Did I have sky-high expectations of the 2015 GTI? You bet I did. Being a former GTI owner, I had preconceived ideals and requirements for my week with the new GTI. VW had better be handing over a truly sporty hatchback that doesn’t shy away from practicality or there would be trouble.

Yes, the GTI is a Golf and the 2015’s upright five-door shape doesn’t stray too far from the beaten path. It gets its own special touches, yes. Badging, a mildly aggressive front end with a snazzy honeycomb grille, bright U-shaped LED running lights and some slick adaptive bi-xenon headlights. And LED fog lights that are set into a pair of over-styled fake air intakes. The rear end gets two nicely-spread-out meaty exhaust tips and a slick-looking lower diffuser. The wheel wells are filled with attractive 18-inch rims – they’ve got five big swept-back spokes and are shod with 225/40-sized rubber.

The GTI’s cabin is nicely crafted, but nothing special – I’ve seen a lot of talk about a quality interior, but frankly, I think it’s somewhere around the middle of the pack when it comes to the competition in this class and there was nothing substantial about it that made it memorable for me. It has a decent soft-touch-plastic upper dash, but there are plenty of hard plastics everywhere else and even with the cool red accent lighting strips glowing around the interior, it’s a very dark, sombre place to be. No surprise for VW fans.

As expected, the heated plaid fabric seats are firm, beautifully supportive and comfortable. The smallish 5.8-inch touchscreen (surrounded by hard buttons for the main functions) controls media, phone and navigation – it’s not a very sharp screen, but the user interface is pretty intuitive and things work well, with the exception of the voice recognition. The sound system is Fender-branded. I’m not sure why a manufacturer would choose to pair up with a company known for building crunchy-sounding guitar amps in the first place, but thankfully the system in the GTI sounds quite good. There’s also a dual-zone automatic climate control system and a sunroof.

If you need to move people, two of them will be quite comfortable in the back. There is ample headroom and generous legroom as well – for the two outboard positions. The centre console goes way back and sits atop a massive middle tunnel, which effectively removes any leg and foot room for the middle seating position.

2015 Volkswagen GTI dashboard2015 Volkswagen GTI rear seats2015 Volkswagen GTI cargo area2015 Volkswagen GTI backup camera
2015 Volkswagen GTI dashboard, rear seats, cargo area, backup camera. Click image to enlarge

While the Golf-based GTI comes across as a great family-mobile, and we did get our three kids back there, it was always a fight about who had to sit in the middle because it’s a nearly-useless and highly uncomfortable seat. If you’ve got little ones, there are two sets of excellent, easily-accessible LATCH child-seat anchors. The otherwise Spartan rear seating area gets some adjustable air vents, an armrest that folds down out of the centre seatback, and for transporting longer, skinnier items while you’re also moving passengers, a centre pass-through.

You’ll hunt around for a minute to figure out how to get into the trunk. In the end, I figured out that the top of the VW logo on the hatchback can be pushed in – an action that unlocks the hatch and pivots the bottom of the badge out far enough to become a latch to pull up. Nifty. The car automatically makes the same thing happen when you put it into reverse, and the electronically swivelled-up VW badge exposes the rear-view camera. I’m guessing that’s just something else that could go wrong down the road, but for now, it’s a cool little detail.

There is a sizeable 490 L trunk space under the hard parcel shelf, which is removable. Yank it out of there, and you have 670 L total behind the rear seats to work with. Fold the back seats down (they split 60/40) and the GTI hands over a solid 1,520 L space to work with.

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