The first real VW GTI officially came to all of North America in 1983. The last of the Mk1 models were introduced to a waiting public looking for some excitement in the compact car class. The GTI had been on sale in Europe since 1976 and essentially spawned the term, “Hot Hatch” referencing the high performance hatchback class.
Somewhat mimicking the original strategy, the latest model has been on sale in Europe for over a year but is only now showing up in North American showrooms this month.
This latest Volkswagen GTI model looks to build on the six previous generations and attract a new following of GTI fanatics. The Mk7 GTI is longer (67mm), wider (11mm) and lighter (body structure 23 kgs less) than the previous model. Oh, and reportedly faster, too!
The GTI will be offered in either a base or upmarket “Autobahn” three-door version. However, the five-door model is only available in the premium trim level. The Autobahn trim includes 18-inch alloy wheels, rain sensing wipers, a glass panorama sunroof, keyless entry, automatic-on adaptive bi-xenon headlights, rear-view camera, Fender audio system and LED fog lights.
The standard 2.0 turbocharged engine churns out 210 horsepower, but torque has been boosted by an impressive 51 pound-feet for a peak output of 258 lb-ft at an impressively useable 1,500 rpm. Most surprising are the fuel economy ratings supplied by Volkswagen, 9.4/6.9 L/100kms (City/Hwy with the manual transmission). This makes the new GTI more efficient than the lesser-powered car it replaces. The fuel economy savings are, in part, due to the lower vehicle weight and an improved drag coefficient — down from 0.32 to 0.29.
As with the other new Golf models, the interior is head and shoulders above other vehicles in the compact sports class. VW redesigned the dashboard with high grade plastics and soft touch surfaces across the board. The central stack area is also angled slightly inward towards the driver, making the ergonomics better. A suite of steering mounted controls also aid in the ergonomic execution.
The standard seating is a familiar fixture to longtime GTI fans. The original tartan cloth seats from the first generation Golf makes a nostalgic return. The seats are very supportive without being hard and the side bolsters proved to be very effective. On one occasion I found the bolster forcing my smart phone up into my side, actually causing a small bruise…so be warned.
Included in the GTI package is Volkswagen’s MIB 5.8 inch LCD control unit that displays audio functions. The system controls the auxiliary external device connection in the centre console, provides Bluetooth connectivity, houses a CD player, SD card slot for extra media as well as an adjustable driving mode selector. Drivers can choose between regular or Sport settings which re-calibrates the steering, throttle, suspension and even the headlights. An individual setting feature allows drivers to tailor the system to choose which parts of the system to tweak or leave alone when they require more driving adrenaline.
Air-conditioning, auto up/down power windows, heated side mirror and front seats are all standard.
A full slate of on-board electronic ride controls includes optional active suspension dampers help to ratchet up handling and performance. The XDS+ differential lock (a form of electronic limited slip differential), is standard on the GTI. The system actually brakes the spinning wheel for additional traction or can brake an inside wheel to help power the GTI around corners.
The suspension in the GTI is truly a thing of beauty. The refinement and rigidity of the MQB platform results in a comfortable ride during regular commuting conditions. Yet, when required, the GTI turns into corners without any dramas. One near emergency situation demonstrated how flat and sure-footed the suspension in the new GTI is. Through a near navigation misstep (my co-driver’s directions) I had to dial in hard, cornering to catch a 90 degree turn. The GTI sucked itself through the corner and felt ultra composed in doing so. If the feedback though the suspension and steering was any indication, there was far more left in the VW GTI’s handling reserves.
The increased engine torque pulls the GTI smartly off the line and while the drivetrain is available with either a six-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch transmission, we were only able to drive the DSG equipped model. GTI with six-speed DSG great off the line with additional torque. However, in regular mode the vehicle drops off rev once it hits third gear and starts to focus on fuel economy and/or longer legged driving. A sport button keeps things lively with its emphasis on holding the engine revs in the upper power band. Another feature of the DSG transmission are steering mounted paddle-shifters. In operation, this is likely one of the smoothest implementations of direct shift controls I have experienced. The engine and transmission seemed to anticipate my manual requests and either retarded the engine spark or tweaked revs to match the gear being selected.
A performance package is optional for the GTI, adding 10 hp to engine output, 13.4 inch front brake rotors instead of the standard 12.4 inch models. The standard limited slip system is endowed with active torque vectoring. This allows up to 100% of all engine torque to be sent to one of the front wheels for extra traction or to assist in cornering.
The 2015 Volkswagen GTI starts at $27,995 for the base 3 door model with the 6 speed manual gearbox. The Autobahn package adds $4,000 to the prices and opting for a DSG transmission layers on another $1400. The 5 door model, as mentioned earlier, comes only in the Autobahn trim and starts at $32,395 or $900 more than a similarly equipped 3 door unit.
The optional Nav system adds $695 to the bottom line, while choosing leather over the cloth tartan seats will set you back $1095. The performance package has not yet been scheduled for sale in Canada at the time of writing and as such no price has been confirmed.
Overall the VW GTI represents a high water mark in the performance coupe market. The level of refinement and performance matches vehicles in much higher price categories.