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First Drive: 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec

MALLORCA, Spain — Class-defining and at the same time class-less since its debut in 1974, the Volkswagen Golf has become a cornerstone model of the Volkswagen brand. The same can be said in many ways of its sporty variant, the GTI. The very first Golf GTi was in essence a grown up Mini Cooper made in Germany. Its 110-hp engine had an easy time motivating the roughly 1,700-lb crackerjack that made history for its amazing handling, roadholding, and performance.

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI has more than double the power of that first model. It’s also a lot heavier, with a roughly 70 percent weight gain to slightly more than 3,000 lbs. One thing that hasn’t changed much though: The GTI still remains a blast to drive.

True to the maxim “never mess with a winning team,” exterior design changes to the European spec 2018 Golf GTI we recently took out for a drive are purely cosmetic. While the sheetmetal remains untouched, its bumpers, lights, and grille get fresh make-up. It also features extra trim, and four little red winglets underlining the headlights. The daytime running lights and the taillights use LED technology

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front view in motion 01 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front view in motion 01

Its turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 picks up an extra seven horsepower in European specification, while GTI Performance Package gets a 14-hp boost in its newest guise. Despite the updates, the asking price remains virtually unchanged.

Our red test car is a four-door manual with 19-inch wheels, adaptive dampers, intelligent lighting, the all-in infotainment pack, and just about every available driver assistance system. The cloth seats look and feel good, the cockpit is still more steering-wheel than games console, and the ergonomics are more intuitive than confusing. Pressing the starter button activates two sound sources. Initially it’s even battle between Dynaudio stereo system and the EA211 engine, but after a fingertip correction, the powerplant beats the amplifier.

The GTI’s drive mode selector invites you to tweak engine and transmission response, damper setting, and steering behavior, but it won’t let you turn up the exhaust volume. For a loop on Spanish gatorback C-roads, we lock the shock absorbers in comfort and leave the other elements in sport. Although there is an ESP button, you can only deactivate traction control. So, take-off wheelspin, yes; lift-off oversteer, no.

Like its predecessor, the 2018 GTI is not an aggressive street racer but a relaxed gran turismo with long legs and plenty of low-end grunt. Its livery is tastefully tailored, its stance is understated yet confident, and its voice is half Peter Fonda, half Sean Connery. The seventh-edition best-seller is built like a vault — think Golf with Phaeton genes, not vice versa. The cockpit oozes quality: soft-touch surfaces, metal accents actually made of metal, solid controls, sturdy fabrics, high-definition displays, and more than a dozen modern conveniences including gesture control and active info display are available.

Want to hitch a ride? At the word go, we’re off. Even at 4,000 rpm, the acoustics are still reminiscent of a padded cocoon — no suspension rumble, front axle quiver, tire roar, or driveline indispositions. The only music playing in your headphones are the dense and delicately staggered tonalities of VW’s finest gasoline engine.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter in motion 02 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter in motion 02

Equipped with a sports suspension and so-called progressive power steering, the new GTI comes well prepared for the narrow twisties that carve in serpentines and terraces up and down the steep mountain flanks. You never need sixth gear on this roller-coaster terrain, but first is a must around the hairpin turns that climb like spiral straircases through the rock formations. With the exception of short straights and occasional switchbacks, this is mainly second- and third-gear stuff. Good to know then that this Golf picks up the torque thread at a low 1,500 rpm, spanning its lofty 258 lb-ft peak from there all the way to 4,600 rpm. It does not come as a surprise that the six-speed manual changes ratios almost as rapidly as the optional DSG transmission. It’s a quick and slick gearbox, precise and well staggered, complemented by a light and progressive clutch. Although redline is 6,500 rpm, there is no real need to push the single-turbo 16-valver beyond its wide sweet spot.

Waltzing one-two-three, one-two-three with the GTI along the southern edge of the Balearic Islands is a pleasantly controlled, unexcited, reduced experience. This car frowns at and refrains from grand gestures, so turn in with restraint while staying in the taller gear then open up the steering early and feed the torque diligently. The reward is a captivating blend of cornering grip and exit speed, a high level of composure, immaculate body control, not much understeer, and plenty of feedback. You always know exactly where you are with this Golf, be it one tenth under or over the limit. A scalpel rather than a butter knife, it carves a fine line without leaving deep grooves on the blacktop. Physically pulling itself together the instant fast forward switches to fast rewind, the GTI shines through the ubiquitous second-gear twisties.

Overdriving the hatch upsets the handling balance by inducing excess understeer and destructive ASR/ESP interference. It’s much better to keep this car on a long leash, give torque preference over power, time driver inputs defensively, maintain a steady flow. After all, this is no longer your father’s GTI — or the GTI I still remember vividly from the original press launch. The Golf has grown up, put on weight and learned new tricks — but is still delightful to drive.

