2015 Volkswagen Golf & GTI
With a pedigree backed by 40 years of production, 30 million sales, seven generations, and lifespan innovations ranging from the three-point seatbelt to a seven-speed dual-clutch direct-shift gearbox; the Volkswagen Golf has more than been around the block — the cumulative mileage of all Golfs driven amounts to more than Mars and back. Despite being one of the most popular hatchbacks of all time, the Golf has recently faded from the spotlight in favor of its boxier sedan cousin, Jetta. Having realized this, in its newest form VW was determined to restore notability to one of its most prevalent nameplates.
Building on a flashier appearance, more luxurious proportions, and the prestige of German engineering — it may sound hard to believe given its past accolades, but the people’s carmaker has just unveiled what may become the most renowned Golf in the storied history of its lineage.
Not only is the ‘standard’ Golf bigger, lighter, and more powerful than its predecessor, its name sounds cooler too! Something about the “TSI” designation invokes the notion that you’re getting more than just a plain old Golf — and you are. Because even the absolute base model ‘Launch Edition’ TSI boasts a plethora of standard features that were paid extras on the outgoing model. Starting with the engine: the new Golf utilizes a 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four cylinder power plant mated to either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. This marks the first time in the model’s history that the entire lineup will be powered by turbocharged engines. While the horsepower of the 1.8L turbo (170hp) remains identical to that of the previous 2.5L, it offers gobs more torque (200 ft-lbs vs. 177 ft-lbs) and sips up to 20% less fuel.
Inside the Golf, all iterations are treated to a bigger cabin, cargo capacity larger than any mid-sized sedan, and even a standard 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system complete with Bluetooth and iPod integration — an offering that’ll usually set a consumer back a couple grand as an optional upgrade. Raise your level from the ‘Launch Edition’ to the Golf S, and you’ll be greeted by V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces, leather-wrapped e-brake handle and shifter, and a multifunction steering wheel. Go one step higher with the ‘SE’ model and you’ll be treated to heated front seats and a panoramic tilt/slide sunroof (also offered on ‘Golf S w/ Sunroof’ models). The SE also incorporates a high-end Fender audio system — controlled via the same 5.8” touchscreen found in all the Golf models. Line-topping SEL Golf’s are clad in LED ambient lighting, a navigation system to accompany the infotainment, 12-way power adjustable sport seats, and piano black interior trim. Compare the inside of a Golf SEL to a top-of-the line Subaru Impreza or Ford Focus and you’ll be swiftly bewildered that these cars are of the same competitive set.
Clean diesel has been making waves recently. With fuel economy that compares to — or in some cases, exceeds — that of hybrids, combined with superior drivability characteristics and lower real-world emission outputs; the reasons to not go diesel are rapidly disappearing. Given that the trim-levels and accouterments of Golf TDI’s and gasoline TSI models are relatively static (aside from the diesel lacking a ‘Launch Edition’ base model) we’ll leave this section dedicated solely to the venerable turbocharged and direct-injected engine which motivates it.
The TDI’s power plant has received a thorough makeover. Utilizing lower friction internal components and a new manifold-integrated intercooling solution, which minimizes distance, ingested air travels before entering the combustion cylinder; the new TDI is much peppier and responsive than its predecessor. Opposite to the TSI’s formula, horsepower has been raised by 10, to 150hp overall, while torque output remains equal to the old TDI at 236 ft-lbs. With figures like these, we still found it no surprise that our road test of the TDI left us wanting for nothing in the power department; as we were greeted by smooth, instantaneous sensations of thrust working in perfect harmony with all throttle movements. Even though VW’s published MPG figures of 31 city/45 highway are up only a couple over the last generation model, real world tests have generated figures as high as a whopping 49 MPG!
Based on the same MQB (modular transverse matrix) platform as the rest of the Golf family, the new seventh-generation GTI follows the same recipe of bigger, lighter, and faster than the old model. By our measure, differentiating the new GTI from its Golf siblings solely based on visual cues is more challenging a task than in years past — credit VW for making its TSI/TDI models more appealing to the eye. Inside the GTI however, the cockpits are worlds apart. Red-stitched leather, carbon fiber trim, and matte aluminum accents meld to create a look and feel that is rarely achieved in cars this side of a $30,000 price tag. The steering wheel of a new GTI has such a sophisticated finish that it reminded me of something found in a Porsche Cayman or Boxster.
Unsurprisingly, the contents of GTI’s technological suite have reached an all-time high. Notable new offerings are anchored by the Driving Mode Selection feature, which allows owners to tailor the car’s inputs to their liking via a menu located in the infotainment system. Toggling between normal and sport settings will raise or lower throttle response and steering weight accordingly; users can also modify the suspension’s damper settings in cars equipped with the optional DCC adaptive suspension system – if you plan on driving this car every day you’ll be glad that you sprung for it, as it offers a pothole-friendly ‘comfort’ setting. While prospective buyers can consider the DCC Suspension Package optional, the $1,495 Performance Package shall be treated as strictly mandatory. Its highlights include bigger brakes all around and a 10hp increase, but its swansong is an utterly magical electronically controlled limited-slip VAQ differential capable of feeding up to 100% of the engine’s power to either front wheel – the difference it makes in corner-exit (and all-around) acceleration is simply remarkable, and for the price at which it is being offered one would be an absolute fool to forego a VAQ diff.
Our overall consensus is that you simply can’t lose with any model. While I personally would suggest going diesel over taking the standard TSI unit, both units can provide the same level of comfort and refinement when equipped similarly. If speed and flash is your MO, the GTI offers design, build quality, and technological superiorities over all its rivals, and it prices out around the same level too. Although we didn’t mention it in this article, VW has also introduced an all-electric eGolf that’ll knock the socks off a Nissan Leaf. Take our word for it, the Golf family is making the jump to German Engineering more appealing than ever; or take Motor Trend’s word for it, as they’ve just name the VW Golf family as their cars of the year.