Ever since the original one came to our shores this has been an endearing choice in fun to drive automobiles. The Volkswagen GTI. Ah yes, the GTI has long been the proving point that performance and practicality can go hand in hand. It was born an enthusiasts dream. When a small secret group within VW decided that, just for fun, they would spice up a little Rabbit hatchback. They where taking a big risk. This was not an approved project by the board of directors and they had other work to do. So they stayed late nights after their daily duties where met and worked on their Uber-Bunny project. Stiffer suspension, a hotter engine, and better wheels and tires were all in the cards and the car was good. Really good. Too good it seems as word got out to the upper management of what was being built late at night in the bowels of VW. With a “this better be good” attitude two board members show up one night and demand to see the little hot hatch. Eyes hit the floor and everyone seems a little embarrassed. They had been caught and now the gig was up. Well, it was fun boys. But surprisingly the head honchos were not here to fire everyone (a real possibility) but instead demanded a go in the little car. They were here to drive! With a bit of hesitation and knowing that it could still be improved upon the team reluctantly hands over the keys. Management gets in and take off into the night. The anticipation is killer. What will they say? Will they like it? Forty five minutes go by. Has it broken down? It’s only a prototype. Nervousness sets in but then, suddenly, two little headlights pierce the night and with a screech of the tires they’re back. As everyone anticipates the verdict (and their fates) the board member climb out. They’re smiling like children. With a glow on their faces that says “I just had some real fun”. This would be a perfect car for the line-up but justifying cost to the Board will be a real issue. “Leave that to us” they say “This needs to be built!”. The GTI is born. What’s my reason for telling you this little known tale. Well Volkswagen’s fifth generation GTI is closer to the spirit of the original than ever before. I should know, I’ve driven all of them and currently have a third generation VR6 model and also a brand new one. The new GTI though, is a real value. For around $23K you can get a lot of car for the money. Base models practically come fully loaded with everything you need. Four wheel disc-brakes with ABS, power everything, A/C, six-disc CD changer, ESP stability control and much more. But those aren’t even the good parts. The good would be it’s four cylinder turbo engine which employs highly sophisticated FSI fuel injection derived from Audi’s Le Mans racing efforts, a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch semi-manual gearbox that has become the industry standard (steering wheels paddles and all) and a super stiff chassis with excellent sport suspension setup are only the tip of the iceberg. What really matters here are the sum of it’s parts and how it all works together. The GTi drives beautifully in any condition and really gives confidence when pushed hard. It’s ride is plush but firm and it returns above average fuel economy. Mine averages a real world 25-26mpg and I am not easy on it. It gets driven hard. But what really seals the deal is it’s practicality. The GTI excels as a daily commuter with it’s practical hatchback and it’s small size, making the perfect city car. It’s ability to go from lap time setter to grocery getter is what this car is all about. This is the kind of car for the person who needs practical transport but has still got some blood in their veins and can’t afford a sports car just for the fun times. The GTI does everything well, and for only around $23,000 it’s a bargain. Easy to see why so many publications have awarded it car of the year, then? It really is very practical but ultimately it’s just Uber-Fun!