Though an all-new model, the 2015 Volkswagen GTI feels more like a very subtle refinement of the formula Volkswagen has been tweaking for decades. It may have slightly more horsepower than the GTI it replaces and the nav screen and interior may have a few more refinements, but this new car doesn't push any boundaries. It looks good, rips through the canyons and doesn't beat you over the head with racy elements.
What Is It?
The Volkswagen GTI is the hot hatch that invented the hot-hatch segment, and the formula hasn't changed. Start with a standard Golf hatchback, jack up the horsepower, throw on a sporty suspension and offer a few unique interior details like plaid seats.
The 2015 GTI is all new and slightly larger than the car it replaces. It still comes standard with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder but it's a new-generation engine that delivers 10 more horsepower than last year's 200-hp version. For 2015, there's also an optional Performance Pack that boosts output to 220 hp along with the addition of an electronic limited-slip differential (e-LSD) and larger brakes.
Our test car had the Performance Pack and it's a nice addition. Sending 220 horses through the front wheels is often a recipe for disaster (or lame, one-wheel burnouts) so the e-LSD helps the GTI dig itself out of corners with less tire squeal. All GTIs come with a six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic (DSG) is optional across the board and it's what we tested here.
What Body Styles and Trims Are Available?
As before, you can get a GTI with either two or four doors. The standard equipment list is long and includes 18-inch wheels and tires, LED foglights, tartan cloth upholstery, a touchscreen stereo with iPhone integration and Bluetooth.
Want more? Step on up, son, to the SE. Sunroof. Automatic headlights. Keyless ignition. Rearview camera. Leather. More stereo.
Still not satisfied? There's the Autobahn package that adds navigation, a power driver seat and dual-zone climate control. Options include the Driver Assistance package (front and rear parking sensors, a forward collision warning system); the Lighting package (bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights); summer tires; and the Performance Pack that can be bolstered by a further optional adaptive suspension.
Base price for a two-door, manual-transmission GTI is $24,395 while the four-door goes for $24,995. An Autobahn edition four-door with the DSG starts at $30,695. Our test car was a GTI SE with the $1,495 Performance Pack, no charge summer tires and DSG transmission. It carried a sticker price of $31,410.
How Does It Drive Around Town?
Remember a few sentences ago when we noted that the GTI comes standard with 18-inch wheels and tires? They do the GTI no favors in the ride quality department. Our test car was equipped with the optional summer tires with relatively short 40-series sidewalls. Roughly translated, this means there was very little rubber between the road and the wheel to help keep the ride smooth.
Pair this with the GTI's stiff suspension and you've got a recipe for a Teutonic bounce-house. The ride isn't bad by performance car standards, but the GTI has set a high benchmark for itself, and the sometimes-harsh ride didn't meet our expectations.
How Does It Really Drive?
If ride quality is your primary concern, a Golf might be a better choice. When driven the way a GTI was originally intended to be driven, this 2015 is, in a word, terrific.
Though we have talented test drivers and spent significant time gathering test numbers, the results don't tell the whole story. Zero to 60 mph comes up in 5.9 seconds (with 1 foot of rollout) and the quarter-mile passes in 14.5 seconds at 97.7 mph.
Not bad numbers, especially for the class. The numbers are from a dead stop and in this type of scenario, as well as in slow stop-and-go traffic, Volkswagen's DSG transmission is out of its element. Slow to react and with tons of intentional clutch slippage, the GTI doesn't get out of the hole very quickly. Compounding the issue, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder doesn't make much power below about 2,800 rpm.
Out on a mountain road, however, the DSG is a wizard, effortlessly switching down three or more gears to keep the turbocharged four-cylinder humming in its high-rpm sweet spot. In these conditions, the GTI never felt slow, with ample power all the way to redline. Thanks to the Performance Pack and its larger brakes at all four corners, the GTI slows as confidently as it corners, with firm, reassuring pedal action.
Clearly, though, the GTI isn't meant to be a brute but when the road gets wiggly, it's a heckuva dance partner. Up front, the new electronic LSD reduces torque steer and wheelspin, letting you get into the throttle sooner and harder than should be possible from a front-driver. The real bit of brilliance comes from the back, though, as the GTI actually oversteers.
Nothing dramatic, mind you: It's all very tame, predictably safe and managed by the electronic stability control. Flick the GTI into a tight corner, let off the throttle slowly and as the front settles in, the back rotates around and makes that corner seem a lot less tight. When people talk about steering a car with the throttle, this is what they mean. Unfortunately, this trait magnifies itself on the constant back-forth-back-forth of our slalom test, where the GTI recorded a slightly disappointing 67-mph run.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Return?
The EPA estimates the 2015 Volkswagen GTI will return 28 mpg in combined driving (25 city/33 highway). During our testing we recorded an average mpg of only 24. Our best tank matched the EPA's highway rating of 33 mpg.
What's the Interior Like?
Apparently Volkswagen hasn't figured out how to do plaid leather yet, because our well-equipped tester had the optional all-black leather interior. Still, as with all current Volkswagen products, the 2015 GTI's interior is quite nice. There's nothing terribly flashy or interesting about the interior here; it's simply a well-thought-out cabin with nice materials and quality construction.
The only dead giveaway that this is anything special is the steering wheel. On the GTI it's leather-wrapped, fat, flat-bottomed and covered in red stitching. And while those seats don't have a flashy pattern, they are very well bolstered, with good lumbar support and enough adjustments for even tall drivers.
Its backseats are also suitable for real-size adults. Entry is easy to those seats and there's enough headroom that they don't feel like a penalty box. But if you're not into the whole passenger thing, the seats can fold down to seriously expand the cargo-carrying capacity.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Ford Focus ST: With the passing of the Mazdaspeed 3, the Ford Focus ST is perhaps the only real competition to the GTI and, well, that's not great for the VW. Though it has an unnecessarily flashy look and boy-racer seats, the Focus ST has more power and a better ride than the GTI. While the GTI may have invented the hot-hatch category, the Focus ST is running away with the crown.
Mini Cooper: It's a hatchback and has a turbocharged engine, but the Mini isn't quite in the same performance league as the GTI and the Focus ST.
Subaru WRX: The hatchback version is gone, but the sedan continues with a new 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine that delivers a healthy 268 hp to all four wheels. Not nearly as refined as the GTI, but every bit its equal and more when it comes to performance.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
The 2015 Volkswagen GTI strikes a very good balance of quality, refinement and all-out driving fun for an affordable price. If you want a fast car that won't get the attention of the lawman or your date's dad, the GTI is perfect.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The ride quality is on the firm side and the big wheels and tires that make it that way are standard. If you want all-out performance, there are faster, more powerful cars at this price that will leave the GTI in their dust.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.