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My Love/Hate affair with my Volkswagen Golf/GTI

Don't get me wrong, I love my new car; it's reliable, it drives beautifully, but certain things just annoy me to no end.



My last car was an aging 1985 model with a mere 95HP. This 1.8 Liter with Turbo engine puts out 150HP. Add the GTI sport suspension and all the other performance adds that upgrade the Golf to a GTI, and wow, this is one small, fast car. I had long forgotten how much fun it could be to drive a car that accelerates on command, and corners sharply, crisply, with no sag, no wobble, no flopping around. It drives beautifully. If you spend an extra $5-800, you can rechip the car and get 190 or more horsepower! Note that this only applies to the turbo engine.

It's very spacious. with the seats down, there's probably 6-7 feet from the inside of the hatchback to the back of the passenger and driver's seats. Not quite long enough to haul 8' sticks of lumber, but I use the roof rack for that. Just be careful of the 250lb roof rack limit!

I can recommend getting the factory roof racks. They have special bolts on the roof that you can attach to, so you don't mess up your door gaskets like third-party roof racks will. However, they're hideously expensive. I can definitely recommend getting them used on ebay or something.


The ergonomics/UI design of the car drive me absolutely nuts.

To start with, the icons that they use to label the controls are a bit less than intuitive. For example, the unlock button on the drivers side is horizontal, so it feels more like a left-right button. Which way do I push to unlock the door? The icons on the button are a hard-to recognize car with an open door, and the other is a key. It takes thought to unlock the doors. It should be intuitive, and not thought provoking.

The controls for the headlights aren't quite so bad. It is a rotating knob on the left dash. Left for off (0) and right for on (picture of a headlamp). There is no more intermediate "park" setting. After much thinking, I believe that this is a good thing. I really don't know why "parking lights" were so important. The confusing part is that to turn on the fog lights, you pull the knob. This is definitely non-intuitive, but something that is easily learned.

The worst two offenders of the car are the stock stereo and the temperature controls. The stereo is completely flat. The only thing that I can find without looking is the volume knob, because it is the only control that sticks out from the panel. The most frequently used buttons are all too small; the power button, and the 1-6 buttons for CD changer and radio preset control. I can't find them without looking; I can't tell if I'm on button 5 or 6, and I can barely tell that the button has been pressed. It's terrible!

A neat feature of this car is the ease with which passengers can get into the back seat. The GTI is a 2-door model compared to the basic Golf which is 4-door. Naturally, this means that the back seat riders must squeeze past the seat to get into the back seat. My previous car's solution is to make the passengers' seat remember where it was locked and slide the seat forward, making more space. VW's solution is to have the rear seat tilt forward and up so that the entire seat moves forward to make more space for people to get in. Unfortunately, if either seat is too far forward, and you raise the seat up before you tilt the back forward, the headrest will hit the ceiling; making it difficult to push the seat forward. You either have to push harder, making the seat scrape on the ceiling or push the seat partway down, and then forward, then back up. I worry a bit about destroying the inner upholstery after a few years from this unneeded rubbing.

Lastly, the temperature controls are headaches. The temperature control on the left is a rotary dial. It makes it impossible to tell which direction it is pointing without looking. The knob has about 300 degrees of movement, which means that the knob might be pointing in two possible directions; one 180 degrees opposite from the other. Because of this, I can't just reach over and push/pull to make it all the way hot or all the way cool. I'd much prefer a right-to-left sliding lever. The fan is also a dial, but since it is restricted to about 100 degrees of rotation, it's easy to tell if the pointer is going left or right. The final knob for environmental controls (repeat complaints about knowing which way the dial is pointed) is also unreachable when I'm in 5th gear. This may be a function of me being seated fairly far back and all the way down, but even when I try putting the seat as high as it will go, and as far forward as I can fit (until my knees hit the dash), I still can barely reach the last dial without reaching around the shifter. Very annoying.

In the first two years, there were some warranty and non-warranty failures that occurred:

  1. The power windows mechanically failed such that the glass detatched from the motor and "fell" down inside the door. Apparently there were some clips holding the glass to the motor, and someone decided that plastic would be strong enough. This turned into a recall that spanned at least 3 years' of models. There was also a lawsuit filed by people that were severely affected by this problem: rental car costs, rented room costs (say you were on a trip somewhere), etc.). I declined to join into the class action lawsuit, since I was not severely affected. It happened to me twice. once at 6, and the other at 12 months. By the time the second window failed, the recall was underway, so they repaired both windows.
  2. The secondary air injection pump failed on me at ~2-3yrs. Apparently it was held together by some rivets that failed. It seemed to be pretty common, since the service tech at the desk was able to diagnose it just by description of the symptoms. This was not covered by warranty, but I had an extended warranty which covered most of the multi-hundred dollar bill.

A last few miscellaneous items that I'm still undecided on

The GTI being a 2-door needs longer doors to let people get into the back seat. The doors also have pockets for stuff, but that makes the door an extra 3-4" wider. Since this is a 2-door, the doors themselves are longer. The extra door thickness means that I have to open the door wider before I can put my foot outside, and the extra door length means that it's difficult to open the door without hitting the next car.

The wiper control is way too overloaded - too many possible directions you can push it all at the same time. To start with, you push down for a momentary wipe and up to use intermittent, low, and high speed. That's fairly standard. Then, you pull forward (towards the driver) to spray the winshield. Not too bad, except that the rear wipers are activated by pushing the lever towards the front of the car. If I feel like cleaning both the front and back windows (it does tend to happen all at the same time) then one operation interrupts the other, since you can't spray both the front and back at the same time. Not terrible, but my poor little brain keeps getting confused for all the same types of motions to control different mechanisms. On my Honda, they use a twisting motion to operate the rear wiper. The different type of motion helps me distinguish between what I'm trying to operate: push/pull up down in for the front wipers and twist for the rear. It'd be interesting to go through a real set of usability tests.

The rear view mirror has a "visibility improvement" that takes some getting used to, but I'm pretty much ok with it now. On the very edges of the rear view mirror, it's curved outwards as to resemble those round and curved 'see into your blind spot' add-on mirrors. It's only about 1/4" that's curved, so it's a very small, very subtle change in the way the mirror works. This confused me at first,, since I frequently dip my head to make the following vehicle's headlights disappear. With this extra curve, I have to dip my head further. It took me a little getting used to, but I think I like it now.

A friend has the 2000.5 model year and she got a small class III tow hitch on the back. Unfortunately, the car is so low and the hitch lowers her clearance another 3" that she scrapes the hitch on the ground every time she pulls into her driveway, and her driveway isn't that steep! that's kept me from getting a hitch, which I really would like. I would like to be able to tow a small 3x4' trailer to haul the occasional Bulky Object.


Overall, it's a good car. I like it.

Modified 2005.10.20 kjw
Created 2001.04.25 kjw