People who own a Volkswagen GTI are invariably passionate about their cars. They have an infectious enthusiasm borne of a love for driving mixed with taut handling and turbocharging. That’s what made it so hard to watch the new generation go on sale in Europe a year ago, while U.S. hot hatch lovers were left waiting. Until now.
|Engine: 2.0-liter TSI four-cylinder makes 210 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque or 220 with sport package.
Transmisison: Six-speed manual or six-speed dual clutch for an extra $1,100.
Fuel economy: VW estimates 25 MPG city, 34 MPG highway with the manual transmission.
Price: 2-door starts at $25,215. Autobahn four-door costs $30,415 including delivery.
The wait is finally over and you won’t be disappointed with the reward.
It really doesn’t matter how you measure it, the 2015 GTI is improved in every aspect over its predecessor.
New, More Powerful Drivetrain
It’s true that the 2.0-liter EA888 TSI engine only offers a 10-hp increase, but at 210 ponies and 258 lb-ft of torque, you’re getting 51 lb-ft of added torque over the outgoing model and that makes a difference you’re sure to notice. Peak torque comes on at 1,500 RPM and lasts until the 4,500 mark right when the new EA888 engine is pushing out its peak horsepower. That translates to a smooth, easily accessible powerband that feels more potent than the powerplant it replaces.
All GTI models come with a six-speed manual transmission as part of the standard equipment list although there’s an optional six-speed dual-clutch transmission that shifts faster than you can snap your fingers. It also adds launch control for the not-so-occasional moments when you feel the itch to take off like a jackrabbit.
For an extra $1,495, Volkswagen is offering a performance package that you really shouldn’t skip if there’s even a single autocross weekend looming. It bumps peak horsepower to 220, adds an electronically controlled limited-slip differential and bigger brakes, all of which improves what’s already a nimble package. So-equipped, up to 100 percent of the engine’s torque can be diverted to the outside wheel.
The ECU is also re-programmed for the sport package to hold peak torque 200 RPM later, pushing the peak horsepower to 4,700 RPM. SE and Autobahn models equipped with the sport package are also being sold in the U.S. for the first time with adaptive dampers for an extra $800.
Even if you skip the other options, this is something to suffer a slightly higher car payment to have.
Despite the performance enhancements, fuel efficiency is supposed to be superior. Official estimates from the EPA are still unreleased, but VW expects the manual GTI to spit back up to 25 MPG in city driving and 34 on the highway compared to the previous car’s 21/31 rating. Efficiency gains aren’t quite as strong with the DSG, but at 25 city and 33 highway, you’re still looking at an upgrade. Regardless, the new GTI is quick and shouldn’t be particularly painful at the pump.
Handles Better Than Ever Before
If there’s any body roll in hard cornering, it’s hard to notice from the driver’s seat. The sheer joy of being able to take a corner in a car that feels stuck to the pavement like a gecko is difficult to put on paper, but try picturing whipping around in the front car of a roller coaster. Except in this case, you’re somehow able to steer the thing rather than following a planned path on rails. Now you have an inkling of how taking a street corner at around 45 MPH feels in the GTI.
Like the rest of VW’s new compact hatchback family, it’s based on the MQB platform. The result is a larger yet lighter vehicle that treats hard turns with devil-may-care dismissal due in part to the fact that the new model is between 53 and 83 lbs lighter than the generation it replaces.
Performance is fine, but there’s something to be said for having a well-built cabin to sit in at the same time and the 2015 GTI lives up to its country’s reputation for tastefully designed interiors.
The hallmark plaid seat upholstery is still available, as is leather, although the former is restricted to the S trim. In all cases, the front seats are well bolstered to hug your torso.
A 5.8-inch touch screen is included on all models as are selectable drive modes, both of which are new for the seventh-generation GTI. Three driving modes are included on all models: normal, sport and individual. Sport mode brings sharper throttle responses and adds weight to the steering wheel while individual mode lets you pick a combination. Models equipped with adaptive dampers also get a “comfort” mode.
Red ambient lighting and switches backlit in white add to the car’s premium interior as do the aluminum pedals. The cabin is moderately more spacious than the MK6, although the differences aren’t great enough to be a major selling point.
Mildly Revised Body Styling
For better or worse, exterior styling doesn’t change very much on any of the MK7 Golf variants. Like the rest of its family, the GTI gains sharper, more defined bodylines than its predecessor and all models are equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels as standard equipment.
The car sits 0.4 inches lower than the normal Golf TSI model and comes with more aggressive body cladding while an optional lighting package for $995 adds bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights. It also adds an adaptive front lighting system that turns the front lamps with the steering wheel.
Base two-door S models start at $25,215 with a manual transmission although the four-door model only costs an extra $500. The six-speed dual-clutch transmission runs an extra $1,100.
Upgrading to the mid-level SE trim costs $3,000. That version is offered with either two or four doors while the top-trim Autobahn model is offered exclusively with four. That car carries a base price of $30,415 including delivery.
Arguably, the Ford Focus ST is the closest competitor to the GTI. It makes more power and costs a little bit less, but not by enough to give the Ford any sort of real price advantage. Even in its top-trim, the GTI isn’t that much more expensive than its key competitor.
More importantly, the new generation’s handling improvements and refined interior mean that it doesn’t just compete with similarly priced hot hatches; it’s a legitimate alternative to the new Audi A3. Keep in mind that Audi isn’t offering a hatchback A3 anymore except for the TDI model coming next year.
Volkswagen’s new hot hatch isn’t the most powerful on the market, but it just might be the best overall package. It balances the sort of conservative maturity Volkswagen products are known for with just enough hooliganism to make driving a treat.