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2015 VW GTI - First Drive (Mk7 Tech Perspective)

The First is Still The Best

Jun 25, 2014 SHARE

In 1976, Volkswagen created the “hot hatch” with the MK1 Golf GTI. Since then, many competitors have come and gone, but the little GTI has evolved into the seventh generation you see here. Though the GTI has grown bigger, stronger, and more refined over the years, it has retained plenty of its original character, with the Mk7 2015 GTI is the best one yet.

1976 Volkswagen MK1 Golf front end Photo 2/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI
2015 Volkswagen GTI front end in motion 4 Photo 3/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI

Power Train

In base trim, the 2015 Volkswagen GTI is rated at 210 hp. We have to list base trim, because, for the first time, Volkswagen will offer a Performance Package that, among other things, will bump power to 220 hp. Even bigger is the addition of 51 lb-ft of torque over the Mk6, bringing the total to 258 lb-ft. (The figure is the same for base and Performance Package cars.) Better still, torque peaks at just 1500 rpm and remains tabletop flat all the way until 4400 (base) or 4600 (Performance Package) rpm. I have a feeling the engineers in Wolfsburg are being modest with their numbers, as not only does this GTI feel faster than the previous car, but the Performance Package car feels like it receives far more than a 10-hp bump.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R - First Drive

In addition to having extra power, the third-generation 2.0-liter EA888 turbo-four is lighter and more efficient. The increases come from a number of changes, the first of which is the use of both direct and port injection. Port injection is still preferable for low RPM situations, and direct injection is more efficient once power is requested. It is unconfirmed by VW, but I have a feeling that using a small amount of port injection will also help with the carbon buildup on the intake valves inherent in direct injection engines. Those valves are now controlled by a pair of cams that feature variable timing on both the intake and exhaust side. The exhaust-side cam also features variable lift, which optimizes exhaust charge velocity to decrease turbo lag.

Another remarkable engine feature is the absence of the exhaust. Instead, the exhaust runners collect in the head before dumping out directly into the turbo. Minimizing runner length means faster spool times and probably saves a few bucks in the process. Those runners are surrounded by coolant to keep exhaust gas temperature down, primarily in high-power situations. Previously, these engines had to run richer than optimal to preserve the O2 sensor and the catalytic convertor. Not only does leaning out at the top end pick up a few ponies, it uses less fuel in the process.

2015 Volkswagen GTI engine 2 Photo 10/51   |   2015-volkswagen-gti-engine-2

Though the block is still iron -- VW engineers insist that iron is still the best mix of cost, durability and weight for this engine -- it has lost some weight through optimization of mass. A good portion of the fasteners are now aluminum; the oil pan is plastic; and the new turbo, no longer a K03-based unit, is more efficient and lighter than the previous unit. Even with more power and substantially more torque, Volkswagen is expecting an EPA rating of 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway for both models.

Another GTI first is the addition of a proper limited-slip differential, though instead of a straight mechanical Torsen or clutch-pack differential, Volkswagen went with an open differential combined with a computer-controlled, hydraulically operated wet-clutch coupling that locks the axles. The setup allows the differential to operate fully open when it is most advantageous, with the ability to fully lock it when needed. Control of the differential is tied into the stability control and the old electronic differential system, now known as XDS+, which is used for brake vectoring in extreme situations. Unsurprisingly, transmission choices will continue to consist of the buttery-smooth six-speed manual and VW’s famous DSG six-speed twin-clutch automatic.

2015 Volkswagen GTI wheels static Photo 11/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI


Chassis

The Mk7 Golf will be the first of VW Group’s MQB platform cars to be sold in the U.S. Despite being larger and better-equipped, the Mk7 will be almost 100 pounds lighter than the outgoing MK6. Part of the weight loss is because of a dramatic increase in the use of ultra high-strength, hot-formed steel, which makes up 22 percent of the Mk7’s unibody versus a mere 6 percent of the Mk6’s. The Mk7 also promises to be safer, with VW saying that the architecture was modified late in the development cycle to perform better in the new small offset crash test.

