2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI: In Search of Cooler Mountain Air
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing on October 8, 2015
A couple of weeks ago, I had the key to our 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI and a hankering to go somewhere. My friends in Borrego Springs were away on vacation, and their place wasn't high on my list this time because the desert would offer no respite from the heat. I was looking for cooler surroundings, so I pointed our VW GTI north towards the mountains instead.
About three-quarters of my 430-mile route was given over to routine there-and-back-again highway miles. The remainder climbed up and over the southernmost spur of the Sierra Nevada on the sort of tight and twisty two-lane roads the GTI was bred for.
These sorts of California back roads can be more entertaining than you might think. Most of the lesser-travelled two-lanes are posted at 55 mph, which can leave a lot of headroom with which to work. It's not uncommon to lean on the tires with a grin on your face and still be under the posted limit. Out here, the Basic Speed Law reigns supreme.
Take it easy on the straights and you can have a lot of fun without ruffling many feathers. Growing up here is a big reason why I have always gravitated to smaller "momentum" cars that are light on their feet like the Volkswagen GTI, Honda Civic Si and Mazda Miata. Over the years I've owned one of each, with an Acura Integra and Honda CRX thrown in for good measure.
This particular GTI is the best I can remember in the last few generations. But the tight confines of these roads did underline a couple of points.
For one, I would not buy the DSG transmission. It's not that great as an automatic at very low speeds, and it's not that much fun out here. Shifting is distilled down to a paddle-pulling exercise, which totally removes the visceral connection to the machine. It's never absolutely necessary to manually execute a shift, so it doesn't become an instinctual part of the activity. For a car like this, I would absolutely have the manual.
Second, there is no reason for me to tolerate the reduced cornering and braking performance of all-season tires. High performance "most-season" summer tires would be a far better choice. I'll never come up here when there's snow on the ground, and Orange County isn't likely to see a freak snowstorm. Snow is something SoCal denizens visit on our own terms, something we plan for. It's been years since I've made such an outing, and the next time I do I can always take the Jeep or my wife's car.
When all was said and done, the GTI had climbed over four mountain passes: Tejon Pass (4,160 feet), Greenhorn Summit (6,102 feet), Walker Pass (5,250 feet) and Cajon Pass (3,777 feet). I topped up the tank at the station just around the corner from my house, where my calculator told me the GTI had averaged 31.5 mpg. To my mind that compares very favorably to its EPA ratings of 28 mpg combined and 34 mpg highway, especially considering the mountainous terrain and contorted back roads that had been the morning's entertainment.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing