A few years before TDI-gate broke, Volkswagen did something that seemed to me to be quite strange. The MQB-based Jetta had launched in 2011 and carried over the then-popular turbodiesel. With a boatload of torque, the TDI was reasonably sporty to drive, returned around 40 mpg on the highway, would clip to 60 in about 8 seconds, and had a base price of about $24,000 in 2013. But the same year, Volkswagen introduced a new hybrid version of the Jetta. This had a turbocharged and intercooled 1.4-liter inline-four mated with an electric motor and a 1.1-kWh battery for a combined output of 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. While the TDI could be had in six-speed manual form, the hybrid only came in DSG 7-speed guise, and it was rated* at 48 mpg on the highway, would do 0-60 in 7.9 seconds, and had a base price $2k higher than the TDI.
So at first glance, the hybrid seemed to offer a reasonable return on investment; for only a small up front price, you got 20% better mileage right? Not so fast. In the real world, the TDI would return better mileage than the numbers suggested, while the hybrid returned worse….a lot worse. Real world testing suggested that on the highway, the more slippery Jetta only got about 38 mpg. Considering the technology thrown at it, that was pretty horrible. After all, my twin-turbocharged inline-six 135i, which was not designed with fuel economy in mind at all, will return over 30 mpg on the highway at 70 plus mph. On top of that, the hybrid didn’t sound as sexy as the TDI did (strangely) to a lot of people, and, in hindsight and considering the buy-back credits, the TDI was a much better purchase. How about today?
Back in 2007, Volkswagen launched two special editions with the same name but different specification; the Fahrenheit Editions of the GTI and GLI. Effectively these were limited-edition appearance packages; 1200 each of the GTI finished in Magma Orange and the GLI finished in Imola Yellow. Both got 18″ Charleston wheels, a numbered steering wheel with contrasting stitching, upgraded audio, the Premium Package, dual-zone climate control, a sunroof, and leather interior with heated front seats – otherwise, these were stock 2.0Ts with your choice of the DSG gearbox or the six-speed manual. They weren’t exactly cheap when new – you’d have to plunk down nearly $30,000 to get into one, at which point you were about $3,000 shy of a BMW 328i. Still, with only 2,400 imported, they’re somewhat rare to see, and this one has been owned by the seller since it was just 10,000 miles old. The thing is, that doesn’t mean it’s a keeper.
The 5th edition of the Golf brought a new level of refinement and better build quality over the Mk.4, but performance was relatively unchanged due relatively unchanged power and weight. One thing that did change was that the U.S. bound R32s only came with the DSG automatic gearbox. In a straight drag race and around a track, the DSG was quicker, but is more expensive to run and lost some of the feel of the manual “chuck-ability” of the Mk.4. The real shame with the Mk 5. is that there was a 5-door version and manual option in Europe but VAG opted to not import them. It’s too bad because they might have been a clear challenger to not only hatches but the WRX/Evo crowd. However, one thing is for sure – they’re now cheaper than equivalent 4th generation cars. Today’s 2008 model is represented in Deep Blue Pearl, the signature color for the R32:
Okay, so although the New Beetle definitely isn’t the most exciting car we’ve written up on these pages, there were some bright points. Since the architecture was essentially just a Golf underneath, you had some pretty fun performance options, like the Turbo S:
2002 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo S
Then, of course, to kick it up a few notches there was the Volkswagen Motorsport Beetle RSi – a 3.2-liter powered, all-wheel drive monster. It was basically an R32, but it was somehow way, way better – but only 250 were made, and we’re unfortunately not here to look at one. There were plenty of other special editions of the New Beetle produced, but this isn’t one of them, either. No, this is a fairly basic 2000 GLS – replete with a 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 115 horsepower and a 4-speed auto. So why are we here? Well, it’s 2021, and things are about to get interesting!
A few weeks ago I took a look at a low-profile GTI; it looked pretty nice, mostly original, and wasn’t too unreasonably priced overall. It’s no surprise, then, that it didn’t last that long:
1983 Volkswagen GTI
Today’s car is also a 1983 GTI, but it’s there that the similarities end. This one was worked over by Mike and Ant of Wheeler Dealers. It’s less original, but also catches attention with its clean presentation. Is it the right price to make it a deal, though?
