The Germans are a curious bunch. They build some of the world’s finest cars, with features and functionality that truly push the boundaries of modern technology (see BMW M1, Porsche 959, Audi RS6). They get us all frothy with anticipation and just when we’re ready to sign for that third mortgage, they decide to keep those treasures all to themselves. It’s like running out of hot water mid-shower; oh, the cruelty.
Enter Volkswagen. Some twenty-five years ago, the German automaker unveiled a sporty yet functional hatchback for the masses – in Germany. That’s right, no one this side of England would be able to get their hands on the little rocket from Wolfsburg. Cruel. Very Cruel.
Apparently all of our kicking and screaming paid off, because in 1982, VW caved and brought the original EA337 (known to the commoner as the GTI) over to America, and as a result invented the now popular “hot hatch” category.
Fast forward to early 2002 – once again, Germany has outdone itself and released a 25th anniversary version of the GTI – the 337. And, true to the automaker’s twisted sense of humor, they tried to keep it all to themselves. However, thanks to the popularity (and power) of the Internet, 1500 very lucky Americans are now enjoying the 337 for themselves. The GTI 337 was brought to America largely thanks to the vocal group of loyalists over at vwvortex.com, and we thank them for their dedication and tenacity.
For just under $23,000, the GTI 337 buyer gets quite an impressive vehicle. Options? What options? Colors? Well, hope you like Reflex Silver with a black interior (accented with red stitching). Leather? How does cloth sound? Sunroof? Try again.
The good folks from Wolfsburg wisely decided to include all of the standard options that come with the GTI and then elected to spice things up a bit in the performance and appearance categories with the help of some very well chosen components from the Audi parts bins. You say your car has 17″ wheels? Cool. The 337 has 18″ wheels, lightweight BBS RC’s wrapped in ultra sticky 245/40/ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sports.
Cool wheels are only the beginning. The 2002 GTI 337 boasts a slew of goodies, including:
– 180hp 1.8L 20-valve intercooled and turbocharged 4-cylinder motor
– Six speed MQ350 manual transmission with upgraded clutch and pressure plate
– 315mm (12.4″) vented front and 256mm (10″) vented rear brakes with red powder coated calipers and 4-wheel ABS
– Improved suspension, lowered approximately 1″ at each corner
– Recaro front seats, wrapped in “LeMans” black cloth with red stitching and accents
– Votex body kit with front valence, side skirts, rear valence and hatch wing
– Red accent stitching and leather wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel
– Aluminum pedals
– Monsoon Sound
At first glance, 180 horses may not seem like a lot of power, but when you consider that the GTI 337 weighs in at a fairly-svelte 2,850lbs and that the boosted 4-cylinder musters 174 ft/lbs of torque from 1,950rpm through 5,000 rpm (read: FLAT torque curve) you’ll want to make sure you have your attorney on speed dial. Add a performance chip to the perky 1.8-liter motor and you’ll be enjoying 200+ horsepower and nearly 250lb-ft of torque.
The all-new six-speed transmission is geared to take advantage of the 337’s wide powerband. Thanks to the fairly abundant torque and the relatively short gearing, you’ll find yourself dancing on the gas pedal in an attempt to manage the wheelspin through first and second gears. On the highway, sixth gear keeps engine revs to a very civilized 2800 rpm at 70mph.
While it’s fun to talk about the 337, it’s even more fun to drive it. Even the most reserved and conservative drivers will find themselves running the motor up through the revs and taking turns a little faster than they normally would.
Drop your keister into the 337 and the first thing you’ll notice is the supportive driving posture afforded by the Recaro seats. The side bolsters are firm and hold you in place when you decide to turn up the pace a bit. Lumbar support is adjustable, and very effective – perfect for those longer trips.
Insert the switchblade-style key into the ignition, give it a twist, and the engine springs to life – at idle the 3″ exhaust burbles with a hint of tenacity – floor it and the whistle of the turbo is quickly overpowered by the rumbly exhaust. No fart-can buzzing here, just a throaty, muscular growl.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Snick the golf-ball adorned shifter into first gear, ease out the clutch, and you’re off – drama free. Take it up to about 3,000rpm, shift into second and continue on your merry way. Unfortunately, this Good Samaritan driving style isn’t habit forming. With each depression of the drive-by-wire go-fast pedal, the 337 seems to taunt you… “Come on, floor it – you know you want to – I’m a turbo – boost is fun!”
Eventually, you succumb to the 337’s devious taunting and you start to get on it. You quickly realize that this engine loves to be revved. The turbo builds boost efficiently and effectively, with little turbo lag. Combined with the smooth shifting and perfectly ratioed 6-speed, the 1.8T remains in the powerband ALL of the time. Up shifts are flawless- the rpm’s drop progressively as you row through the gears. Downshifts at speed are just as much fun – the pedals are placed so that heel-toe braking isn’t a problem.
Speaking of braking, the GTI 337’s brakes will drop anchors with the best of them. Thanks to large 315mm (12.4″) vented front rotors with 256mm (10″) vented rear rotors and upgraded Pagid 566 pads, brake fade is non-existent, even after repeated 70mph-0 stops. The brakes have a solid, modular feel and provide excellent feedback. Turning and braking doesn’t upset the chassis – everything remains stable and predictable.
How’s the handling? Well, let’s see…have you ever driven a go-kart? Turn-in is immediate; moderate understeer prevails as you push the car harder and harder. It’s only at the very extremes of traction that the GTI 337 wants to oversteer. We feel that the combination of the improved suspension and the gummy Michelin’s make this one of the easiest cars to drive fast. Our car is fitted with an aftermarket 28mm rear sway bar, which is supposed to introduce a little more oversteer, but again, it’s not very noticeable unless you’re really pushing the cornering limits.
Ride quality is on the firm side – as a result of the 40-series rubber and stiffer springs, you’ll definitely feel the bumps, expansion joints and various road surface irregularities. Cabin noise is respectable, although the Michelin’s transmit quite a bit of road noise to the passengers. One would expect the ultra-high performance Michelins to wear quickly, but our test vehicle appears to be quite easy on the tires (despite the copious amounts of driver induced wheelspin that the vehicle regularly sees). With nearly 6,000 miles on the clock, our Michelin’s are still showing 7/32nds of tread depth – impressive for such a serious performance tire.
VW seems to be improving on its build quality, too. We’ve had no issues with the vehicle, other than a few very minor squeaks and rattles that are apparently quite common to the Mark IV chassis. Operating costs after 6 months and 6,000 miles include only gas and oil changes, and we’re happy to report that our fuel mileage has averaged on the high side of 26mpg.
All in all, the GTI 337 represents one of the finest vehicles to come from the Volkswagen stable. The perfect combination of power, agility and panache makes for a very desirable vehicle, especially when you factor in the limited production run of 1500 units.
Should you tire of the engine’s stock 180hp, know that many aftermarket performance parts exist for the 1.8T, which makes upgrading very easy and rewarding – we know of several 1.8T’s that run low 14-second quarter miles with only minor modifications. Something to keep in mind the next time you encounter one of VW’s hot hatchbacks…
Roadfly Test Data:
Curb Weight – 2887lbs
0-60mph – 5.9 seconds
º mile – 14.74s @ 94.2mph
70-0mph – 156ft
Observed Fuel Economy – 26mpg overall
Price as optioned: $22,775
Modifications: APR 93 octane chip, Forge Diverter valve, AutoTech 28mm rear sway bar