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Hot hatch cools off with automatic transmission

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Hot hatch cools off with automatic transmission

The Volkswagen GTI

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POSTED August 30, 2013 10:37 p.m.

The three-door Volkswagen GTI is a riot to drive. But does adding two more doors add mayhem or ho-hum to the melee?

Maybe it’s the manual transmission that is the steel-cut communicator. I felt the groove in a test of the three-door when the current model debuted. I hummed along with VW’s 1984 German-language adaptation of Ronnie & the Daytona’s tune for “Little GTO.” The ad is a YouTube favorite, showing a pair of first-gen GTI’s playfully soaring over a racecourse rise.

It was smirky pleasure in the three-door to rip through the gears and feel the suspension load and unload through weight transitions. That car engraved itself on my favorites list.

And now with a recent test of what VW calls a four-door, which is a five-door hatchback, I’m disappointed. Maybe it’s the weight of two more doors, 126 pounds, or just the six-speed automatic. The car is not particularly heavy, weighing 3,160 pounds at the curb.

The driving experience was routine, yet both models have the same wheelbase and length. The 200-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter has the guts to squirt this five-seater through traffic and the suspension still communicates with flatiron skill.

But the “Little GTI” song is felt only in Sport mode when everything pressurized. In standard driving mode, the experience is as dutiful and efficient as the Golf model from which the GTI originates.

Starting prices range from $25,590, including the $795 freight charge from Wolfsburg, Germany, to almost $33,000 for the GTI Autobahn. Free scheduled maintenance is included for 3-years/36,000-miles. The test car was a step below top of the line at $30,690.

That price seemed plenty for a car that wasn’t twisting a grin on my face every time I hit the gas. But it has good family function and was well equipped. The front seats are well bolstered but not restrictive, but I would have liked morel lower back support. Standard equipment includes a sunroof, navigation system and all the GTI extras, such as an exhaust note sound generator, 18-inch Detroit alloy wheels with all-season tires, lowered sport suspension, red-painted brake calipers, lower sport moldings all around, fog lights, metal-trimmed pedals, a brilliantly potent audio system and heated sport seats with that wacky plaid (Interlagos) fabric midsection.

Not included was keyless locking with push-button ignition or a rearview camera.

There’s more melee to your quiet riot with the manual, but not enough “Gee” to the GTI automatic.

But there could be deals to be made. The re-engineered 2014 Golf and GTI are scheduled to hit the U.S. sometime next year.  The GTI will be the first Golf on sale followed by the standard models.

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