I’ll start out by saying that the Brasilia is not the most beautiful Volkswagen product. It is not the most beautiful air-cooled product, either. In fact, we can go a few steps further and argue that it’s not even the most beautiful product from Volkswagen do Brazil, but a factor of at least two – since the SP2 and Karmann Ghia TC have that market pretty firmly cornered. But all three of these Brazilian creations share one thing in common, besides being air-cooled and produced in South America – they’re über rare in the states. Today a clean Brasilia has popped up on eBay in Florida, and it was worth a look:
While the US-market GTI was somewhat watered-down and had chunkier styling than the truly Spartan European 1976 design, it was still a revelation in performance and universally heralded as the benchmark by which all other sporty economy cars would be based moving forward. At a time when there were few do-it-all type cars, the GTI managed to be nearly all things to all people; it got good fuel economy thanks to a relatively miserly 1.8 liter inline-4 with efficient fuel injection. It looked neat, thanks to 14″ alloy wheels, wide fender flared and blacked-out detail work with red accent stripes. It was functional and flexible, with fold-down seats and a (for its size) spacious hatch area to transport goods. It was usable year-round, with front-wheel drive allowing for decent snow traction. And the sport suspension, heavily bolstered seats and close-ratio transmission made the whole package an athletic alternative to the norm, allowing practical-minded men and women to fling their family car through corners with aplomb. Near universal was its appeal, and infectious were the ad campaigns, which in the Volkswagen tradition used short phrases to capture attention like “They’re going fast” and “Serious Fun” – even the oft-used “It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
So what do Germans do for fun? They love to drive. Preferably in a Volkswagen GTI. Because the GTI is designed to be fun. Not fun in the sense of a dashboard cluttered with all sorts of doodads. But fun in the sense of a precision machine that respects and answers its driver’s every wish.
Hyperbole? Certain, this is advertising after all. But it pointed towards the beautiful simplicity of the design, the functionality of the package, the elegance of the execution. The GTI didn’t pretend to be a Corvette like the Opel GT, or a luxury car like the Passat. It wasn’t competing with Mercedes-Benz, or even really Porsche, on any level. And that allowed the characteristically unfun Germans to let their hair down and have a bit of a ball:
Ah, European specification. As Andrew recently mentioned in his bare-bones SL280, it’s not everyday that we see a European-specification model that arrives on these shores, but it is unusual when it’s a base model. Case in point; today’s Golf CL. Outside of a sunroof, it’s about as basic a Golf as you could get. Yet it’s this basic nature, coupled with its ultra-low mileage, great condition, and nice color combination that makes it appealing today:
While not the fastest or the prettiest car Volkswagen ever made, the GTI represents the ethos of VW’s 1980s philosophy of cheap, fun-to-drive, and eminently practical cars for consumers. As they did when new, the first generation GTI also represented a car which gave much faster cars a run for their money. True, the 90 horsepower under the hood won’t scare a supercar. But what this car lacks in straight-line performance it more than makes up for in value.
You see, over the past few years we’ve watched the fan-favorites and driver’s cars from the 1980s increasingly price themselves out of the range of most enthusiasts. The esoterics are also forged in unobtanium today, and while there was a period where you could snap up cheap 80s products in Europe and import them, they’re going away, too. Sure, the M3 and 911 led the charge, but today a clean 190E 2.3-16 or Quattro will set you back some serious bucks. And then when you do get one, you need to worry about collector insurance, expensive and hard-to-source parts, and whether you bought in a bubble.
The solution is still the giant-killer GTI. Find a clean one, and you’ll have a car that can be driven at 10/10ths still today and generate plenty of smiles, yet is relatively cheap to buy and very cheap to run. You’ll get thumbs up just like the 911 driver will. Maybe even more, honestly, because when was the last time you saw an A1 cruising around?
While the step up to the Mk.3 added a fair amount of size – and accompanying weight – to the Volkswagen Golf, the GTI emerged with the much more potent VR6 engine borrowed from the Passat and Corrado. While admittedly the power and the exhaust note was very appealing, and in hindsight the third generation Golf looks positively tiny compared to cars today, I have always lamented the loss of the what I consider the best GTI – the 1990-1992 16V model.
But, what if that model had continued? Well, it did – just not in the U.S.. What we have here is a 1994 GTI 16V from Europe. Replete with Recaro interior, blacked-out rub strips and fender flares, beefy wheels, and dual-chamber headlights with foglights. But the best part is under the hood, where the 9A lived on as the ABF. With Digifant engine management power was up to 148 at 6,000 RPMs, while torque remained at 133 lb.ft but again higher in the range. One of these gems has turned up for sale on Ebay: