A Tale of Two Golfs: 2015 VW Golf GTI First Drive

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With the low gurgle of its dual tailpipes and the quiet whirl of its tiny turbocharger, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI came to life. Unlike the e-Golf, which has taken a permanent vow of silence, the GTI is a car that lets your neighborhood know that you’ve arrived.

Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder that in base spec makes a healthy 210 horsepower. The optional Performance Pack, which our fully-loaded tester surely had, power rises to 220 ponies, and once you stab the throttle you can feel every galloping horse pulling you forward from 0 to 60 MPH in about 6.4 seconds, though the Golf GTI has always been about more than just forward acceleration.

Rather than outright speed, the Volkswagen GTI has been about a sense of speed relative to everything around you. Though the backroads Volkswagen marked out for our test drive rarely rose above 45 MPH, diving deep into sharp corners and coming out the other side with engine cresting 5,000 RPM is an insanely gratifying feeling. A big shoutout to the wide and well-bolstered leather seats, which kept me and my driving partner firmly planted in the seating position of our choice. These are seriously some of the best seats you’ll find in any sports car south of $50,000 (and the GTI starts at half that with a base MSRP of $25,815) and in my humble opinion, the driver’s seat is the single most important part of any new car. If you can’t get comfortable, how can you possibly enjoy the driving experience?

Thankfully Volkswagen’s seat engineers did a bang-up job on the seats, allowing me to focus my critical eye on other aspects of the GTI…including the odd dimpled six-speed shifter. The transmission itself responds with an eager, even keel, though the three pedals in our manual transmission car felt a bit wide apart for my liking. Then again, it made it far less likely that my wide feet would grace the brake pedal when I shifted, so I suppose it’s a matter of personal preference. Speaking of shifting and personal preference, I’m not sure I’m a fan of the golf ball shifter knob, though I imagine a few years down the line it will be remembered as one of those character-adding quirks of the 7th generation GTI.

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One area VW engineers major breakthrough is an almost total lack of torque steer, which in older GTI models tended to turn the wheel one direction or another when you hammered the accelerator. Not so in the 2015 GTI, which for the most part stayed straight and true when I stopped in the middle of a Virginian country road for a hard launch. Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned stifling speed limits, and Virginia’s heavy-handed policies in regards to speeding kept me from really flexing the high-revving 2.0 liter turbo. Volkswagen mapped out a lovely and scenic drive, but I was really itching for just a few minutes of highway driving so i could get out of 4th gear. It didn’t happen though, and once I got one stretch of road on the route that offered a 50 MPH speed limit I found myself stuck behind a couple of white hairs driving a beat-up old Buick. Bah.

Beside being hindered by the elderly though, my time in the GTI did often feel like I was going faster than the 25 or 35 MPH posted speed limit, thanks to high-tensile steel content that comprises about 28% of the new Golf’s material content. Lightweight but exceptional strong, it gave me the confidence to really toss the Golf into some of the tighter back roads where it stuck to the paved cow paths with plenty of poise and no complaints. Braking was on point too, with the thick ready calipers grabbing the big brake rotors and holding on tight every time I needed them too.

According to the EPA, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI with the six-speed manual is rated at 25 MPG in the city and 34 MPG on the highway for a combined rating of 28 MPG. Despite adding the extra weight of lunch from Magnolia at the Mill, aggressive launches from from 0 to the speed limit, and overall heavy footedness accelerating out of the corners, the GTI still returned 24 MPG on our drive. It’s hard to complain about that, and 34 MPG at highway speeds seems totally within the realm of possibility as well.

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Also, a special shout out to the under-seat drawer, something I’ve not seen in any other modern car. A neat addition that could serve a multitude of purposes.

So what’s there to quibble about? Well, the exhaust note actually seemed pretty tame to me compared to other competitors in this field, like the Ford Focus ST. Also the lack of a boost gauge is a real disappointment; half the fun of a turbocharged car is making the needle dance around like a rented ballerina. Perhaps these features have been saved for the hotter Golf R, coming to the U.S. next spring with an estimated 290-ish horsepower and going from 0 to 60 MPH in about 5 seconds (depending on your choice of transmissions). It’s a silly oversight if you ask me, and even offering it as an option would be better than neglecting to offer one all together.

The 2015 Golf GTI also isn’t quite as powerful as competitors like the Focus ST with its 247 horsepower, and without the Performance pack it makes just 13 more horsepower than the cheaper Fiesta ST.Granted, the Golf is a larger and more practical car than the Fiesta, but if cheap thrills are the name of the game, there are other contenders for the crown.

One last complaint; the contoured driver’s side mirror. I hate it. Maybe I’m just a dumb American resistant to change, but a car as compact as the Volkswagen Golf doesn’t need contoured mirrors the way a tractor trailer, or even a heavy-duty pickup truck does. Just a regular sideview mirror would be fine here, and I don’t understand why Volkswagen departed from the pack with this move.

Those complaints aside, would I buy a 2015 Golf GTI? It’s a tempting proposition, though to have a fully-specced version like my tester, which included leather seats, a huge sunroof, a Fender 8-speaker sound system with subwoofer, and push-button start, you’d spend about $30,000. That’s a sizable sum and moves the GTI from the “affordable” price range and more in line with the average cost of a new car in the U.S.

Yet here I sit, wishing there were one in my driveway, if not owned, at least for another few days to really wring it out. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI left me wanting more, just as the quieter and more mild-mannered Volkswagen e-Golf did. That’s got to be a good sign, right?

A big thanks to Volkswagen for paying for my flight, food, and hotel accommodations at the awesome and eco-friendly Salamander Resort. Also, whiskey chocolate pudding is amazing.

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Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.