As a young person who isn't the scion of a wealthy energy drink family and didn't invent Snapchat, I can afford, maybe, .89 new cars. I still want the fastest car I can buy, but I need something with more space than a Miata, that's efficient, that I can park. The 2015 VW GTI continues to be the best car I can buy.
(Full disclosure: VW wanted me to drive the 2015 Golf and Golf TDI so badly they said the 2015 GTI would be there. They stuffed me full of beef tartare, too. So much, in fact, that I never want to see beef tartare again.)
San Francisco was the perfect place to launch the 2015 Volkswagen Golf family, which includes the 2015 GTI. The city is absolutely littered in Golfs, particularly GTIs. It's like pretty much every coastal city in that respect. Even the wealthier set there have to face high rent, parking woes, and the need to go to Costco every now and again.
I own a 2013 Mk6 GTI. It's the first new car I've had and I got it after getting my first real job with a desk and a phone and health insurance. The GTI makes me feel like a grown-up, while still having a turbocharged hatchback in my life. It's the most perfectly sensible new car on sale today, according to my bank account.
But then that's always been the case for the GTI. It's a car you buy when you're 23 after scraping every cent you have to pay for it and therefore need it to double as a moving van some months. It's what you get when you're 40, doing well and want something that's subtle and easy to park in the city. And it's what you get when you're 60 and want something that's easy to drive but is still easy to have fun with.
The GTI has to be a lot of things to a lot of people. The Mk6 did that pretty well. Enter the Mk7.
Again, it's a Golf GTI. The looks aren't really different from the Mk7 Golf, which is hardly changed from the Mk6, Mk5, etc. Wider, lower, sharper, it looks like a Mk6 that was carved with a chisel. Those looking for wild will want to try the Ford Focus ST.
Personally, it just wins on detailing. The wheels, in particular, are sharp. That red character line running through the grille connects through the headlamps, and that's something that people other than the designers will notice. I appreciate that, and the design-obsessed buyers who go for the GTI will, too.
Having said all that, I have a gripe with the color selection. Like the last one, the GTI pretty much comes in white, black, red and an array of silver/grays. The outlier is Night Blue, which doesn't seem as brilliant as the Shadow Blue I got on my Mk6, but it's likely the one I'd get for the sake of being different. All the cars I drove were Tornado Red, which isn't the GTI's best color in my book.
Give us some greens or yellows, VW.
The GTI's interior, from a quality perspective, isn't much higher than that of the Golf. That's no bad thing, since it shames plenty of cars costing thousands more. The design is clean, the materials are solid, and everything falls to hand right where you'd expect. It's so not an economy car.
Despite the strides it's made in its latest iteration, the 2015 Subaru WRX reminds you constantly you're in an economy car that just happens to be a beast underneath. That's a dealbreaker for me as another dash-stroking VW fanboy.
Sadly, the GTI suffers from the same insipid infotainment system and 5.8-inch touchscreen as in other Golfs.
Praise the product planners, the golf ball shift knob lives. Well, at least on manual-equipped cars. The DSG ones I drove was an SE and didn't have a dimpled knob like my Mk6 DSG.
This is all very important because the interior is devoid of character. For all of its practical and tactile merits, it's really dark in here. Your best form of action is to go with the SE or Autobahn so you can get this great glass sunroof. Doing that also includes leather seats, which are quality and are more comfortable than the ones in the Mk6. But they make the atmosphere inside even darker. The seats are black, the headliner is black, the dash is black. And the red stitching on the seats and wheel can't counteract the darkness.
Go for the plaid seats in the S and it's only the sunroof you're missing out on. It sucks, but the plaid rules. And someone help me out in complaining to VW on why the sunroof isn't a standalone option.
At first, it was a touch underwhelming. VW makes a big deal about selectable driving modes and the beefier engine, but it doesn't feel that exciting right away. Even in sport mode, the exhaust note is too restrained.
Individual mode sounds much more special than it is, but all you can do is toggle between Normal and Sport for the steering, exhaust, power and front lighting settings. Yes, you can even have sport lights on your GTI. If so equipped, the optional DCC adaptive damping system is also controlled through this selector.
What the new 2.0-liter turbo four does is make for a more relaxed experience. The bump in horsepower to 210 is modest, but torque jumps to 258 and that's an enormous 51 ft.-lbs. gain over the Mk6. The old car has gobs of torque off the mark, but strains when you go far past 4,000 rpm. Here, 5,000 revs go by and it's hardly breaking a sweat.
Better still, you don't feel the XDS electronic dif for the front wheels working as hard as in the old car, but everything remains precise at high speeds with your foot down. It's so strong and so sweet that you can't help but to keep pressing it, and pressing your luck with the highway patrol.
There is decent feel through the wheel, although maybe a touch more muted than the old car. While the Sport mode makes it a bit sharper, it's not a huge difference between the settings. Even without the adaptive dampers, the GTI corners well, yet isn't jarring over nasty roads. It's super quiet inside, too. It's undeniably a nice place to be for $30,000.
And mind you, I drove the GTI with a DSG. It's responsive to manual inputs and the shifts are just snick-snick-snick quick even in D. But it's so smooth that those who crave more involvement, while losing some efficiency and speed no doubt, will go for the six-speed manual.
It's a confidence inspiring car, with predictable steering and enough power to never leave you doubting. Sharp lane changes don't disrupt it, and it'll easily keep up if you're trying to chase a Google Street View car down a cul-de-sac – if that's key selling point.
But this is the wrong place to look for outright fun.
There was a manual equipped car with the optional $1,495 Performance Pack, which people were practically elbowing each other to drive. This will be covered in a separate review.
Apparently it's awesome and other auto journos have much sharper elbows than I do.
VW wants to set the Focus ST and WRX clear in its sights. Frankly, that's a tall order. Both of those cars have their niches and devoted fans, and the Mk7 is unlikely to sway many people away from those two.
Perhaps the biggest threat comes in the form of the 2015 Audi A3. Audi's competing against one of the most hipster cars out there. For the price of a front-wheel drive 1.8T A3 and metallic paint, you can get a GTI SE 4-door with the Performance Pack and DSG. The most expensive GTI tops out slightly north of where the A3 2.0T Quattro starts. I know people with GTIs in Boston, and they don't bitch about driving it in the snow.
The GTI you still want is just under $26,000 before destination when it goes on sale in June. Aside from the travesty that is VW's S/SE/Autobahn packaging, it's great they're offering at least some standalone options again.
Is the GTI the hottest hatch out there? Probably not. Would you be making sacrifices to take it over a scaled down Audi or BMW or whatever? No way. It's a hot hatch that will tick all of the essential boxes. You'll smile often, grin only on special occasions. At least without the Performance Pack.
But don't view it as a compromise car, think of it as a meets-every-requirement car. It's small for city living, grown-up enough to get the attention of the fancy valet service and quiet enough to not drive you crazy every day. That makes it the most complete car in the world to me.