The defining hot hatch is back | One of the most unique parts of the Golf driving experience was that Volkswagen North America actually brought out their heritage line.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Even forty years after its introduction, the Volkswagen Golf remains an icon worldwide. Since its debut in 1974, over 30 million Golfs have been sold across the world. It was the original Rabbit GTI that, in 1976, inspired the use of the term “hot hatchback”. This car introduced a class of car that is incredibly vital to the industry as a whole. Volkswagen has just introduced the all-new 2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI, and they invited me to sunny San Francisco, California to show me what the brand is capable of.
First off, it’s important to note that the Golf flagship, the Golf R, won’t be hitting our shores until next year. Don’t worry though, there’s enough to keep you entertained for now. The GTI is one of my most-anticipated cars this year, and it’s only because the last car (known as the Mk 6) held the entire hot hatch class to such a high standard. We went as far as to do a farewell story about the Mk 6, something we’ve never really done for another car before.
The new GTI uses a freshly tuned version of the Volkswagen corporate 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Available either with a 6-speed manual or the quick-shifting dual-clutch DSG, the car pumps out 210 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque (up from 207 lb-ft in the last GTI). Regular Golfs come with a new entry-level engine, the 1.8L TSI, a turbocharged 4-cylinder that puts out 170 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the Golf TSI Trendline – the car is library quiet on the inside. This was the first Mk 7 Golf I drove on the event, and it was a base model with the sunroof and the 5-speed manual. It had a decent amount of pep, handled wonderfully, and was buttery smooth. The Golf, while competing with the likes of the brilliant Mazda3, the Subaru Impreza, and the Ford Focus, remains a slightly more upscale-feeling hatchback. I’ve never before seen a $20,000 car that feels this quiet and smooth to drive.
On to the GTI – it’s thoroughly excellent. The new MQB platform is surprisingly composed. The car handles beautifully and has minimal understeer for a front-wheel-drive car. It sounds excellent at acceleration and upon startup – this is unmistakably a GTI. It’s also now available with things like Forward Collision Warning, post-collision braking (to prevent secondary collisions after the initial impact), amongst other things. All GTIs equipped with the DSG transmission continue on with launch control as standard equipment.
The Fender Premium Audio system across the lineup sounds great, but still uses the MDI unit. Volkswagen continues to offer MDI cables to fit most major brands of mobile devices, but I can’t help but reiterate that a simple USB jack would simplify everything for both sides. It’s also important to note that the GTI is now available with a Performance Package that bumps horsepower from 210 to 220, upgrades the brakes, and also adds a limited-slip differential. This particular car coupled with the 6-speed manual is the one to have.
Shortly following the TSI and GTI models, the new Golf will indeed be offered with the popular and ever-famous TDI turbodiesel option. The new car will have the 2.0L TDI 4-cylinder with 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. There unfortunately will not be a 3-door TDI model – it will be 5-door only. We will touch more on the turbodiesel model when we have the opportunity to drive it extensively later this summer.
One of the most unique parts of the Golf driving experience was that Volkswagen North America actually brought out their heritage line – I had the pleasure of driving every single generation of GTI from the first-generation right through the new seventh-generation car. The original Rabbit GTI was a low-mileage, mint condition example that came equipped with every bit of nostalgia one would expect. The crank windows, lack of power steering, and wonderful 1970s noises and smells had both myself as well as my drive partner grinning from ear-to-ear for the rest of the day. The Mk 3 GTI with the VR6 motor was particularly noteworthy for me as well; this was the first Golf that had the basic refinement options that we have come to expect today. This experience alone made this one of my most memorable press events to date.
It’s not the excellent DCC Adaptive Damping that’s going to help the new 2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI sell, and it’s not the Forward Collision Warning. It’s not really the wonderful DSG transmission, or the available bi-xenon headlights. Golf is more than a car; it’s a culture. It’s an icon that has immersed itself into our society.
First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf & GTI Gallery