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Clad in Plaid

The 2011 Volkswagen GTI

Quick. Think of something plaid. I’ll bet a bunch of you said kilts. Some may have mentioned the musical Forever Plaid. I’ll bet even a few blurted out, “Bay City Rollers!” Ugh. Well, after seeing the new VW GTI’s interior, I’m sure it’ll be near the top of your favorite plaid things. Not only does it look great, it’s a great place to sit for a drive—and the GTI is one of the great affordable drivers’ cars on the market today.

2011 Volkswagen GTI Interior

Seeing that we’ve started on the inside, let’s talk about those plaid seats. They’re not just for looks. Assuming you’re up front, you’re sitting in an eight-way bolstered seat. Is it power? No. Does it need to be? No. A knob at the bottom of the seat back adjusts its angle. A lever on the side pumps the seat up and down, while another at the front moves it forward and backwards. A third, on the side, adjusts the lumbar support—and this, my friends, is just what the doctor ordered for a long drive, especially if you suffer from lower back discomfort. The seats are also bolstered on the sides—that is, the sides of the seat bottoms and backs are raised to hold you snug in place. Did I mention they look great? (Leather is also available, but how could you?)

My test drive last week started out at Northtown Volkswagen in Amherst, where my sales consultant RJ (Ronald Jones) had the tank filled while we discussed the car. And then I was off. The test car was a Shadow Blue Metallic two-door sunroof model. (You can view the details of the test car online here: I chose this car for several reasons: I love the color; it was equipped with the six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic is available); and it was the two-door model (a four-door version is also offered). The shifter is quick, falling readily to hand, and the gates are close—but not so close that it’s easy to find yourself in the wrong gear. The dead pedal is a great place to rest your left foot when it’s not on the clutch. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is just the right thickness, and has the spokes in just the right place, so that your hands won’t tire easily on long drives.

One of the reasons I chose the two-door was that I wanted to see just how easy it would be to get myself into the back seat. It was a snap, once I figured out how to get the front seat out of the way. (Thanks, RJ.) And—surprise, surprise—there’s a ton of room back there. Leg room and head room were more than I needed to sit comfortably—I’d even do it for a long ride, assuming I lost the coin toss that meant I couldn’t drive. It’s no wonder that in comparison test after comparison test, no matter the competition, the GTI comes out with the best-looking, most comfortable interior in its class. It would probably outclass many cars outside its class, too.

I know looks are subjective, but I think the GTI is one of the most attractive compacts on the market. My only gripe is the wheels. The 17-inch Detroit rims on the test car just aren’t my cup of tea. I think I’d opt for the 18-inch Karthoum Black wheels, although I’m not sure how that would affect the ride. (I’ve gone online to and built a GTI with those rims to see how it would look, and it’s a big improvement.)

The GTI is mostly about driving. It’s low to the ground and hugs corners well with its independent suspension. All GTIs have VW’s 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter, 16-valve, DOHC turbocharged engine which goes like crazy (top speed: 130 miles per hour) while getting 21/31 miles per gallon city/highway. Prices start at $23,664.

And those plaid seats!

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