Classic CARmentary: 1999 Volkswagen GTI GLX

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

For everything Volkswagen gets wrong, they deserve credit for keeping the 2-box hatchback GTI relevant in the U.S. nearly 40 years after its introduction for 1983.  Even though the Mark 8 Golf will not be sold in the States, we’ll still get the GTI and the R.  I find it interesting that Ford couldn’t make a business case for the Focus even with the ST and RS versions, but VW can sell the GTI by itself and still make enough of a profit to make it viable.  That’s the very definition of “brand equity”.

If not for the numerous horror stories of I’ve heard and read about long-term quality and VW service departments, I would have seriously considered a Golf or GTI instead of my Sonic.  Actually, I would have preferred a Polo, but we don’t get those here.

The following review was published on June 30, 1999. 

The original GTI was like a puppy: small, light, quick, darting here and there with little composure. Most importantly, it was fun to play with. The new for 1999 GTI is the adult: still has the moves, but it’s bigger, heavier, and far more composed. Like any well-trained purebred, it also fetches a pretty penny on the open market.

Don’t worry, it’s still a lot of fun to play with. You can easily trace it’s roots back to the two-box Rabbit. The biggest visual change from last year is rounder projector-beam style head lights, different tail lights which are mounted lower, bumper-mounted rear license plate, and more glass area. Even though hatchbacks are a fast-fading body style in the sedan-and-SUV-dominated U.S. market, VW doggedly offers the Golf in a full-range of three- and five-door models, from the base GL to this week’s test subject, which is now known simply as “GTI”.

Forget the base GLS with its tepid four-cylinder engine. For serious fun, the now nearly 3,000-pound GTI needs the 174-horsepower, 2.8-liter VR6 (which differs from a V6 in that the angle of the “V” is so narrow it only requires one head for all six cylinders and can fit under the hood of small cars such as the GTI) that comes standard in the GLX. Combined with the mandatory five-speed manual, the GTI rockets to 60 in under seven seconds, and the engine has a growl that’s more satisfying than its four-cylinder BMW 318ti and Acura Integra GS-R competition. High-speed turns elicit a surprising amount of protest from the tires, but don’t be fooled. The GTI still can run with the wolves.

Unlike its bare-bones ancestor, the GLX comes loaded with high-brow accessories like leather interior, one-touch power windows, climate control, trip computer, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Furthermore, all-five passengers have individual head rests. But all of these toys will cost you: $22,675 to be exact. With no options. Notice that the competition now is “Acura” and “BMW,” rather than “Ford” and “Dodge”?

Are Americans ready to consider Volkswagen in this league? I hope so, because losing the GTI would be like putting your favorite dog to sleep.

For more information contact 1-800-444-8987


Type: 2-Door Hatchback
Engine: 174-horsepower, 2.8 liter VR6
Transmission: 5-speed Manual
EPA Mileage: 20 city/28 highway
Tested Price: $22,675