Volkswagen’s GTI has been a legend for decades as the virtual inventor of the “hot hatchback” category. Unlike many long term models, I’m happy to report that VW has not lost the fun essence of this great, little car. The latest version for the US, generation 7 of the basic platform, was introduced as a 2015 model and it is arguably the best yet. You simply cannot find a more fun to drive car, nor a more well-rounded and functional design than the GTI.
Our test car was the upscale SE model which bundles a lot of desirable options into a very tasty package. It comes with leather seating surfaces, Fender premium audio system, large moonroof, keyless go and a few minor trim bits. The only drawback is that the GTI signature plaid cloth upholstery is not available in the SE. Rounding out the package are a flashy set of 5 blade 18″ alloys, regrettably of a style which is readily trashed by even the lightest brush with a curb. Styling has not evolved much from the previous generation as only a few details are now rendered in a more contemporary angular motif. The 2-door hatchback we tested was a sharp looking car, no doubt.
On the engineering side, we see a progressive development of the core goodness that makes the GTI such a blast to drive. VW’s 2.0 liter turbo four now boasts 210 HP and very solid punch from around 2500 rpm till the redline. Efforts to boost both power and economy (a very good 27.7 mpg average in our test) seem to have made the engine a tiny bit quirky in response. When you drop the hammer it occasionally takes a brief instant to feel the hit, but on balance this is an excellent motor. The 6 speed manual shifts beautifully, with a modern precision and refined motion. 0-60 spirits are easily under 7 seconds and the GTI always feels ready to rock. Freeway cruising is relaxed and poised up to around 100 mph, if you are so inclined.
The chassis remains one of the best balanced in all of motordom with a pleasant daily driver set of manners and a hooligan’s enthusiasm for all levels of impolite corner entires and slalom style highjinks. It sticks and hangs on with a reassuring sense of feedback no matter how hard you twist its tail. The steering is tight and accurate, if not quite as sensitive as best of hydraulic yesteryears. The brakes are smooth, composed and very strong when applied with vigor, although the Pirelli all-season tires seemed to give up the ghost a little early. More sporting rubber would seem to be in order here.
Living with GTI proved a real joy. The front seats are excellent, with multiple, useful adjustments and powerful heaters. Getting into the back is typically 2-door inconvenient, but once you are in there – helped in no small measure by VW’s clever front seat fold/slide design – there’s a smidgen more room than in the previous generation GTI and a comfortable seat to settle in. The hatchback area is not vast, but of a useful size and with the back seats folded it offers good cargo space for a compact hatchback. The Fender audio system delivered a powerful and sonorous tone with excellent definition. Regrettably the latest head unit has gone the trendy touchscreen way and was a bit of a bother to use as it simply often ignored the desired touch. The CD player is now also a single disc unit hidden in the glove box, so old schoolers have been pushed to get with the digital music program. Minor issues with a really good audio system.
To wrap it up, let’s just say this is an excellent car – lively performance, enjoyable handling, remarkably good design, useful and practical in the day-in, day-out and a pretty smart buy. Base GTIs start around $25K and our very well equipped SE tallied $28,650 … trust me – you simply can’t find more car for less if you are a true driving enthusiast.
• dean seven