2015 Volkswagen GTI First Drive Review: Introduction
Let’s just get straight to it.
After spending some time with the European version of the new GTI, we feel very comfortable making the statement the 2015 Volkswagen GTI, (or the Mark VII GTI for the cognoscenti) will be the best iteration of the Volkswagen GTI ever offered in North America. With its free winding new engine, excellent chassis dynamics, and responsive steering, you’ll have more fun driving this version of the GTI than any version of the car we’ve ever driven—and we’ve driven them all.
When Volkswagen introduced the GTI iteration of the Golf back in 1976, it is said the company was responsible for the creation of a new genre of automobile. Affordable, commodious, fuel efficient, and huge fun to drive, that first GTI brought the dynamics of a sports car to the hatchback class of cars. As the Golf has evolved into a more comfortable car over the years, the GTI has also become considerably larger and plusher. So much so, that at one point the GTI almost lost the sharpness of the Mark I car so coveted by GTI fans.
And, while this is the largest version of the Volkswagen GTI ever offered, it is also simultaneously lighter, faster, and more fuel-efficient than the Mark VI GTI it replaces. With that said, we can confidently state the Mark VII 2015 Volkswagen GTI is easily the best driving GTI ever offered. It also boasts the nicest interior treatment ever applied to Volkswagen’s hard hitting hatchback.
2015 Volkswagen GTI First Drive Review: Design
Dimensionally, the 2015 GTI is 2.1 inches longer, .08 of an inch wider, and 1.1 inches lower. The track is pretty much the same as the Mark VI car (just a bit wider in the front), but the wheelbase is 2.1 inches longer. The “A” pillar sits back a bit farther on this version of the GTI (and by extension the Golf family in general) so the hood is longer and the roof is lower, giving the Mark VII car a slightly more racy appearance than the Mark VI.
The new GTI is differentiated from its Golf siblings by a more aggressive front-end treatment with a wider opening beneath the front bumper and honeycomb-shaped grilles. The driving lights are faired into the lower front valance at the extreme outer edges and framed with three strakes, similar to those found on the GTI’s more upscale Audi R8 cousin. In GTI tradition, a red stripe adorns the grille and is repeated in the headlight housings.
The GTI’s lowered sport suspension system makes it sit lower than the standard Golf. This, working in concert with the 18-inch alloy wheels and aerodynamic side skirts give the car a more planted look. In fact, you can tell this GTI handles better, just by looking at it.
Completing the more performance-oriented look are a more pronounced rear spoiler, a different taillight treatment, a pair of chromed exhaust tips, and a more upswept rear skirt.
In sum, the differences are subtle, but they do add up quite nicely.
2015 Volkswagen GTI First Drive Review: Comfort & Cargo
Our test car’s seating package was upholstered in what Volkswagen refers to as “Vienna” leather. The traditional plaid GTI cloth will be offered as well—but with a more loosely woven pattern. The seats are deeply bolstered, exceptionally comfortable and supportive. Plus, they feel as if they would remain so over many hours of driving. Soundly sculpted, the seats do an excellent job of holding you in place as you exploit the outstanding capabilities of the 2015 Volkswagen GTI as well.
As before, the GTI will be offered in both two-door and four-door body configurations. Head-, leg-, and shoulder room are terrific in the front seats. The rear seats, as you might imagine are a bit light on legroom (although better than the outgoing model’s), but if the people sitting up front are willing to be accommodating, two adults could ride in the back in relative comfort. Shoulder room has been increased for rear passengers over that offered in the Mk.VI version of the GTI.
One of the things responsible for making the GTI special is the fact it uses a hatchback body. This means its carrying capacity is enhanced by an ease of loading and unloading. Additionally, the folding rear seat enables the car to accept cargo in lieu of rear seat passengers when the need arises.
In other words, with a Volkswagen GTI, performance and practicality go hand in hand.
2015 Volkswagen GTI First Drive Review: Features & Controls
Settling into the driver’s seat of our test car and looking around, had it not been for the VW logo on the steering wheel, we might well have thought we were sitting in an Audi.
It was that nice.
The leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel contained controls for the audio system, the cruise control system, and the handsfree telephone interface. It also contained the controls for scrolling through the information displayed by the multifunction screen mounted in the instrument panel between the speedometer and tachometer.
Perfectly sized for performance driving, the delicious feeling wheel featured the trademark red GTI stitching. Paddles for controlling the direct shift gearbox (DSG) were mounted behind the steering wheel. The left one downshifted the transmission, while the right one actuated upshifts. Speaking of the transmission, its shift knob as well as the pedal set was rendered in stainless steel, nicely complimenting the metallic accents on the steering wheel.
