2010 GTI Project – Introduction and Winter Prep

A new GTI is something all of us here at VWvortex look forward to living with. The new Golf VI has already garnered a number of rewards in the press including Automobile’s Car of the Year and Car and Driver’s Top Ten list. We often see the debates in our forums regarding why the GTI receives these accolades and our feeling is that the GTI is great than the sum of its parts. GTI’s have never been the quickest or the most raw edged in terms of handling or performance. However the GTI is a vehicle that does a wide number of things very well – ride, handling, interior appointments, accessibility, utility, solid structure and more all add up to a package that makes it one of the best all-arounders in its class.

A few months in, we’re still quite happy with how we filled out the spec sheet. Metallic black paint, 18-inch wheels, and xenon headlamps were among our exterior options, while inside we just picked a few essentials — standard plaid “Interlagos” cloth, six-speed manual trans, base touch-screen multimedia screen, but with the Dynaudio 300-watt system and a moonroof. We also added rear side airbags for just $350 extra, driving our car’s final price up to $28,115.

So far, the GTI has lived up to expectations, with materials and build quality that rival models wearing a propeller, a star, or a collection of rings on the hood. We’ve covered just about 3000 miles thus far, including a highway trip to Detroit and back. The car’s happy to settle in at 80 mph and road noise at that speed is surprisingly low, thanks in part to some generational changes in the 2.0-liter turbo, new sound insulation, new insulated window glass and more that have reduced NVH levels to almost zero. Our first few tanks of fuel have generally reflected the EPA’s 21/31 rating, as the majority of its miles have been logged on short suburban commutes.

If we really go hunting for complaints about the latest GTI, we’d have to say that it could be a touch quicker, but that is all relative and easily fixed via some aftermarket tweaks. We’ll be able to say that for sure soon, though, because power upgrades are part of the near-term plan for our project car. A Borla cat-back exhaust kit is also waiting to go on the car, but we need to get it to our local dyno shop first to give you all a stock baseline. Stay tuned for that.

Despite a sea of praise that’s been spoken about the 2010 GTI since ours arrived, one component that has drawn criticism is pokey touch-screen radio. The new standard touch-screen multimedia system looks nice and works well overall, but the iPod integration could use some work. The system is slow to process selections, so there’s some delay when trying to select a particular song, or in scrolling down a long list of artists. If iPod integration from other manufacturers had this issue, we wouldn’t be complaining – but they don’t. Still, we’re happy to have such full browsing functionality of our iPod and the system is light-years beyond VW’s last-generation screen that was only offered as part of the navigation package.

Outside of the above minor issue we’ve been very happy so far and remain pleasantly surprised by how nice this Golf VI GTI is to live with everyday. VW managed to take the best parts of the Golf V GTI and tweak things a bit more into a package that feels even better. No small feat given all the awards the last generation GTI won as well.

Snow Prep

One of the many qualities that have always made the VW GTI such a great car is its all-weather capability. Unlike so many other sporty cars that are only really fun when the sun is shining, owners can always count on a fun drive regardless of what the ever-changing environment throws their way. Snow is no exception, of course, especially if you’re prepared for it.

When our black sixth-gen GTI showed up last fall, it rolled in on a set of Continental SportContact 2 high-performance tires. Wrapped around 18-inch alloys, the 225/40-series rubber offers great stick when the roads are warm and dry, but fall short in the traction department once the snowflakes start flying – suicidal was actually the term thrown around here after the first snow. Snow or not, they start to give up once the pavement drops to around 40 degrees or less – particularly when the pavement is wet.

The only real solution to get us through the notoriously cold, snowy and ruthlessly long Midwest winters we bear was to line up a proper set of winter tires. A quick consult with our guys at Tire Rack had us ordering up four new Continental ExtremeWinterContact snow tires on 17-inch Elbrus alloys. The package, along with new TMPS sensors, cost a grand total of $1,188 and should last three or four seasons typically. More importantly, they allow us to actually drive the car through the worst of the winter.

The ExtremeWinterContact tire is one of Continental’s more aggressive snow and ice performance tires. Normally we’d be satisfied just having a winter performance tire, something designed more for the low temperatures and damp conditions than for deep snow and slush, but as luck would have it, this year has been a little more brutal than most in the snowfall department. We’ve already had several significant snowfalls, the last one dumping nearly a foot on our parking lot and local roads before the plows could take care of them.

The Contis deliver decent acceleration and stopping abilities in the fluffy stuff, though the lateral limits seem to be a bit lower; the car will easily understeer through a corner if you get overconfident, though it takes only a lift of the throttle to bring it back in line or coax the tail end to come around (at least until the ESP reigns it back in). Dry road traction in the winter is considerably better than the stock SportContacts, and they ride quietly as well. At $124 apiece new, they’re a pretty good bargain and quite popular too, as evidenced by the fact that Tire Rack sold out of them in this fitment before the season was over.

We’ve always been big believers in the winter tire philosophy, especially on performance-oriented cars like the ones we primarily drive. While you may give up a bit in overall performance in the dry, the advantage when roads are at their worst is undeniable. This year’s weather in particular has confirmed what we’ve known all along: There really is no substitute for traction when it comes to going, stopping or turning.

The other area that needed some help in the slop of winter was the interior. Volkswagen Accessories has a great set of heavy-duty replacement floor mats called “GTI Monster Floor Mat” that looked to be the perfect way to protect the carpets from salt, grime and general crap that gets dragged into the car every day. These heavy-duty rubber mats are fitted to the specific interior of each Volkswagen model and, in the case of the GTI, Volkswagen even carried over the GTI theme with GTI logos and the honeycomb pattern from the front grill molded right into the mats. The rubber material is soft and flexible, so the mats stay down and don’t curl up at the edges. They are also very substantial and look like they will hold up to many, many years of abuse. Since these are OEM pieces from Volkswagen, they of course have the proper retention hooks that allow you use the stock floor mat mounting hooks. Everything lines up perfectly and stays secure.

The mats retail for $99.00 and are worth the extra protection. You can find them HERE on the Drivers Gear website or at your local dealer or OEM parts company.

In future installments we’ll cover a number of performance enhancements including chip tuning, exhaust, suspension, wheels and tires and more. We’re also planning to add the LED tail lamps that are optional in Europe, upgrade our stock radio to the RNS 510 navigation unit and a few other things, so stay tuned, we’re just getting warmed up.

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