2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI: In Defense of the Older Generation
by Jonathan Elfalan, Road Test Editor on October 5, 2015
Our former Intern Extraordinaire, Reese Counts, now turned full-time Vehicle Testing Assistant (applause), lauded our 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI as harder, better, faster, and stronger than the generations of GTI that came before. While I don't disagree with his overall sentiment, there are elements in the older vintage that I prefer to the newest iteration out of Wolfsburg — or should I say Puebla, Mexico?
Full disclosure; my wife and I own the 2013 Volkswagen GTI pictured above (the last generation built and assembled in Germany), which she often refers to as "the best car ever made." I think she's pretty fond of it, as am I.
Looking at our 4-wheel friend through a lens of objectivity, I can see why buyers might prefer the new MK7 over this car. The interior has shifted slightly upmarket, the handling feels tauter, and the body lines have been squared and sharpened for a sportier look. Additionally, subtle improvements like better placement of the MDI smart phone connector, and courteous reminders and notifications that pop up on the infotainment screen, show that VW is tweaking the recipe rather than trying to reinvent a magic formula.
With that said, here are a few things they should have left untouched.
Steering wheels: 2013 (Left) versus 2015 (Right)
The MK6's steering wheel is arguably superior aesthetically and ergonomically to the 2015 car. The thinner and less shapely rim of the MK7 is a bit of a letdown from what I am used to gripping in the MK6. And sure, the MK7 squeezes a higher button count on the spokes of the wheel, but it compromises the more natural layout that the MK6 embraces — most notably the up/down volume control buttons.
Steering wheel controls: 2013 (Left) versus 2015 (Right)
The second thing I noticed about the MK7 is the difference in sound and shift characteristics. The new 2.0-liter turbo engine emits a much more gravelly note and the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission feels like it engages at a more gradual rate. For people who haven't spent any time in the last generation car, this is essentially a non-issue.
However, drive a MK6 and the gear shifts feel much more crisp and are accompanied by a sound that emulates, to a small degree, a racing-style sequential gearbox. Even non-car enthusiasts, like my wife, appreciate this sound. It's satisfying and even slightly addictive, and it's missing in the new car.
The final element the MK6 got right: wheels!
For some reason VW struggles to keep an attractive factory wheel option on modern GTIs, with the exception of the MK6's Wolfsburg's edition upgrade. I realize this is more a matter of personal taste, but the old "cheese grater" and new "fan blade" wheels look like the design team settled on the first suggestion.
MK6 Wolfsburg (2013)
MK6 "Cheese Grater" (2013) Kind of cheesy, right?
MK7 "Fan Blade" (2015) Not a fan of these either.
The sum of these elements do not tip the scale to either side for me when it comes to picking one generation of GTI over the other. They're equally enjoyable cars with slightly different personalities. And as long as VW sticks to this winning combination, I'm sure I'll love the next one, too.
Jonathan Elfalan, Road Test Editor