Slightly canted toward the driver, the center stack featured nicely sized and perfectly positioned knobs for the audio and climate control systems. While we’re on the subject of the climate control system, Volkswagen’s automatic Climatronic unit is standard equipment.
The nicely sized touchscreen monitor occupying the place of honor in the center stack featured the audio system readouts, as well as the navigation system’s map, and video from the rearview camera. Park distance control was fitted to our test car as well, overlaying a scaling grid to the video from the camera when the GTI was in reverse.
2015 Volkswagen GTI First Drive Review: Engine/Fuel Economy
Powering the GTI was a 2.0-liter version of the new Volkswagen EA888 turbocharged and direct injected inline four-cylinder engine, featuring variable valve timing. In our Euro-spec test car, we were told the powerplant developed 230 horsepower and 258 ft-lbs of torque from 1500 rpm.
Among the new features of the engine is an integrated exhaust manifold. Rather than being attached to the engine block as a separate unit, VW now makes it part of the block and circulates coolant around it to cool the exhaust gases before they are routed through the turbocharger. This does a couple of things; for the turbocharger it makes the intake charge denser so it produces more boost. This configuration also serves to heat the engine faster, reducing its emissions and improving fuel economy.
Two six-speed transmissions are offered to route the output of the engine to the front wheels. There is a traditional six-speed manual transmission, as well as Volkswagen’s outstanding direct shift gearbox. Our tester was equipped with the latter.
An optional performance package will be offered for the 2015 Volkswagen GTI as well. In the European car it increases horsepower output to 240, thanks to more boost from the turbocharger. Other features of the performance package include bigger brakes by Brembo, and a different front differential with electronically controlled variable locking. Happily, the performance package is expected to make the boat ride when the 2015 Volkswagen GTI is shipped to the United States.
Fuel economy is estimated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway.
2015 Volkswagen GTI First Drive Review: Driving Impressions
In two words…
With the six-speed DSG the engine “poofts” between gear changes like a turbocharged Formula 1 car. And the sound of the engine…it’s positively glorious. Yes, Volkswagen uses an active sound generator to reinforce its aural qualities, but it’s absolutely wonderful. In fact, the sound of the car makes you feel like you’re going some 20 miles per hour faster than you are. It really is that good. And, the sound it makes when the transmission executes matched-rev downshifts is even better.
This is a driver’s car of the very first order.
Resolutely planted and giddily agile, the chassis is nicely balanced. Plus, the body stays nearly perfectly flat when cornering; the car’s grip is tremendous. Braking is absolutely confidence inspiring, we saw no evidence of fade after flogging the car for a considerable distance on a series of very challenging roads.
Further, that limited slip differential we mentioned earlier helps the Mark VII GTI put its power down both uniformly and effectively. Even with 258 foot-pounds of torque flowing through the front wheels, torque steer is absolutely non-existent. You can pin the throttle to the floor off the line and the GTI tracks absolutely straight—it feels almost as if you’re piloting an all-wheel drive car. The GTI does have stability control, but the performance package’s differential renders it all but superfluous.
Thrust gets to the ground really, really well.
Coming off of corners, you can get on the power early and marvel as the GTI pulls beautifully. Additionally, you can actually feel what’s going on down at the contact patches. Steering feel is amazingly exceptional for a front drive car with electric-assist variable-ratio steering. Needing only 2.1 turns lock to lock, the GTI also turns in very quickly.
Remarkably, even with all of this performance potential, the car feels absolutely composed. In steady-state operation, the suspension delivers a reassuringly supple ride. As a daily driver, the 2015 GTI is utterly domesticated.
And yet, when you put it on a track the thing will just flat fly.
This really is the best performing, most highly sophisticated Volkswagen GTI ever offered. Volkswagen’s representatives say the Mk.VII is the fastest, most powerful and most efficient GTI the company has ever offered. And frankly, everything we experienced while driving the car bears this out.
The quoted 0 – 60 is 6.3 seconds.
The car’s stated top speed is 153 miles per hour.
We didn’t try a run at its top speed and the situation didn’t permit timed acceleration runs. But honestly, it feels much quicker and much faster than those numbers suggest.
You really do have to drive this car to believe it.
Yes, it is absolutely that good.
Plus, it’s really good-looking too.
The 2015 Mk.VII Volkswagen GTI is slated to go on sale in North America in June of 2014.
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