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2006 Volkswagen GTI

VW's newest GTI's performance off the line is like having a "rocket in your back pocket."

Our hatchback tester carried the optional sixspeed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), which unexpectedly launched me out of the parking garage faster than anticipated. Thankfully, my trajectory was a deserted street with a green light at the first intersection.

Reportedly, the DSG transmission automatically shifts more efficiently and quickly than is humanly possible. It permits automatic or manual shifting using a twin-clutch, wet-plate design that is said to eliminate power interruptions typically associated with conventional clutched gear changes.

The GTI features a turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant that puts out 200 hp at 5,000 to 6,000 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. The transverse, front-mounted engine uses dual-overhead camshafts and a fully electronic management system that includes drive-by-wire throttle control and fuel stratified injection, which boosts fuel efficiency and power.

The GTI was as solid on flat ground as it was when cruising up the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway. However, it felt a bit squirrelly during my descent. That's because DSG did not hold second gear when I manually shifted down to conserve the brakes. The system kept gearing back up to third and even fourth, accelerating to speeds of 40 mph. This felt too fast for taking hairpins even though the GTI sports next-generation electronic stabilization.It uses sophisticated yaw and position sensors to help prevent over and understeering. I wasn't about to test the system to its fullest on my descent and ended up braking much more often than I do when I've manually geared my automatic Ford Ranger into second on even steeper grades.

Passive safety features include driver, front-passenger, and side-curtain air bags, threepoint safety belts in all locations, and side-protection door beams. Notable creature comforts that come with the $21,990 base price are a height-adjustable telescoping steering column, sport front seats with adjustable height and lumbar support, and an in-dash six-disc CD changer that reads MP3. Optional upgrades that boosted the price of our Candy White tester to $27,615 include the sixspeed DSG ($1,075), navigation system ($1,800), and power sunroof, XM satellite radio, and cloth seats for $1,370.

For piece of mind, the GTI comes with 24-hr roadside assistance for four years and unlimited mileage. And for rust-belters, VW offers an unlimited distance, 12-yr limited warranty against corrosion.

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