Why I Ended Up in a VW GTI After Owning 11 Cars

I wanted something competent, moddable, refined, well-built, and well engineered. I went looking for a VW Golf GTI.

After owning 11 cars in three years, I wanted to find something I could hang on to; retire from manic car Tinder. Guests through the revolving door of my garage included everything from a regal 1998 Lexus LS400, a spritely 2009 Honda Civic Si, to the disappointment of a 2008 Subaru Legacy Spec.B. I wanted something competent, moddable, refined, well-built, and well-engineered. I went looking for a VW Golf GTI.

Why I Ended Up in a VW GTI After Owning 11 Cars
Image: Chris Rosales

My eye had been on the 2010-2014 generation Volkswagen GTI for about a year. It’s most certainly refined, and has potential for good power with simple bolt-on upgrades. The forward-biased weight distribution being the only glaring weakness – the first-generation EA888 TSI engine has an ironblock, and as a result, it’s heavy. Less quantifiable specs are spot-on though: excellent low seating position, sporty and comfortable seats, a decent standard of interior quality. The no-frills executive interior design energy lends the GTI to an elevated class of car that it doesn’t necessarily aim to be in.

In my search I had four requirements: The Dynaudio upgraded stereo, the lighting package that includes adaptive xenon headlights, cloth plaid seats, and it must be manual. This was a surprisingly difficult combination to find.

I searched for about two months before I found a single suitable car in Huntington Beach, a white 2010 model that ticked every single box. Well, except for an interesting color, but that was a secondary goal. A quick bit of sleuthing with the plate on mycarfax.com I found the VIN and looked into the car’s history. All came back clean, with two owners to its name. 

Why I Ended Up in a VW GTI After Owning 11 Cars
Image: Chris Rosales

After an initial inspection I hashed a deal out with the Orange County bro-dude owner. We agreed to a $6,200 sale price, and a handoff date of New Year’s Eve. The car was clean, healthy, and exactly what I was hoping it would be. A quick scan with my OBDEleven scan tool (which can access proprietary VW electronics) showed a clean bill of health and the car had an almost new timing chain to boot; these cars are notorious for jumping camshaft timing on old chains and tensioners. The scan tool shows you a live data feed from the intake cam variable valve timing, and based on how many degrees it’s correcting at idle, it’ll give you an idea of chain health. This generation of VW GTI doesn’t have a full undertray either, and have a surprising amount of service and inspection room in the engine bay. After a 10-mile test drive, it was easy to give this car a pass.

Strangely, the dude wanted to sell it because, apparently, “he just wants to feel danger again” on his motorcycle. We met again in an industrial estate parking lot somewhere in Commerce, Los Angeles. This dude signed the title and actually just walked off into the distance with a backpack. Presumably, he was searching for more danger on the way to his motorcycle. Still, not the weirdest car buying experience I’ve had.

Why I Ended Up in a VW GTI After Owning 11 Cars
There was palpable pride as I drove it home from a seedy parking lot. – Image: Chris Rosales

So here it is! The interior when I was driving home, at least.

I later figured out that the options combo I demanded only came on 2010 model GTIs. They’re the least de-contented of the German-built Mk6 generation GTIs and have cool little stuff like the overhead Bluetooth console, a completely useless head unit, one-year-only gauge cluster, no oil level sensor, old BT module and TRW rear brake calipers instead of Bosch. The car is a strange middle point from the 2008-2009 MK5 TSI-engined GTIs, with some parts carryover. 2011 GTIs enjoyed the full next-generation treatment.

I’m excited to embark on my third journey with a German car. Initially, I had to contend with some awful 2010-only 17-inch Denver wheels and “Accelera” tires. From there it was (and has been) time to drive it, break it, and make it better.

Chris Rosales

Chris RosalesChris has owned 12 cars of questionable quality, is an experienced motorsports photographer, and a good all-around wrench. When he isn’t tinkering with his car in his home garage, you can catch Chris in the canyons around SoCal. He also hopelessly hankers for Euros, but he honestly knows he should get something Japanese, eventually. Contact the author here.