2002 Volkswagen GTI Reviews and Ratings

Hatchback 2D GTI VR6

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2002 Volkswagen GTI
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

The Volkswagen Golf offers a sporty driving experience. It's quick and agile. It's one of the most refined compacts available, exuding fine German engineering. In its GTI form, it's a true driver's car born of the German autobahn. This car has soul.

Two people can sit comfortably in the back seats. Its hatchback design means you can fold those seats down and cram amazing loads of stuff into the cargo area. Model Lineup
Golf comes in two basic configurations: two-door or four-door, or some would say three-door and five-door because of the access provided by the rear hatch.

Volkswagen offers more engine options for its compact than other manufacturers. Four engines are available for the Golf: 115-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4; 150-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4; 174-horsepower 2.8-liter VR6; 90-horsepower 1.9-liter TDI turbocharged diesel inline-4.

There also are three transmission choices: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic or 5-speed automatic with Porsche's Tiptronic shifting.

Retail prices start at $15,050 for the two-door GL with the 115-horsepower engine and a 5-speed manual. The same car with a 4-speed automatic costs $15,925. The two-door with the 90-horsepower diesel is $16,345 with a 5-speed and $17,220 with the automatic.

The four-door Golf comes in either GL or GLS trim levels. The GL starts at $15,250 and the GLS at $16,600.

The GTI uses the two-door body style. It's priced at $18,910 with the 180-horsepower 1.8T engine with a manual transmission, $19,985 with Tiptronic or $20,295 with the VR6 and the manual gearbox that comes with that engine.

Few options are available. They include 17-inch alloy wheels ($400), a cold weather package with heated seats ($150), leather seats ($900), a luxury package ($1,240 that includes a power sunroof and Monsoon audio system, and a technology package ($755) that is available only with the VR6 engine and includes climatronic automatic heat and air conditioning, a self-dimming rearview mirror and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

In the only major change for the 2002 model year, all Golfs get a new 4-year/50,000 mile warranty for the vehicle and a 5-year/50,000 miles powertrain warranty that can be transferred to a second owner. The new warranty plan includes 24-hour roadside assistance. Walkaround
Volkswagen Golf looks quite contemporary with big, sculptured headlights stuffed with high-tech lighting hardware.

With its hatchback design, the Golf can carry an enormous amount of cargo. Flip the articulated rear seat bottom, remove the rear headrests and fold one or both rear seats backs down to create a cavernous space. Americans are starting to buy more hatchbacks, especially those with four doors (or five if you prefer to count that way). Hatchbacks historically have been hugely popular in Europe, perhaps the most popular body style there. Hatchbacks offer some of the functional benefits of station wagons, including easy access to cargo through side doors and the rear hatch. A split rear seat allows carrying one rear passenger along with luggage and long items like skis or fly rods. A cargo cover shields possessions from prying eyes when the rear seats are flipped up. Interior
Golf comes with an unusually high level of standard equipment, including anti-lock disc brakes and side-impact airbags. There's an unexpected level of refinement. Forget the grained plastic wood found in many cars. This trim is the real thing. Stylish instruments look like aircraft components at night with vibrant red needles over backlighted indigo gauges. Power windows with auto-up and auto-down are normally not found in this class.

Golf's cupholders are well placed and adequate for most container sizes. There's plenty of storage space, with a large glove box, deep door pockets and a center tray that's useful for stowing cellular telephones. Driver and passenger doors use different inside handles that make them easy to close.

Seats in the 1.8T are firm and supportive. More side bolstering would help brace driver and passenger in tight corners, however. Seating adjustments are trademark Volkswagen with its unique jack to adjust seat height; they are a bit difficult to use at first with an awkward knob for adjusting rake, but familiarity improves this.

Rear seats seem surprisingly roomy with plenty of headroom for all but the tallest passengers. There isn't much stretch-out legroom, but sliding your feet under the front seats makes for a quite comfortable place for short trips. Three-point seat belts are used in all three positions in the rear - an excellent safety feature normally found on expensive luxury cars.

The optional Monsoon Sound System is one of the best factory stereos I've heard, with crisp highs and snappy bass response. Driving Impressions
The Volkswagen Golf is a lot of fun to drive. The driving experience is colored by engine and transmission choice, so choose carefully.

