2015 Volkswagen GTI. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony
Originally published May 20, 2014
San Francisco, California – After a one-year hiatus, the Volkswagen GTI returns to Canada as an all-new 2015 model with another round of subtle but substantial updates. It is on sale now.
This is the seventh generation Golf and GTI (Mk7), and it has gained ever greater sophistication and capability through the years to the point that it is now a borderline premium product. There is no doubt that the GTI has its cult following, that’s for sure.
As with almost every redesign hitting the market these days, the GTI (and the Golf on which it is based) has gotten bigger and more powerful, but Volkswagen has defied logic and made it simultaneously lighter and more efficient than the outgoing generation. The key to the size increase with reduced weight is the extensive use of high-strength steel in Volkswagen’s Modular Transverse Matrix architecture (abbreviated MQB for its German origin, Modularer Querbaukasten). The MQB was engineered from the ground up to accommodate VW’s wide range of powertrains and models, and all of them will be lighter and stiffer for better performance, and with more shared parts VW can save production costs and reduce prices, which they have done with this generation.
But the greater benefit by far to the GTI’s typical enthusiast customer is the gains in performance. The overall frame strength allows greater precision and range from the suspension, which features front struts and multilink rear, lower and more aggressively tuned than the standard Golf. Volkswagen also now offers driver-selectable damping modes with its Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), though the model I sampled did not feature this innovation. DCC is available only as an option on top of the Performance Package upgrade that has larger brakes, a 10-hp bump, and torque-sensing hydraulic limited-slip differential.
You can rest assured that we will sample that setup back on home soil at the earliest convenience. At this event, we were assigned a 5-door Autobahn with the six-speed manual transmission. Yup, my luck has been running pretty hot lately.
Although the DSG is reportedly improved, I respectfully don’t care how good it is, it will never approach the level of satisfaction and engagement that a clutch and stick will, and this stick is a freakin’ magic wand!
The clutch is relatively light but consistent and still offers some weight to its resistance along with excellent feel. The shifter features a dimpled, leather-wrapped ball capped with the gear pattern sitting atop a hollowed aluminum pedestal, the leather boot finished with red stitching. The throws are short, and the weight bordering on light, but there is still a solid, well-connected feel and precision through the gates and balance to the gears that surpasses any of the manual transmissions I’ve ever experienced in sporty compacts, MX-5 and Civic Si included. Granted, this is a personal preference, but there you have it, confession number one.
It is both quick and rewarding, yet easy to operate and I had no issues as we crawled through San Francisco traffic balancing the clutch and throttle application, and when reaching highway speeds its long sixth gear settles in for a quiet cruising speed.
2015 Volkswagen GTI engine & interior. Click image to enlarge
Of course, delightful as the shifter is, it’s rewardingly attached to a sweetheart of an engine. This is the fourth GTI generation to feature turbocharged four-cylinder power, and this updated 2.0TSI shows VW’s competence in this department. Now tuned to 210 hp at 4,500 to 6,200 rpm, but better yet, 258 lb-ft of torque from 1,600 to 4,200 rpm, it doesn’t feel that monumentally more powerful than the previous-gen Mk6 and its 207 lb-ft – speaking more to VW’s habit of low output estimates than actual power deficiency. And judging from the unnaturally flat torque and power curves Volkswagen provided, it seems there may be even more that continues to go unreported – even Volkswagen insiders feel that the base Golf’s 1.8TSI delivers more than its reported 185 lb-ft.
To get a little more technical, this EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four is the third generation of VW’s 2.0T, and is now endowed with all of the following: direct injection, variable valve lift on intake and exhaust side, with two-stage exhaust valve lift for optimum power and efficiency at both ends of the spectrum.