Review: 2015 Volkswagen GTI

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The first time I ever rode in a GTI, I was getting a ride home from school in a friend’s red Mk2. The headlights on this GTI made a candle look bright and an even dimmer green arrow on the dash would hint at the best ways to achieve optimal fuel economy. But behind this, the 16v badge, and the cheap-looking black exterior trim parts, was a “soul” as my friend would tell me. HUH?

This friend of mine, Milo, would give me many rides home in this car before I had my own – of which many were spent squabbling over cars. He would tell me all the innovations of German cars and why they were better than my soul-less Japanese icons, and I would laugh at him when his GTI’s parts would snap off while telling me about their build quality. In other words, we bonded over this vehicle.

What is the point of this story? Despite never having owned one, the GTI holds a special place in my heart.

And now we have the 7th generation of this GTI. I was worried about this car for two reasons:

6th gen GTI lost in this comparison. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5NLBjRNCrE

6th gen GTI lost in this comparison against the Focus ST and Mazdaspeed 3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5NLBjRNCrE

1. In our hot hatch comparison test the Mazdaspeed3 and Ford Focus ST really highlighted the dynamic shortcomings of the previous generation GTI (shameless plug here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5NLBjRNCrE)

2. the Mk7 “base” Golf I last drove was very impressive indeed. To the point where I thought – “The GTI will have to be seriously good to be better than this”.

Work: Cutout.

Newsflash: crease added to the boot

Newsflash: crease added to the boot

As with the Golf, the visual aspects of the car have changed. Sort of. Minor nips and tucks have resulted in a car that looks more a mid-life refresh than a full on generation roll-over. The car has now grown wrinkles on its body, the light clusters have been tweaked, and the red lipstick which used to be above and below the front grille now carry into the headlamps on the bottom. Stop me when your heart can take no more.

This design evolution has carried well into the interior; handsome and quality feeling materials surround you while the mildly sculpted seats gently embrace your body (yes I did just write that). The steering wheel is a real thing of beauty, and there are well thought out details that let you know things have been thought through.

Nice place to be, this. Leather is sumptuous (although probably an option I'd skip).

Nice place to be, this. Leather is sumptuous (although probably an option I’d skip).

LEDs are abound to help direct light at the passengers without affecting the driver’s night vision, the dial needles are all parallel when the car is off, and red LED strip lighting sounds tacky but ends up adding a nice sporty ambience to the car. The trunk/hatch packaging is pretty much the same as the Golf we previously had, with the adjustable shelf of the rear cargo tray giving you the flexibility to hide packages in the back or maximize room (shameless plug#2 here: http://143car.com/review-2015-volkswagen-golf/). Some may find the rear cargo room a bit lacking.

 

That being said, it all rounds out to a handsome and well thought out package both inside and out.

 

Red LED strip lighting on both the door panels and sills sound cheesy until you are actually in the car.

Red LED strip lighting on both the door panels and sills sound cheesy until you are actually in the car.

If a game of spot-the-difference never floated your boat, where the GTI should really pull you in is in the driving experience. And not because it could pull a million G’s or stop your heart in its acceleration, but because the GTI should do everything better than most cars can do one thing.

And this one can too. In fact, its brilliant.

I drove this car and a few friends out to a ski mountain a few hours away at the Big White Ski Resort, just outside of Kelowna BC. The roads on the way there are twisty and the lighting on the roads are poor. Elevation changes are commonplace. The roads are rutted in multiple locations due to the changing road conditions. In other words, this was a perfect test for this hot hatch and to see if it really can do the Grand Touring part that makes up the GT in its name. Would we get lost? Would my friends throw up on the way there? Will some plastic parts break off?

The answer is no (because we had a good integrated navigation system), yes (but only a bit in their mouths), and no (that I know of).

Driving modes allow you to custom the driving experience to your liking. So sport everything for me thank you.

Driving modes allow you to custom the driving experience to your liking. So sport everything for me thank you.

