As I’ve mentioned before, my top contenders for my next daily driver are the Subaru WRX, Ford Focus ST, and Volkswagen GTI. The GTI is the most upscale and refined of the three, but the Focus ST is much better than I expected, giving the GTI a good run in the comfort department. But the GTI is significantly more expensive than the Ford and the Subaru, and despite VW falling on tough times thanks to Dieselgate, they’re not cutting any price breaks on their hot hatch. Why not?
GTI vs. Focus ST
With its sedan body and all-wheel-drive, let’s leave out the WRX and compare the hot hatches instead. The most basic FoST starts at $22,050, more than $3,500 less than the $25,595 GTI S. Set up the way I like, the Ford with the 402A equipment group and optional wheels like my press car had comes to $27,540. The GTI Sport package comes close my dream FoST’s price at $27,995, but has plaid cloth seats rather than leather. At least they’re heated, and if you’re going to have cloth seats in a GTI, the classic plaid like the original is mandatory in my book. But you can’t get leather seats in a GTI until you step up to the SE for $30,890. And that’s not even the top of the line model - that would be the Autobahn, starting at $34,095. A fully loaded Autobahn ($36,010) is only $3,335 less than the Golf R starting at $39,375.
Higher end models of the GTI do offer equipment that’s not available at all in the Focus ST, like a DSG transmission (the FoST is manual only), and Dynamic Chassis Control to stiffen or soften your suspension on the fly. The higher prices for models equipped this way are justified. Let’s assume that anyone looking for a hot hatch with these advanced features will ignore the Focus and go straight toward a high end GTI or a Golf R. But there’s still a huge price gap between the base models, and between a top of the line FoST compared to a comparably equipped mid-range GTI.
Look At The Numbers
One might think that with all the bad Dieselgate publicity that VW dealers would be chomping at the bit to move cars off their lots, offering steep discounts to compensate for their tarnished name. My first thought when the news of diesel emissions cheating broke last year was “Ooo, maybe I can get a cheap GTI.” But that hasn’t turned out to be the case. The prices I cited above are current prices on VW’s and Ford’s web sites at the time of this post. Dealers have not been discounting GTIs as you might expect. Why?
A look at the GTI’s sales numbers for the past few years tells the story. The Mk. 7 GTI was introduced in June 2014 as a 2015 model. GTI sales dropped off a bit for the nearly two years leading up to its release. This is normal for any older model that’s about to be replaced. Sales took off again with the release of the Mk. 7, and have remained strong ever since.
And there’s the rub. Dieselgate erupted in September 2015, when VW sold 1825 GTIs. In response to the scandal, they sold 2520 GTIs the following month - nearly 700 more cars. VW sold a total of 16,817 GTIs between January and September 2015. For the same time period this year, they sold 17,187. Dieselgate has had absolutely no harmful effect on GTI sales whatsoever.
This kind of makes sense. The people who would buy a diesel VW are generally not the same people who would buy a performance oriented version. They’re looking for fuel economy and long range. These, and people who now reject the company on principle, are the customers who VW lost through Dieselgate.
Enthusiasts, on the other hand, have always flocked to the GTI. It’s been one of the best hot hatches out there ever since its introduction. Diesel emissions have nothing to do with it. The question we should be asking isn’t why VW isn’t discounting the GTI because of Dieselgate. The real question is, why would they? It’s one of the best things VW has going for them.