The 1.8T is a joy when paired with the manual gearbox. It's quick, at times abrupt, but oh so smooth. It delivers brisk off-the-line acceleration performance. There's a surprising amount of low-rpm torque here, more than enough to spin the front wheels. Traction control steps in when needed to minimize this, enhancing control. Accelerating through the gears, there is some turbo lag down at the bottom of the rev range. Under normal conditions, launches can be a little slow unless you rev 'er up and drop the clutch. There is little torque available below 2000 rpm. It starts to build at 2500 rpm and comes on quickly after that, but it isn't the explosion of power that big turbochargers deliver. It's more like the progressive acceleration of a smaller turbo, more fluid and linear. This 1.8-liter turbocharged engine is so smooth and revs so freely that you're encouraged to put the throttle down. In spite of its power, it nets an EPA-rated 24/31 mpg city/highway.

I did not like the 2002 1.8T with the five-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission ($1075). The automatic seems to get confused by the turbo in city traffic, often leaving the engine caught out, bogging when I pushed down on the throttle. When asked for moderate acceleration, the transmission would downshift, there would be a surge of power, I'd ease off the throttle, the transmission would upshift, the engine would eventually bog again, and the process would start all over. It's far more subtle than the description above suggests, but it annoyed me on downtown streets. This car is otherwise too good to be saddled with this combination. Therefore, we strongly recommend the manual gearbox with the 1.8T. The automatic is better suited for the other two engines, which are naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged).

GTI VR6 comes with Volkswagen's innovative, narrow-angle V6 engine that delivers 181 foot-pounds of torque. It isn't a rocket off the line, but offers good acceleration on the steepest grades. This is a great engine for people who want an automatic transmission.

The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine offers adequate performance for commuting, but doesn't inspire drivers who enjoy spirited driving. It does, however, hold its own in traffic, and feels comfortable when cruising steadily at 80 mph. The 2.0-liter engine is EPA rated at 24/31 mpg city/highway. Its relatively low price offers the best value. This should also be a good engine for an automatic.

If fuel economy is at the top of your shopping list, consider the 1.9-liter TDI, a turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder diesel engine. Diesels have a reputation for being noisy, smelly and slow, but Volkswagen has perfected the design. New emissions systems have cleaned up the exhaust scent, and the TDI is only a shade louder than the 2.0-liter gasoline engine. At highway speeds, you'll barely notice the difference. You sacrifice some performance, but the improvement in mileage is dramatic: it gets an EPA-estimated 42/49 mpg. That's competitive with new hybrid gas-electric cars from Honda and Toyota.

No matter the engine, the Golf offers excellent handling and a comfortable, well-controlled ride quality. With compliant coil springs and gas-filled shocks, the driver feels connected to the road while vibrations and bumps are comfortably muffled. MacPherson struts in front and the independent torsion-beam suspension in the rear help keep the car rooted to the road. Aggressive maneuvers generate little body roll. The longer wheelbase and the much stiffer chassis of the fourth-generation Golf reduce vibration on rough roads and improve handling in tight corners.

The Golf's firm brake pedal provides good feedback to the driver. This car is stable under hard braking. ABS, which comes standard, is ready to prevent wheel lockup, allowing the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency stop.

GLS and GTI models come with Volkswagen's Anti-Slip Regulation system (ASR), which detects wheel slippage and applies braking force to that particular wheel. Working with an Electronic Differential Lock at speeds below 25 mph, ASR controls throttle response to maximize traction and minimize slipping for enhanced driver control in tight cornering situations. Pressing a button in the center of the dash turns ASR off. It's a great system and can help you continue tracking around a corner instead of skidding off the road into peril. Summary
The Volkswagen Golf is among the most enjoyable, refined, and sophisticated of compact cars. The 2.0 and TDI models deliver comfort, handling, quality, practicality, economy, and value.

The Golf 1.8T may be relatively expensive when measured against other compacts, but it's more fun to drive and more refined than other cars in its class. If you enjoy driving, this car is a great choice.

If the 150-horsepower turbocharged engine isn't enough, then moving up to Volkswagen's narrow-angle V6 should provide plenty of grins and put you in a performance class with upscale sports sedans and sports cars.

Model as tested
GTI 1.8T ($18,910)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 mile
Assembled in
Wolfsburg, Germany
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Luxury Package ($1,240); Cold Weather Package ($150)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
GL (2 door) 2.0L $15,050, 1.9L diesel ($16,345); GL (4 door) 2.0L $15,250), 1.9L diesel ($16,545); GLS (4 door) 2.0 ($16,600), 1.9L diesel ($17,650); GTI 1.8T ($18,910), VR6 ($20,295)
Safety equipment (standard)
antilock brakes, dual front and side airbags, side curtain protection system, child safety seat anchors, three-pont safety belts for all three rear seats
Safety equipment (optional)
1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, power windows, anti-theft system, remote keyless entry, power door locks, premium AM/FM/cassette stereo with eight speakers, cruise control, power/heated side remote mirrors, height-adjustable front seats

Engine & Transmission
1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
150 @ 5700
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

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