All of the hot hatches and sport compact cars owe their existence to one car - the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The engineers who worked on the first model during the mid-seventies didn’t know their little project would make massive waves in the industry. For six-generations, the GTI was the benchmark that many competitors were measured against. But with fresh blood arriving in the form of the Ford Focus ST and Subaru WRX, Volkswagen knew it was time to ready a new GTI. Thus last year, the seventh-generation Golf GTI was introduced to the market. Has the father of hot hatch lost its way or can it still show newcomers a few tricks? I spent a week in a GTI SE 2-Door to find out.
The Golf GTI has never used any design gimmicks to stand out from a standard Golf, only minor trim changes. The seventh-generation model continues this tradition. Starting with a standard Golf with smooth body panels and large window space, Volkswagen added small touches such as a mesh grille in the front, 18-inch wheels and little GTI emblems on the side; and rear diffuser with dual exhaust ports. It may not be the flashiest hot hatch, but the understated look fits the vehicle.
The interior sticks with a simple design and materials. Soft-touch materials, carbon fiber around the center stack, and faux aluminum trim line the interior and gives the feeling of quality. SE models get leather seats with red stitching and piping. The seats I found to provide both excellent comfort and support when cruising or tackling the twisties. A set of manual adjustments help dial in the right seat placement I wished the leather was an option on the SE, so you could get the iconic tartan cloth as standard. But alas, I am nitpicking here. The back seat in the two-door is quite easy to get into thanks to the front seats sliding forward. Headroom is quite good, while legroom is almost non-existent for taller passengers.
Thoughts on the Powertrain and Ride are on the next page
Power for the Golf GTI is provided by Volkswagen’s turbocharged 2.0L with 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Those who want a little bit more power should look at the performance pack which increases horsepower to 220 and adds such goodies as limited-slip differential and larger brakes. A six-speed manual comes standard, while my tester had the optional DSG dual-clutch gearbox.
While the numbers put the GTI in the mid-pack of sport compacts, it quickly becomes an afterthought when you step on the accelerator. The turbo 2.0L spools up quickly and gets you moving at a rapid pace. Making a pass or merging onto freeway reveals that wherever you are on the rev range, the engine has power ready to go. The six-speed DSG is lightning fast when it comes to upshifts, but is clumsy when it comes to downshifts. A few times, I found the DSG took a few seconds to realize that it would a be a good idea to downshift since my foot is a little bit further down trying to pass a truck. After this, I began to downshift manually by pulling the paddle behind the steering wheel. I like the DSG, but it still needs a bit work. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 25 City/33 Highway/28 Combined for the DSG. For the week, I averaged around 29 MPG.
Where the GTI truly shines is in the ride and handling department. Lets start out on a stretch of a curvy road. The GTI is very much at home where it playfully bounds from corner to corner with excellent stability and no sign of body roll. Steering is quick and provides a decent amount of weight and feel, inspiring confidence to the driver. Take it off the curvy road and put it into a commuting setting and GTI is excellent. The suspension provides enough damping on some of the worst roads Michigan had to offer. Wind and road noise were kept to decent levels, making this a fine companion for a long trip.
The seventh-generation Golf GTI shows that it hasn’t lost anything when compared to other models in the segment. Volkswagen has polished and improved many items to make the new GTI a worthy successor to the previous-generation. But the best part about the Golf GTI is how it can balance being a sporty hatch and daily driver with no sweat. That’s an achievement no other car in the class can match. There’s a reason the Golf GTI is considered the godfather of hot hatch, and the new model shows that it plans on keeping that title.
Disclaimer: Volkswagen Provided the GTI, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 2.0L 16-Valve TSI Turbocharged Inline-Four
Driveline: Six-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 210 @ 4500
Torque @ RPM: 258 @ 1500
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 25/33/28
Curb Weight: 3,027 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Puebla, Mexico
Base Price: $28,885
As Tested Price: $31,395 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge)
Lighting Package - $995.00
Driver Assistance Package - $695.00