Engineered for the German autobahn, where speeds over 100 mph are common, the practically demands to be driven fast. And it's hard to resist the temptation. The car delivers a responsive and nimble ride with road-hugging stability, no doubt partially due to the vehicle's high static torsional rigidity, which VW says is 57% greater than previous models.

The four-cylinder, two-liter, turbocharged engine emits a pleasing growl at take off. It pumps out 200 hp at 5,100 rpm and hits 70 mph in what seems like seconds. Our tester's engine was mated to a sixspeed manual transmission. A German friend says 6th gear is useful for reducing gas mileage on long high-speed trips.

To my American tastes, the clutch pedal at first seemed tight. In fact, I stalled and lugged the engine a few times before getting the hang of shifting the gears. A minor gripe is that the slots for the stick shift are close together, making it hard to tell what gear you're in, especially for higher gears. But once I got familiar with these quirks, the car was a joy to drive.

An independent-strut front suspension and multilink rear one provide tremendous cornering power and add to the vehicle's overall stability. And the antilock braking system stopped the car almost instantly. The 16-in. brakes include what's called a "wiper" function. Brake pads are applied at specific intervals to wipe away water film that may have accumulated while driving on wet surfaces. This shortens braking distance.

Outside, the car's swept-back windshield and trim lines evoke stability and speed. A wide, dynamic stance is enhanced by the "stare" of jewellike, bi-Xenon headlights. The lights automatically follow the path of the road with a maximum swiveling angle of 15° for optimum illumination. The front grille sports a big, silver VW logo and is surrounded by a chrome-plated "mirror," which I particularly liked. A neat feature is a smaller logo in the rear. Push it, and the trunk opens.

The interior is functional and uncluttered. Our tester sported black "leatherette" seats that comfortably hold five adults. Surprisingly, there are no buttons or switches on the steering wheel. Another downside is the emergency brake, which is activated by pushing a button on the dash. It seemed unnatural not having the typical stick brake. I also didn't care for the cumbersome key fob, which you push in the ignition slot to start the car, as I already have too much metal hanging on my keychain.

The instrument panel is intuitive and has helpful digital readouts such as temperature, direction, and gas mileage. The white numbers turn a beautiful, dark lilac-blue when you turn on the headlights. Other interior features included a six-way power, four-way manual adjustable driver's seat, dual sun visors with illuminated mirrors, and an optional 230-V power supply for charging your laptop.

The total price of our Value Edition tester was $23,580.