Anyone that’s ever worked on a Golf will find a familiar setup in the Mk7’s suspension. The front is still a MacPherson strut, but the front suspension arms and subframe are now built from high-strength steel. While not as sexy to look at as cast aluminum, it is both lighter and more rigid. The change may only save 4 pounds, but keep in mind that these are larger and stronger components.

2015 Volkswagen GTI front three quarter in motion 4 Photo 18/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI

The front anti-roll bar is now hollow, something the aftermarket tuners have been doing for a decade to shave ounces. What the tuners aren’t doing is vulcanizing the bushings directly to the bar to reduce NVH during use. VW has also worked on the geometry of the 2015 GTI, raising the roll center closer to the center of gravity. This reduces the strength of the lateral force that pushes the body of the car away from the inside of the turn, making for less body roll with the same spring rates.

VW also spent more time on the suspension bushings. Maintaining geometry through the suspension’s motion is paramount for keeping the car stable and predictable, and the Mk7’s stronger bushings keep the tires pointed in the intended direction while still isolating NVH. On the front suspension mock-up VW had the event, the bushings looked and felt far stouter than those on the previous cars.

2015 Volkswagen GTI rear three quarters in motion 2 Photo 19/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI

The rear suspension uses the multi-link design introduced on the Mk5, but here too, VW shaved weight (some 9 pounds) and improved functionality. New bushings have increased transverse rigidity, improving rear tire tracking and quickening the entire car’s reaction to turn-in. The rear suspension also utilizes a hollow anti-roll bar and the locations of the anti-roll bar drop-links and shock-mounting points have been changed. It all adds up to a more connected-feeling car front to rear.

To quicken steering response, the 2015 GTI uses a variable-ratio steering rack that requires a mere 2.1 turns to go lock-to-lock. The teeth on the rack itself vary in pitch and spacing based on the distance from the center of the rack. As a result, on-center the steering feel and response feel like those of the old car, but response increases as you dial in more lock. Unlike active systems, however, the settings are constant and can’t be changed with the push of a button.

Front rotors on the standard Mk7 GTI measure 12.4 inches in diameter and grow to 13.4 inches with the Performance Package. We couldn’t get confirmation, but it appears that both will have the same calipers.

In Europe, Volkswagen lists a 17-inch wheel as standard on the base GTI. The Performance Pack will get 18-inch wheels and 19-inch wheels will be optional. For the U.S., VW is currently saying that the 18-inchers will be standard, with no word on the 19-inchers. Summer tires will be an option and, after much prodding, VW admitted it will consider an optional cup tire.

2015 Volkswagen GTI front end in motion 5 Photo 26/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI

Another difference between U.S. and European GTIs is the parking brake setup. European models will have a wonderfully efficient and high-tech electronic parking brake operated by a small pull switch on the center tunnel. In the U.S. will we get the old-fashioned mechanical pull-type E-brake that we all have demonstrated the extreme levels of self-control to never use at 40 mph or so in a snow-covered parking lot.


Design

Though the new GTI has a bigger footprint, its roofline is slightly lower. It’s visually more aggressive than the Mk6 and has a bit more presence. It looks great and appears far more mature than rivals like the Focus ST and MazdaSpeed3.

We still don’t know what lighting options will be available in the U.S. In Europe, the GTI has bi-xenon lights with an active headlight option and LEDs are used for the taillights and daytime running lights.

2015 Volkswagen GTI front end in motion 3 Photo 27/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI

Inside, the Mk7 GTI is only slightly bigger on paper, but seems much roomier in the flesh. I’m 6’2,” and there’s still more than an inch between my knee and the seatback with the front seat adjusted to my driving position. There is also plenty of headroom front and rear, and the measured 4-inch increase in rear shoulder room doesn’t do the actual increase in space justice.