Of course, we expect a sharper Golf R and European-only track-bred Clubsport to follow. In a way, the GTI feels more like a detuned Golf R without all-wheel drive, like the cruiser version of the line-topping bruiser. But don’t forget that Mallorca and its winding by-ways are only one side of the coin. Picture this car on fast country roads or on the autobahn and it will no doubt collect more brownie points. After all, no contender can match the epic Golf for its sweet ride-and-handling mix and the rare combination of laid-back competence and absolute commitment.

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Specifications

ON SALE Summer 2017 (est)
PRICE $33,000 (est)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged 16-valve DOHC I-4
217 hp @ 4,700-6,200 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual, 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2- or 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L X W X H 167.6-171.3 x 70.5-70.8 x 56.8 in
WHEELBASE 103.4 in
WEIGHT 3,007-3,056 lb
0-60 MPH 6.4 sec
TOP SPEED 155 mph

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec top view in motion
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2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec side profile in motion 03
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec side profile in motion 02
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec seats 01
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec shifter 01
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec seats 03
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec shifter 02
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec side profile in motion 01
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter
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2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter in motion 05
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec seats 02
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter in motion 06
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec interior overview
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2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter in motion 01
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2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter 05
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter 04
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter 03
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2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec rear three quarter 01
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec headlamp
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2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front view in motion 04
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front view in motion 03
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front view in motion 02
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter in motion 16
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2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter in motion 06
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter in motion 05
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter in motion 04
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter in motion 03
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter in motion 02
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter in motion 01
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter 10
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter 09
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter 08
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter 07
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter 06
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec front three quarter 05

The post First Drive: 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI European Spec appeared first on Automobile Magazine.

Collectible Classic: 1956-1962 BMW Isetta 300

If you’re the self-conscious type, a BMW Isetta 300 might not be the best personal transportation choice because it is, in essence, a motorized fishbowl. The fact that you enter through the front, not to mention how the steering wheel articulates out with the car’s only door, is something of a sideshow unto itself. Motoring in an Isetta is, of course, the main event, and it’s lots of fun. Driving an egg-shaped car, for better or worse, certainly attracts attention, as we found on the sunny streets of Palm Springs, California. Even the mayor greeted us!

Fortunately for BMW, its management in the early 1950s couldn’t afford the luxury of self-consciousness. The company was floundering, its product line consisting mostly of warmed-over prewar relics that were far from competitive at a time when Germany struggled with economic adversity. BMW took the bold step of licensing the right to build a car not of its own conception—and a very silly looking car at that. It was a product of Renzo Rivolta’s Milan-based Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A, a former refrigerator maker that had branched into scooters, motorcycles, and light delivery vehicles. It was tiny, so the diminutive of Iso, Isetta, seemed an appropriate name. And doesn’t that front door have something in common with a refrigerator? Just thinking out loud here.

1957 BMW Isetta 300 side profile in motion 1 1957 BMW Isetta 300 side profile in motion 1
The Isetta is a great place to experience the phenomenon of scale speed. It doesn’t go all that fast, but it feels like you’re breaking the sound barrier at 30 mph.

BMW improved Iso’s original in many ways, not the least of which was the installation of a tried and true motorcycle engine. Its efforts yielded a hit, with production running for eight model years, and there was even a successor. The single-cylinder 300 evolved into the twin-cylinder Isetta 600, and that served as the underpinning of the BMW 700, formatted more like a normal car. Soon came the 1600/2002 series of BMW compact cars linking us to the present, when the acquisition of Rolls-Royce was the equivalent of rounding up an accounting error. Speaking of the British, bubble cars of Isetta’s ilk found favor in the U.K. at the time, prompting the development of the original Mini as a domestic response to the latest German invasion. Mini is now a BMW division, so the company has its own Isetta to thank for that circular circumstance.

We recently encountered this delightful 1957 Isetta 300, finished in Tuerkisweiss (turquoise) and Weissblau (white/blue), owned by Wick and Allison Zimmerman for the past six years. When they bought the car it was far from cute: just a paintless body shell and most of the parts in plastic bins and Ziploc bags. “We were told it was 98 percent complete,” Wick says, “but we were dubious.” There was really no way to tell what was missing until they tried to put their automotive Humpty Dumpty back together. “We had no idea what we were doing,” Allison remembers. “And we found out that a lot of people get Isettas and start restoring them but ultimately give up. The body had been stripped, but it didn’t look like much else had been done.”

Allison recalls the circumstances of the car’s purchase on eBay. “Beverages were involved. And we never saw the car in person, so it was something of a blind date.” Drunk blind date? What could possibly go wrong? Ultimately, they farmed out the restoration and found another Isetta, a rusty barn find but intact, and snapped it up to serve as a template for the restoration of the one seen on these pages. Beverages were involved in that impulse buy as well.

