced by VW; the ruggedly trimmed Alltrack wagon is aimed at stealing some sales from the Subaru Outback, and the enlarged Tiguan is finding favor with shoppers of compact crossovers.

Still, when Volkswagen is mentioned, many car enthusiasts young and old fondly turn their minds to the little Golf, and, in particular, to the Golf GTI.

The low-slung, hot-hatch GTI came my way recently, timed perfectly for the dry roads in between snowstorms. Horsepower has been boosted to 220 for its turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission. It’s a quick-shifting tranny, and in Sport mode with use of paddleshifters, a driver won’t miss the 6-speed manual.

Find a winding road with some short twists, replace normal braking with manual-mode shifting, and the five-door hatchback will steal the show from highly regarded competitors Civic, Mazda3 or Elantra. Midrange torque response is impressive for the short-wheelbase Golf (103.6 inches), which exhibits minimal body roll.

Whatever drive mode is selected (Normal, Eco or Sport), when the car is restarted after a shutdown, it retains the mode set. The 3,000-pound VW rides on Cinturato 225/40R18 tires.

It averaged a respectable 30.2 miles per gallon of premium fuel; its EPA estimate is 24/32.

Inside, the backup camera provides one of the most clear views of any I’ve tested. The black leather interior is nicely stitched in red, a color theme that is emphasized on the exterior, with a red bar across the front of the hood and red brake calipers.

The SE model I drove was priced at $31,165, with the leather as the only option. Among standard equipment are the DSG  transmission, side-seat-mounted and side-curtain airbags, cruise control, automatic emergency braking, premium audio, moonroof and dual-zone automatic climate control.