2015 Volkswagen GTI. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Peter Bleakney
This past February I got to see the first seventh-generation North American Golf roll off the assembly line at the huge Volkswagen plant in Puebla, Mexico. It was a red four-door GTI.
Now there’s a red four-door six-speed GTI in my driveway.
While this seventh-gen GTI has been tooling around Europe for a year now, we North Americans have been waiting, and I won’t say patiently, to experience this V-Dub hot hatch that’s got everybody hopping.
Has it been worth the wait?
Time for a little disclosure. I’ve been a GTI enthusiast for a while, having bought my first back in 1983 – a Pennsylvania-built Mk I with a 90-hp 1.8L. About 11 grand, tax in. There’s been a few since, but my buying stopped in 2001 with a Matchstick Red 1.8T. Yarkony was quick to remind me during our little impromptu photo shoot that, yes indeed, the Mk 4 GTI is generally considered to be the nadir of the nameplate. Sigh.
This Mk 7 pushes much higher, expanding on the virtues of the Mark 5 and 6 that traded on a masterful blend of refinement, handling, pace and utility. Maybe not a quantum leap, but it’s a better car in every way.
And I would call it a slow burn.
At first blush, this Mk 7 could easily be mistaken for the outgoing model. Then you’ll notice it’s a little longer, a little lower and the front wheels are pushed further forward. The five-spoke 18-inch alloys on this four-door Autobahn ($32,895 base) carry the signature GTI theme, but they are cooler… more stylin’. As is the sharper creased body. The Mk 7 is taut, edgier and sits on the road with a touch more purpose.
It’s a slow burn inside too. Place your derriere in the plaid seats and look around. About the time you realize these simple fabric chairs are a benchmark for comfort and support, your hands rest on a chrome, aluminum and leather piece of functional art. That would be the perfectly proportioned flat-bottom steering wheel. Study the exquisite red cross-stitching and clever array of controls.
Now drop your right paw onto the shifter. The iconic golf ball shift knob could have simply been screwed on top of a metal post, but here it perches atop its own metallic high-art tee.
Press the starter button and the red needles make a full sweep. You might not notice the oh-so subtle white shadowing behind the big km/h digits in the central display. Such a small detail, but it lends the slightest 3D feel that escalates ho-hum to hmmmm.
And such is Mk 7 GTI. Precision. Detail. Design. Execution. This interior is not flashy (the plaid seats and the Autobahn’s large sunroof do brighten up what is a mostly dark affair) but it could be at home in a vehicle twice its price.
Of course, you don’t buy a GTI just to gaze at it.
2015 Volkswagen GTI drivers view & sunroof. Click image to enlarge
For me, the driving experience of this Mk 7 was a slow burn, too. Probably because it started with a pair of day trips with my wife, who possesses a strong aversion to linear and lateral g-forces – essentially hooligan driving of any kind.
Since I possess a strong aversion to getting my right shoulder jabbed and not getting sex, I was on my best behaviour. Not easy to do with the right foot twitching madly above the happy pedal.
2015 Volkswagen GTI engine bay. Click image to enlarge
However, as an economical and comfortable cruiser the GTI shows impeccable road manners. This is the first car to use V-Dub’s new MQB architecture – it is stronger, lighter and dynamically superior to the outgoing platform. The MQB utilizes 28 percent high-strength steel as opposed the gen six’s six percent. The GTI’s doors close with a Bentley-like thunk. Despite riding on 18-inch wheels and showing almost no roll or dive, the ride is plenty civilized. At 120 km/h the engine spins at a somnolent 2,400 rpm.
Power comes from VW’s ubiquitous EA288 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four, here making 210 hp at 4,500 rpm and 258 lb-ft from 1,500 rpm. This is up 10 horses and 51 torques from the Mk 6 GTI. On startup and in the lower reaches of the tach it has the typically growly disposition of these direct-injected engines – slightly agrarian and not particularly sexy. Down low it feels strong but not overly inspired.
After a day of tooling around Niagara wine country and enjoying the decent Fender audio, the onboard computer showed 6.9 L/100 km.
But I still hadn’t found the true essence of the Tornado Red Mk 7. Time to hit my favourite back road test loop.