1957 BMW Isetta 300 rear three quarter in motion 1957 BMW Isetta 300 rear three quarter in motion

The car is absolutely lovely, crafted beautifully, and it’s very much a jewel. The fit and finish are top flight. It doesn’t scream cheap car, and it’s not; Isetta prices, especially for restored ones, are on the uptick these days. Virtually every detail has been researched to a fare-thee-well, and Allison is justifiably proud of the perfect paint job. The colors were specially mixed to replicate the originals.

Driving an Isetta is a singular experience, once you get the hang of the upside-down shift pattern — first gear is to the right and down — and shifting with the left hand. You don’t so much enter the car as put it on like a shiny two-tone jump suit. Close the door, and the proportionally large steering wheel presents itself to you. The driving position is a bit Ralph Kramden-esque. The comfy front bench seat offers unparalleled visibility, both for the occupants looking out and for the world looking in. Invariably, the faces from that world are smiling because the sight of an Isetta is a guaranteed joy bringer. Wiggle into one of these and tear up your Zoloft prescription.

1957 BMW Isetta 300 interior
1957 BMW Isetta 300 speed gauge
1957 BMW Isetta 300 shifter
1957 BMW Isetta 300 steering wheel

Instrumentation is minimal, and there’s no gas gauge, but there is a lever to open a reserve tank should you run out of fuel. That would be a rare occurrence as a full, 3.4-gallon tank will get you almost 200 miles, and trust us, you’re not going to want to go that far in a love seat on wheels, charming though it is.

Because the Isetta is so light, the little motor doesn’t strain much to propel it to adequate speed, but you do feel a bit intimidated sharing the road with larger vehicles — make that any vehicle. Wick says he’s gotten this one up to 45 mph and calls the experience frightening, which might well be an understatement. Truth be told, it feels not unlike an original Volkswagen Beetle but sounds, perhaps, a tad more like a lawn mower. The car corners fairly well at moderate speeds. You have the most fun making U-turns; it just begs to be driven in circles. There’s not a whole lot of suspension travel. Where could it go? This means that enhanced road feel is part of the Isetta package.

Although it’s actually competent from a 1950s microcar perspective, the Isetta simply can’t be taken seriously, and that sense of mirth is what makes it so appealing. As Wick puts it, “There are a lot of cool cars out there but not that many with hinged front doors.”

The Specs

Engine 0.3L single cylinder/13 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 14 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission 4-speed manual
Drive Rear-wheel
Front Suspension Swing arm
Rear Suspension Leaf springs
Brakes F/R Drums
Weight 780 lb

The Info

Years Produced 1956-1962
Number Sold 161,728
Original Price  $1,050
Value Today $25,700*

*Hagerty insurance average value (www.hagerty.com)

1957 BMW Isetta 300 front three quarter 01 1957 BMW Isetta 300 front three quarter 01

Why Buy

There’s no rational reason to buy an Isetta. But if you’re interested in having fun and seeing others smile, laugh, or guffaw often with but sometimes at you, this might be your car. An Isetta attracts more attention than a Lamborghini, and you’ll meet a lot of nice people who will take photos. So you’ll have no anonymity, but who does these days? Although most will have no idea what it is — “Huh? This thing a BMW?” — some might remember Steve Urkel drove one in the 1990s TV series “Family Matters.” If you’re comfortable being associated with the top nerd of all time, the Isetta is a great choice. It’s like a Smart Fortwo but smarter and smaller in every dimension. It appreciates in value as the seconds tick by, and you can actually use it to go places if you’re brave and outgoing.

1957 BMW Isetta 300 front three quarter 03
1957 BMW Isetta 300 front view in motion 02
1957 BMW Isetta 300 front view
1957 BMW Isetta 300 front three quarter in motion 02
1957 BMW Isetta 300 front three quarter with door open
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1957 BMW Isetta 300 door
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1957 BMW Isetta 300 rear end detail
1957 BMW Isetta 300 badge
1957 BMW Isetta 300 interior overview
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1957 BMW Isetta 300 side profile 01
1957 BMW Isetta 300 headlamp
1957 BMW Isetta 300 front view in motion 01
1957 BMW Isetta 300 wheel 01
1957 BMW Isetta 300 manufacturer badge
1957 BMW Isetta 300 rear three quarter in motion 1
1957 BMW Isetta 300 wheel 02
1957 BMW Isetta 300 side profile 02
1957 BMW Isetta 300 side profile detail
1957 BMW Isetta 300 side profile in motion 02
1957 BMW Isetta 300 side detail

The post Collectible Classic: 1956-1962 BMW Isetta 300 appeared first on Automobile Magazine.

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