The interior might be the biggest single factor separating the GTI and its rivals. The level of quality and refinement in the cabin is several notches above the Focus, Speed3, and WRX. The cabin is quiet, comfortable, and better finished than even some more-expensive German offerings. The new 8-inch touch screen now features Google Earth Maps and looks as good as anything in any other car. For those concerned that VW would decontent the GTI’s interior, sleep easy. Plaid cloth with Alcantara bolsters will once again be standard, with leather being an option.


Driving Impressions

During our day in various Mk7 trims, VW offered up a palate cleanser in the form of a Mk1 GTI. As much as I love the classic hatch, it doesn’t hold a candle to the new one. On the road, the new technology does exactly what it should: fade into the background. The variable rate steering rack feels go-kart quick at first, but becomes second nature within 15 minutes. In typical GTI fashion, it feels comfortable and solid. It’s also quiet, rides better than the previous car, and feels nearer to an M or an AMG than an ST badge. The cars we drove showed major differences in ride and handling between the different modes of the Dynamic Chassis Control. We still don’t know if this is coming to the U.S., but I’m not holding my breath.

2015 Volkswagen GTI front three quarters Photo 34/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI

Turn-in on the 2015 GTI is still quick and accurate, but it’s the split second afterward that makes the difference. The GTI always had the ability to corner quickly, but once it started getting more and more powerful, it became a point-and-shoot car. Now, it tracks as consistent unit. Instead of the front leading the back, it rotates around with front and back working together and the limited slip differential is an absolute revelation. GTI drivers are normally accustomed to carrying the brakes into the turn, late apexing, and getting a bit straightened out before really getting on the power, but the LSD allows for earlier throttle application.

2015 Volkswagen GTI side in motion Photo 35/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI

Despite the extra torque, there is no torque steer. Unlike the Focus ST and Speed3, which work to rip the wheel out of your hands, the GTI just puts the power down. Even aggressive shifts of the manual gearbox won’t elicit tugging of the wheel.

If the standard GTI feels quick, the Performance Package is downright fast. The horsepower numbers still favor the rivals on paper, but I can’t wait to actually test the cars together to see what happens. A track evaluation will be interesting as well. In the past, we have always gotten GTIs on all-season tires, but with an actual limited slip differential and summer tires, I think I might just put my money on the GTI.

In the real world, the refinement makes the GTI far more attractive than the Focus. The new seats are the best to ever grace a Golf -- I am including Golf Rs, Anniversary editions, and even Trophies for you old-schoolers out there. The steering wheel is still one of the best in the industry, and how can you not like a golf ball shift knob? The trunk opening is wide and low cut, meaning it will be easy to fill the giant hatch with all the stuff, which is why you wanted a hatch to begin with, right?

2015 Volkswagen GTI front end in motion 6 Photo 42/51   |   2014 Volkswagen GTI

It is very seldom for me on press trip to get out of a car I can actually afford and think, “I must have this.” I will, without question, own a Mk7 GTI. The real question is manual or DSG. The DSG is such a great piece of technology and I am without a doubt faster with it. I also enjoy it more on the track. In the canyons and around town however, I lean towards the manual. The shifter action is truly world-class and clutch action is smooth and easy. That will be the tough choice.

We are still a bit unclear on exactly how the Performance Package will be offered in the U.S., but VW assures us it is definitely coming, and it is a must-have. The limited slip differential is also a must-have whether it is a stand-alone option, part of the Performance Package or, even better, standard on all GTIs. Volkswagen told us the MK7 will go on sale in the U.S. in the first half of 2014, and that pricing will be very similar to the current car. We can’t wait.


2015 VOLKSWAGEN GTI
Base price $25,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 2/4-door, hatchback
Engine(s) 2.0L/210-220-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission(s) 6-speed manual 6-speed twin-clutch auto
Curb weight 3000 lb (est)
Wheelbase 103.6 in
Length x width x height 168.0 x 70.8 x 56.8 in
0-60 mph 5.6-6.5 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 24/34 mpg (mfr est)
CO2 emissions 0.70 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S. June 2014
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Michael Febbo
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