Manufacturers do this once in a while. They roll out a new model at an auto show, tell us how great it is and then wait until the end to mention that it won't be in dealers for another year or so.
Such is the case with the 2015 Volkswagen GTI and the reason is simple. While European GTIs are built in Germany, U.S. models will hail from Puebla, Mexico, and before it can build the car, Volkswagen has to finish building the plant.
It wouldn't feel like such a long wait if this GTI were nothing special. Trouble is, this new hatchback is about as good as a performance hatchback gets these days. How long does it take to build a car factory anyway?
It's New. Honest.
The seventh-generation GTI's aesthetics are hardly a revelation. The proportions and signature C-pillar are instantly familiar. At first glance, few will distinguish it from the Mk VI, but peer closer and you'll appreciate the subtlety of the detailing. The angles are now sharper and the "go-faster stripes" on the nose (a signature of the GTI since the Mk I) now dissect the headlights in an attempt to emphasize the car's width.
The 2015 VW GTI isn't as extroverted as the 2013 Ford Focus ST or the 2013 Mazdaspeed 3. Only the wheels, front splitter, modest tailgate spoiler and rear diffuser differentiate it from its mainstream brethren, but that has always been the Volkswagen way.
The Golf's interior is no less conservative. The simple dashboard focuses attention on a touchscreen display and there's the usual VW blend of sensible ergonomics and high-quality materials. VW says heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity and 18-inch wheels will be standard when the car eventually reaches U.S. showrooms in the spring of 2014.
Standard, too, are the GTI signatures that can trace their roots back to the Mk 1 of 1976. Evidence of crazy German humor can be found in the golf ball gearstick — present and correct in the manual version, but sadly missing in the DSG — and the plaid seat fabrics, which are much more exciting than the me-too leather. Expect a lengthy options list to include navigation, keyless entry and a back-up camera.
This is the first Golf to be built on Volkswagen's new front-wheel-drive MQB platform, which also underpins the forthcoming Audi A3 sedan. Compared to the Mk VI GTI, the overall length has grown by 2.1 inches to 168 inches and the wheelbase is up 2.1 inches to 103.6. It's also marginally wider than before at 70.8 inches (up 0.8 inch).
Compared to the standard Golf, the front strut and multilink rear suspension have been lowered by 0.6 inch, but fears that this would create another bone cruncher in the manner of the Mk IV can quickly be allayed. As we've already experienced in the Euro-spec Audi A3, the MQB platform gives VW's engineers the chance to combine a high level of body composure with a compliant ride quality. Whether you're on the highway or a bumpy mountain road, the GTI displays a level of comfort and control that's a noticeable step up from the current version.
The engine, too, is an ideal foil for the excellence of the chassis. Known internally as the EA888, the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine uses a turbocharger and direct injection to develop 217 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Volkswagen estimates a 0-62-mph sprint of 6.5 seconds.
Newly optional is a Performance Pack that bumps output to 227 hp along with the addition of bigger brakes and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential. The multiplate differential can direct 100 percent of drive torque to one front wheel, creating a torque-vectoring effect that improves traction and reduces power understeer.
Where the 2015 Volkswagen GTI Shines
The impact of this technology should not be underestimated. On the mountain passes of Southern France, we drove both a standard GTI and a car fitted with a Performance Pack, back to back and with the stability control systems switched off.
Accelerating hard out of 2nd-gear hairpins, the standard car will scrabble for grip, the nose pulling wide. The Performance Pack car, by contrast, displays an abundance of traction. It pulls hard and true even under full power and with none of the problems of kickback or torque steer that have blighted some front-wheel-drive cars with mechanical diffs, such as the original Ford Focus RS. The traction in all conditions and on all surfaces is nothing short of extraordinary.
The larger rotors (13.4 inches at the front versus 12.4 inches for the standard GTI) are also a welcome addition. The only disappointment for some might be the upgrade's anonymity: the only telltale sign is a "GTI" moniker on the front brake calipers. Put simply, if you're an enthusiast, it would be madness to even consider choosing the standard car, especially when the U.K. price of the upgrade is a mere £980. Volkswagen has confirmed the Pack will be offered in the U.S., although it's yet to confirm a price.
The only slightly controversial area concerns the variable-ratio electric steering. At speed it quickens to provide just 2.0 turns lock-to-lock, improving the car's agility. It works, but there's no denying it has an artificial feel that takes some getting used to, especially on the highway, where it has a strong resistance to anything other than the straight ahead. It's one of the better electrically powered systems we've tried, but the consistency and intimacy of the best hydraulic systems are still missing.
Late to the Party
When it finally arrives, the 2015 Volkswagen GTI will be offered with two or four doors and with a choice of a six-speed stick shift or six-speed DSG. Which to choose will be a matter of personal preference, but 50 percent of GTI customers have traditionally chosen the manual and Volkswagen expects it to remain a popular choice. It's both emotive and engaging to snick the golf ball knob around the gate.
The seventh-generation car is a classic example of the GTI breed. It majors on subtlety and sophistication rather than outright pace or pose value. It is a brilliant all-rounder, with a depth of ability that's deeply impressive. It's a shame that Volkswagen couldn't figure out how to get to America quicker. By next spring there could be other hatchbacks crowding the space even further, but this GTI will clearly hold its own, even if it doesn't quite stand out from the crowd.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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