Volkswagen made a bit of a deal out of their new “Light Assist” feature which automatically dims the high beams in the presence of traffic. I didn’t get a chance to test it out in the Golf properly, but on a late night jaunt to BC’s interior on some poorly lit roads this feature was an absolute peach. I know I know…what’s the big deal with some auto high beams? Well not only does this feature keep your high beams on until it detects oncoming traffic, but it also auto-lowers for tail lights as well. This feature is awesome on dark curvy roads – allowing you to keep your hands on the wheel and focus on driving.

I pretty much left the car in its sport setting the entire way there and I found it to be the right amount of throttle response, steering response, and engine pick up for me. Speaking of which…

The engine in this car is mega. I really thought the 1.8T would be tough to beat, but this car doesn’t have the dead-pedal issues I had in my Golf tester, and the torque is there. Everywhere. Ok it doesn’t really pick up until about 3500rpm, but there is significant torque from 1500rpm, so you really don’t need to shift as much. Going up the steepest part of the Coquihalla pass, I was able to stay in 6th gear, all the way up. And the engine didn’t even feel like it was even trying. Ain’t no thang. The engine exhibits a rorty sound from the outside and there is a distinct induction noise inside although the sound quality seems to have degraded slightly from before.

Mighty 2.0T starts its pretty flat torque curve from 1500rpm. So you like never have to shift. Almost.

Mighty 2.0T starts its pretty flat torque curve from 1500rpm. So you like never have to shift. Almost.

As much as the engine is flexible, the DSG (Direkt-Schalt-Getriebe, or crudely translated to Direct Shift Gearbox for us non-Germans) is great. Yes, as a die-hard-loyal-save-the-manuals flag flyer it hurts me inside to say that. This gearbox is quick; quicker than I remember and downshifts are fantastically rev-matched, with multiple downshifts making for easy work. And while I still missed the interaction of swapping gears myself, driving at night time at a brisk pace it was nice being able to focus on the road rather than worrying about nailing that perfect heel-toe. Yes, the gearbox still lurches at slow speed, particularly going up hill, but if I had to choose an automatic to drive this would be it.

Yep its an automatic (ok technically a manual) that I like. There I said it.

Yep its an automatic (ok technically a manual) that I like. There I said it.

But here is the good bit; the car makes you feel like a rally driver. On these empty rutted mountain roads with a car full of scared/car-sick snowboarders, this car flowed. For me this is a mark of a well sorted chassis.

The suspension floats over bumps mid corner that would have spat out a more firmly suspended hot hatch, and damped out major compressions like it was rolling over fresh asphalt in all but the largest potholes. Everything just feels a bit tighter than before – and no doubt it is having expunged 100kg from its chassis. The steering is accurate and more natural feeling than its rivals out there, with the slightly slow rack from the Mk6 being replaced with something quicker, making the car feel more immediate. The car is surprisingly neutral, allowing you to drive it like an AWD car. The flip side to this more composed chassis is that the car doesn’t seem to weight transfer as well, so you have to try harder to coerce the rear end into play. The traction control also never fully turns off, but it doesn’t intrude until you are indeed in need of some saving (so I’ve heard).

18" "Austin" Alloy wheels are handsome, but a bit less interesting than the old "Detroit" phone dial wheels. Strange thumping noises around town....

18″ “Austin” Alloy wheels are handsome, but a bit less interesting than the old “Detroit” phone dial wheels. Strange thumping noises around town….

That being said, the car isn’t perfect. There was a strange amount of clunking that seemed to come from various places in the car. One of the clunks came from the adjustable cargo tray, but the suspension also seemed to clunk when driven around town. Strangely this behaviour was nowhere to be found on the highways even over potholes.

Overall, this car is an enthralling package. In comparison, the Focus ST seems a bit too shouty and try-hard. The looks are a bit more subtle, the interior is beautiful, and the control elements are wonderfully in tune with each other. I couldn’t get enough of driving this car.

Fittingly years after ridding himself of that Mk2, my friend Milo just put a down payment on the R version of this car. In red. We’ll see if any plastic panels snap off that car but I’ll be sure to be there when it happens. The good friend that I am.

 

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You can find more photos of the GTI we had here: http://goo.gl/2MNUAq

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