2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI: Better Enough Than the Last?
June 24, 2015
With a free day on my calendar and the key to our 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI in my pocket, I couldn't resist the call of the open road. My typical approach is to scroll around on Google Maps until I find an interesting-looking place that I've never visited, and then conscript my wife for companionship. In this case, I wanted to leave at 10 a.m. and be home by midnight, so I limited myself to about four hours of driving each way.
The winner? Oceano, Calif., a.k.a. the home of the Oceano Dunes. And if you want some additional commentary interspersed with dune photos, you'll just have to follow the jump.
The town is perhaps best-known for the Oceano Dunes SVRA, which is the only state park in California where vehicles can drive on the beach. If you're familiar with just about any other beach town in the state, you're in for an unusual experience. Think heavyset guys with tattoos and Harley-Davidson shirts, and death metal blaring from lifted pickup trucks - that sort of thing. A festive atmosphere, you might say.
I'd like to tell you that the GTI showed its mettle in the sand, but although the Internet suggests even a Prius could hack it, that wasn't part of the plan. Instead, I parked curbside and set out for the pedestrian-only Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve, bravely leading my companion along a fennel-lined footpath through the trees.
I've been to Mesquite Flat in Death Valley and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, so I wasn't expecting much from this little coastal preserve. But as it turns out, Oceano's got some pretty serious dune action going on.
We were amazed by the desert-like landscape. The Pacific Ocean is right next door, yet it's easy to find yourself in a deep valley where all you can see is rippled sand.
Let me say a bit about the car while you enjoy the scenery. Full disclosure: my wife commutes in a 2013 GTI Driver's Edition, so I'm intimately familiar with what the previous-generation "Mk6" has to offer.
Does the Mk7 move the needle for me? Not dramatically, to be honest. Sure, it's faster - you can really feel the extra torque (51 pound-feet) on a back-to-back drive - but if you ask me, the Mk6 didn't need more speed.
Also, I prefer the Mk6's engine note at full throttle. It manages to be at once exuberant and refined, whereas the Mk7's just seems loud. Apparently the Mk7 Soundaktor's volume can be adjusted with VAG-COM, which means nothing unless you're fluent in VW geek-speak. I wish they'd simply copied the Mk6's perfectly juicy soundtrack instead.
Handling? Our long-term Mk7 has been rightly praised for its sharpness in corners, but how much of that is down to its summer tires? My wife's Mk6 came with all-season Pirellis that squealed at the slightest provocation, but then I threw on a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports, and they changed the character of the car. I'm sure it's not as capable as the Mk7 at the limit - the latter's more permissive stability control system is a difference-maker - but it may not be far off.
Don't get me wrong, I still think the GTI is one of the best cars out there for the money. And it offers some welcome everyday improvements over the Mk6, like a quieter interior on the highway.
But as a Mk6 owner, I didn't come away from the trip with a strong desire to upgrade.
If you came to me for GTI shopping advice right now, I might recommend grabbing a certified pre-owned Mk6 and keeping a fat wad of cash in your pocket.
Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor