On the Road Review: Volkswagen GTI

Anxious to drive Volkswagen’s latest generation-seven GTI, the sporty version of the Golf, VW’s top selling car in the world, I had been making subtle hints all through fall as both a 2015 GTI and a diesel TDI were known to be in the press fleet. Just before Christmas, one of Santa’s Elves delivered a Carbon Gray GTI five-door for an extended holiday visit.

From the first 15 minutes behind the wheel, it is clear that the latest GTI is a nimble handler, a buttoned-down compact class entry with power, performance, style, versatility and a driving confidence that is matched by few cars — regardless of size or price.

My youngest brother has had three GTIs, lavishing praise on generation two, four and six GTIs like they were products of his own loins. He is not alone; fans of the GTI and the accompanying all-wheel-drive ‘R’ version have been known to be rabid admirers of VW’s little pocket rocket. The latest GTI proves that there is a lot to relish with this spicy compact.

First, the upgraded 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gains 10 additional horsepower (210 hp now, 220 with the performance package) while torque output takes an even more significant jump to 258 pound/feet, which is realized at a relatively calm 1,500 rpms. Torque is the push in the back that you feel when you summon more work from the engine room, a reaction that the GTI offers in spades — no matter which gear, from any speed.

This added proficiency provides more than ample power for squirting through busy traffic, effortless highway cruising or, blasting down your favorite backroad. With EPA fuel efficiencies of 25/34/28 mpg, the GTI also is a frugal sporty car when you want it to be.

Secondly, the GTI’s chassis earns special accolades. Steering effort is light, yet precise, quick, and oh so rewarding in your hands. Lithe maneuvers seem to flow from the taut yet compliant suspension, never punishing you with harsh reactions, just supple performance even when loaded with four passengers. Fun to drive appeared in my logbook almost every day for three weeks.

Volkswagen didn’t neglect the rest of the car while compiling an impressive array of engineering high points, as the third reason you might choose the GTI over say a Focus ST, Subaru WRX or Mini Cooper, is the car’s well-finished interior. Clearly derived from the sons and daughters that produce Audis, the GTI has concise controls that are intuitive and accessible. Soft-touch action is all that is needed to activate control stalks; there is no clacking or clicking as each control smoothly responds to your touch — and all are within easy fingertip reach while your hands are comfortably operating the thick-rim steering wheel. Push-buttons and dials populate the dash functions for audio and climate, while the upgraded infotainment/ navigation center responds to finger swipes equally as well. With Fender speakers and enhanced graphics on the nav screen, the seventh-generation GTI exudes a premium feel that you just don’t get in many compact car rivals.

The seat heaters are fabulous, the push-button ignition (on the console, like Jaguar) convenient, while the six-speed manual gearbox and precise clutch is light to the touch and easy to operate for seasoned veterans of three pedals, or, novices taking their first stab at operating this polished pocket rocket. Click the shift lever into reverse, and the rear VW badge “opens” so the hidden rear view camera can provide an always clean view.

This compact car feels solid, as if built from a single piece of aluminum billet, a car that you feel part of. Its dimensions are small, only 168 inches long on a 103.6-inch wheelbase, so when you view the Golf it seems tiny. Driving it, enjoying it, creates a totally different impression.

Rear seats split to fold, just as proper Golf’s always have. With adaptable Bi-xenon headlamps, an oversize sunroof and leather upholstery throughout, our Autobahn-trimmed GTI is at the top of the scale. Base price is just under $25,000 for the GTI, an even $32,000 as shown here.

Volkswagen has five versions of the Golf available in the States for 2015. The base sedan/coupe uses a 1.8-liter four, the Golf-E has a new hybrid powertrain and the TDI gains 10-hp more for this year, with an increase in fuel economy. The GTI will have mass performance appeal, while the latest ‘R’, with a rumored 290-hp and AWD will be more competition for the WRX/STI Subaru’s. The ‘R’ arrives this spring.

The latest GTI is everything you have heard it would be, and more. Great small car, this one is, another in a stunning lineup of GTIs that evolve, mature and conquer.


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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