When I was in the market for a new car late last year, many times I found myself adding and discarding multiple choices in the hunt for a solid replacement to my 2001 Chevrolet Malibu sedan. A choice that stood out to the bitter end was the 2015 Volkswagen GTI. The latest installment in the legendary GTI model family, it brings new-found refinement, performance, and technology to the iconic hot hatch. But has the year long wait for it’s return to the U.S market been worth it? and will it’s new MQB platform help it stand out over it’s predecessor the Mk6? Read on to find out (as well as the unveiling of a special announcement at the end of this review).
Volkswagen’s iconic hot hatch has always put an emphasis on balancing performance, practicality, and value and i am pleased to report that this time honored tradition continues in the newest GTI. It begins with the exterior styling which is more of an evolution versus an outright redesign that should please fans that loved the Mk6’s basic styling theme and profile. The front fascia features a reworked front bumper which works nicely with the equally slick honeycomb grille and the fascias more aggressive lines. An item that keen observers may notice on the SE model pictured here is the absence of the red graphic which extends into the headlight housings (as seen in model’s featured in Volkswagen’s advertising). That particular styling feature is only available on higher grade GTIs, but my Deep Black Pearl tester still looked handsome, and it’s absence was hardly noticed. The rear fascia is a bit bland when viewed at certain angles, but it makes up for it by featuring slick tail lamps as well as a roof mounted spoiler to give it some much needed visual punch. Rounding out the changes are a pair of dual exhaust tips, and model exclusive wheel designs ( 18-inch alloy “Austin” wheels on my tester) which was also the case with the Mk6 GTI.
The interior of my tester (though a bit understated) is a classic example of the type of refinement and subtle restraint that has come to define many German car designs with the dashboard featuring upscale materials that feel and look great. All important controls are ergonomically located and easy to use with many of them in easy view of the driver. A meaty flat bottomed steering wheel does a good job of broadcasting the car’s performance intentions, while aluminum pedal covers, supportive sport seats, and a model exclusive instrument panel do their part to help the GTI stand out from it’s standard issue Golf sibling. As a bonus, my manual equipped SE also carried over the Mk6 models golf ball style shifter knob which looked cool, and serves to bring a welcome retro touch to the cabin. Sound quality from the Panasonic sound system (which features Fender branding) was excellent with good amounts of bass and treble present.
However the overall presentation is not without its flaws, the 5.8 inch touchscreen for example did an excellent job registering inputs, but looked a tad chintzy thanks mostly in part to the glossy black surround trim which made it appear as if it could hold a larger screen. There was also a very teutonic feel to the dark color scheme which could have benefited from more contrast elements to balance things out, and while the side bolstering for the leather sport seats was very good, the rest of the seat offered average levels of support with upper back support virtually non existent. This was disappointing especially since the Focus ST offers better thrones when equipped with it’s optional Recaro seats.
However when it all comes down to it, the GTI is all about spirited driving pleasure versus creature comforts and on that front Volkswagen engineers have hit a home run with this latest GTI. Handling behavior was very crisp with the electric assist steering offering excellent response though like in many recent BMW models, a noticeable amount of feedback went away with the transition from hydraulic to electron power. The car’s MQB platform produced very little body-roll in sharp turns and also trims 82 lbs in flab from the car’s curb weight which reduces unsprung weight. Power comes from the company’s turbocharged and direct injected “EA888” 2.0 liter four cylinder which is good for a healthy 210 horsepower (a gain of 10) and a stout 258 lb-ft of torque. While the horsepower figure is less than rivals such as the Focus ST and the Subaru Impreza WRX, the extra 51 lbs of twist is higher than the Honda Civic SI, and makes a substantial difference in the car’s acceleration behavior with more power available in the lower part of the rev band.
All of this power is routed to the front wheels through either a six speed manual transmission or an optional six speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. While the dual clutch will most likely represent the majority of GTI sales, the stick does make a compelling case for itself as an alternate choice for those looking for full driver involvement. Shifts were smooth and accurate with excellent short throw action, though the tight setup and the transmissions gear mapping does make shifting into 3rd a bit awkward but that little quibble goes away after a few minutes of practice. The 2015 GTI comes with a model exclusive Drive Mode Selection system with three available modes Normal, Sport, and Individual. During my time with the GTI, I preferred to keep things in Sport mode which sharpens up the car’s handling and throttle mapping for a more enjoyable experience. Individual mode is like a build a burger option at your local restaurant, with the driver being able to tune the various settings to his or her tastes (for example leaving the steering and throttle in sport mode but the suspension in normal mode). Unfortunately my tester did not come equipped with the optional performance package, but I look forward to perhaps sampling a GTI with this feature in the near future to find out how much it contributes to the overall driving experience.
Pricing begins at $25,215 for a base 2 door S model which is only a slight $195 increase over the old Mk6 model. My SE grade 4 door tester had a base price of $27,995 with fees and other charges raising it to a total of $28,215 which is a high price in this segment, but it is slightly cheaper than the WRX (in Limited trim) and the MINI Cooper S. It is also a grand lower than my 2013 Buick Verano Turbo which had a final out the door price of just under $30,000 thanks to GM incentives.
Speaking of the Verano, it is more of a direct competitor to the GTI’s sedan sibling the Jetta based GLI. However, it does wield a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder of its own (borrowed from the Regal GS) which makes 250 horsepower (40 more than the GTI) and outguns the hot hatches torque figure by 2 lb-ft. However while it may have more muscle than the Volkswagen, it’s Cruze based architecture does leave it with an inferior suspension setup, and it’s focus on luxury endows it with seats that are very comfortable but not that supportive when it comes time to take the tiny Buick through twisty roads. Plus it’s more conservative suit of clothes may irk some buyers that want more distinction from lesser grade Veranos, while the more noticeable turbo lag, and slightly rough around the edges six speed automatic may turn off more performance oriented buyers.
Overall while the 2015 GTI might have taken much longer to arrive on our shores than many had anticipated. It is certainly worth the wait, and it continues to excel as a car that can fit into a multitude of roles whether being a family car/grocery hauler during the week or a fun capable partner for a Sunday afternoon drive down the back roads when you want some time away from it all.
(A special thank you to the folks at Fox Volkswagen in Rochester Hills Michigan for allowing me to check out the 2015 Volkswagen GTI as well as the opportunity to drive the one featured in this review.)
Lastly, I did promise a special announcement at the end of this review, and i’m pleased to report that I am in the process of saving up money for a GTI of my own which will eventually join the Verano in my driveway. Also stay tuned to Autoinfoquest because I aim to make a bit of history with this eventual purchase by being the first buyer to achieve part of the savings through turning in recyclable goods such as bottles and cans as well as other items.