First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI

The mk7 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI is wider, longer, and more versatile than ever. Delightfully, it’s also the fastest and most efficient GTI to date.

The Volkswagen Golf is perhaps the most sensible car on the planet.

The Golf is safe, well built, great to look at, cheap to operate (especially in the 40 mpg TDI form) and versatile as all get out. The new Golf has more rear seat room than most mid-size sedans on the market today.

Unlike so many affordable compacts, the Golf doesn’t sacrifice, well, virtually anything.

Starting at just below $18,000, the new Golf is an astonishingly inexpensive glimpse into the world of German automotive quality and engineering prowess. And it can do essentially everything a driver could ever ask a car to do. That is, except go fast.

Enter the Golf GTI.

Since its entrance to the U.S. market in 1983, every single one of the five previous GTI generations has stood as the definitive hot hatch. Contenders come and go, but the GTI out performs and out lasts them. And for 2015, it’s all new and revitalized to take on the likes of the ferocious Ford Focus ST and the poised Honda Civic SI.

A platform you can believe in

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. For 2015, the mk7 GTI is underpinned by Volkswagen group’s new MQB platform, which will be the basis of many brilliant compact cars to come, including the next-gen Audi TT.

This new platform allows the Golf to be longer, wider, lighter, and more rigid than before.

Covering the new strengthened chassis is a new body, though untrained eyes may not be able to see much difference. The new body design was inspired namely by the mk1 and the mk4 GTIs. It might not be as evocative as the Subaru WRX; it’s a sight handsomer than the Focus ST or the Civic SI.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Just like the exterior, the mk7 GTI interior is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Plaid cloth seats continue as the base seating. The dash is nicely shaped and hardy. The instruments are big and easy to read. And the steering wheel controls are intuitively laid out and fit nicely into the three-spoke design.

As for infotainment, VW makes some strides but still falls short of its competitors. The color touch screen is easy to use but is relatively low resolution. Granted it’s better than the Subaru system but still a far cry short of the Focus ST MyFord Touch.

Then there’s the USB situation. Like all VW group vehicles, Audi and Bentley included, an Apple 30 pin is the GTI’s only USB connector. VW offers an adapter to lightning but any other smartphone brand is out of luck and relegated to Bluetooth.

Fast and efficient

A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder TSI engine – code named the EA888 – that makes 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque powers the mk7 2015 GTI.

The Volkswagen Golf is perhaps the most sensible car on the planet.

Delightfully, customers can still mate the motor to either a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch DSG transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Although the new 2.0 makes a sizable stable of horses, the engine is still rated at 25 mpg city and 34 highway, making the 2015 the fastest and most fuel-efficient GTI to date.

Volkswagen also offers an optional Performance Package that adds – as well as a torque-sensing electronically-controlled limited-slip differential and larger brakes –10 extra horsepower, pushing the GTI from 210 to 220 ponies.

For my money, I wouldn’t even consider a non-Performance Package GTI.

Driving

I first drove the mk7 GTI – in European spec form – last year. I quickly fell in love with the car. I was enamored with the car’s performance and handling.

Since then, though, I’ve driven its chief competitors. And getting a taste from the other side of the pond, namely the Focus ST and the WRX, certainly cooled my admiration for the GTI.

There’s no denying that this is the fastest, best handling GTI ever; it’s a joy to drive. But is it the best in its class? I’m not sure.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI

The GTI’s engine is, as VW is bold enough to brag, a masterpiece – and I agree. It hits peak torque at 1,500 rpm and carries flat through the rev range, making the GTI a giggle at virtually any speed. The 2.0 also has a very nice, if not slightly too subtle, European burble in the lower revs.

Both transmissions work without flaw. The manual features a shifter knob made to look like a golf ball, which is kitschy and fun like the plaid seats. The DSG’s paddle shifters allow the driver to keep both hands on the wheel during hard cornering, even during a downshift.

The steering is well weighted and ratio is quick and true. The car handles flat and without any real drama. The steering is so precise and the grip so true that manual drivers can comfortably drive like a boy-racer with one hand.

The VW’s real downfall, I’m afraid, is the front-wheel drive layout. GTIs fitted with the Performance Package receive a limited-slip front differential. Even this doesn’t solve all the GTI’s under-steering and torque-steering issues.

Don’t get me wrong; compared with past hot hatches – or even the current Focus ST – the mk7 GTI is a straight shooter. Side-by-side with the 2015 Subaru WRX, though, it’s a bit of a squirrel. The WRX’s symmetrical all-wheel drive really saves the day. Plus, the WRX makes more power and has better steering.

Yes, the interior of the GTI is better constructed than the WRX, and – without a hatch WRX variant – much more usable. But if you’re buying the Golf for its versatility alone, get the non-GTI Sport model. If you’re buying it for its driving dynamics, though, you should give the WRX a serious look.

Cheap and versatile

My thoughts on WRX versus GTI aside, I won’t fault anyone for getting the mk7 GTI.

The 2015 model, even considering all its improvements, is less money than the 2014. Starting at $24,395, the 2015 GTI is around $700 cheaper than its predecessor.

For that money, you get a car that’s well built, handsome, a chuckle to drive, and perhaps more versatile than anything for the money. It just won’t trounce the competition at every turn.

Highs

  • Interior styling and versatility
  • Subtle yet sporty exterior looks
  • Fuel efficiency
  • So, so affordable
  • Bass-y stock sound system

Lows

  • Understeer-prone
  • Apple-based USB hookup
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