2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review
Pros & Cons
- Strong and fuel-efficient turbocharged engine
- sporty handling
- versatile and roomy hatchback design
- high-quality interior.
- Automated manual transmission's sleepy responses in slow-moving traffic.
Edmunds' Expert Review
The redesigned 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI might not look much different on the outside, but a stronger engine and enhanced handling make it even more fun to drive. It's an excellent choice for a performance-oriented hatchback.
Few cars can be both fun and practical, but the Volkswagen Golf GTI has done it for more than a quarter of a century. Combining the sensible nature of the Golf hatchback with various performance enhancements, the GTI is the iconic hot hatch for the everyman. Some GTIs have fared better than others through the years, but we're pretty sure the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI will rank as one of the best yet.
This year's full redesign is one reason why. Visually, the changes are subtle, with reshaped headlights and taillights as well as sharper creases on the body's side. The new GTI is just a bit longer and wider than the outgoing one, but a new sloping hood design gives it a shorter, more dynamic look. Inside the differences are also slight. Rear seat and cargo space increase slightly, and that's a good thing. The GTI's interior was already one of the better ones in terms of design and quality.
More substantial changes lie underneath the steel skin. VW has introduced an all-new body structure with revised suspension tuning to give the GTI more athletic handling this time around (albeit with an unfortunate decline in ride quality this year). Hit the gas and the new GTI moves faster, too. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine now generates 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, gains of 10 hp and 51 lb-ft compared to the outgoing model. An optional package adds 10 more hp along with larger front and rear brakes and an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip front differential -- a GTI first -- that can help the hatch power out of turns more quickly. An optional adaptive suspension is another new addition.
Put it together and you've got the GTI's traditional strengths of refinement, practicality and quality, but now with enhanced agility and performance. VW isn't the only brand vying for your hot hatch dollars, of course. For rowdier acceleration and handling, the Ford Focus ST sets the standard. It's noticeably less expensive, too. We're also fond of the smaller but highly customizable 2015 Mini Cooper S, which was recently redesigned and offers tech-oriented features you can't get on the GTI. The 2015 Subaru WRX is a good option if you want all-wheel drive.
Regardless of your personal hot hatch preferences, though, the GTI's well-rounded excellence should merit a place on your must-see short list.
2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI models
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI is a two- or four-door hatchback offered in three trim levels. Standard features for the base GTI S two-door include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED foglights, a rear spoiler, heated mirrors, a sport-tuned suspension, cruise control, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, rear 60/40-split folding rear seats with a center pass-through, a 5.8-inch touchscreen audio interface, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, satellite radio, iPod integration and VW Car-Net telematics. Four-door versions of the GTI S also receive power reclining front seats.
Stepping up to the GTI SE trim adds a sunroof, automatic headlights and wipers, keyless ignition and entry, a rearview camera, leather upholstery and a Fender premium audio system. The range-topping GTI Autobahn trim tops off the features list with a navigation system, a 10-way power driver seat and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The optional Driver Assistance package adds front and rear parking sensors and a forward collision warning system. The Lighting package gets you bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights and cornering lights. You can also select 18-inch wheels with summer tires or the Performance package (late availability) that includes an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip front differential, larger front and rear brakes and an additional 10 hp. An adaptive damping suspension system is also available but only in conjunction with the Performance package.
Performance & mpg
The front-wheel-drive 2015 VW Golf GTI uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 210 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The optional Performance package increases output to 220 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automated manual (VW's DSG) is optional.
During Edmunds testing, a four-door 2015 VW Golf GTI with the DSG transmission and Performance package went from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. That's slightly quicker than average for a sporty compact car, and more than a second quicker than a standard Golf. A two-door GTI with the manual transmission (and no Performance package) reached 60 mph in 5.9 seconds.
Standard safety features for the 2015 VW Golf GTI include antilock disc brakes, automatic hill-hold, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. A post-crash braking system is also standard and automatically applies the brakes after an impact to reduce the likelihood of a secondary crash. VW's Car-Net emergency telematics is standard with features that include automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing (which allows parents to set boundaries for teenage drivers). A forward collision warning system and front and rear parking sensors are optional.
In Edmunds tests, a Golf GTI fitted with optional summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 105 feet, which is an excellent distance and shorter than average for an affordable performance car with summer tires.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the related 2015 VW Golf earned the highest score of "Good" in the moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests. It also earned a "Good" rating in the side-impact, roof-strength and seats/head restraints (whiplash protection) tests.
The 2015 VW Golf GTI lives up to its hot hatch heritage with sharp handling and steering, brisk acceleration and a rather burly engine and exhaust note. These are all best exploited on a tight and twisting mountain road, where the GTI playfully bounds from curve to curve, all while instilling plenty of driver confidence. Though all 2015 GTIs are great fun to drive, the Performance package version is worth considering if you're planning to take on challenging roads or the occasional track day. The limited-slip differential in this package helps pull the car's nose around the apex of a turn, resulting in quicker progress for more advanced drivers.
Either the slick-shifting manual or the well-executed DSG automated manual transmission is a good choice. Especially compared to traditional automatics, the DSG is quick and smooth, and its downshifts are rev-matched with perfection. However, we've found that DSG can be frustratingly slow to respond to your gas pedal inputs when you want to accelerate quickly from a stop or you're trundling along in heavy traffic.
We're also not as fond of the way the new GTI rides. Perhaps in VW's quest for greater handling precision, the GTI has lost some of its hallmark ride comfort that used to make it such an appealing daily driver. Although it's still comfortable enough for long drives, the GTI can get pretty harsh on rough pavement. Competitors like the Ford Focus ST and Subaru WRX provide an equally thrilling driving experience and have a marginally better ride quality. Models with the optional adaptive suspension are more forgiving over imperfect pavement, but not enough so to justify the added expense if you weren't already planning to get a GTI with the Performance package. We've yet to drive a 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI with the standard all-season tires (summer tires are optional across the board), and it's indeed possible that the less aggressive rubber will translate to a smoother ride.
The 2015 Volkswagen GTI's interior features well-grained materials that are soft to the touch and a cabin design that is, while somewhat austere, comfortable and even sporty, thanks to bold red stitching. Buttons and switches are placed close to the driver and offer intuitive, simple control. The 5.8-inch touchscreen is a tad small compared to others, and the graphics aren't as crisp as on some competitor screens, but it works well and is easily read at a glance. But the large iPhone connector plug can require you to remove the phone's case and remains a critical gripe, especially with the ubiquity of simple USB ports. The navigation system also disappoints with its inability to overlay traffic information on the map. Instead, it lists traffic incidents in the vicinity.
Front seats provide ample support and comfort, even during long-distance driving stints, and not at the sacrifice of rear seat passengers. The new GTI's added leg- and shoulder room make the small hatch feel big, although the low-mounted rear seat cushions are best suited to smaller passengers. Up to 22.8 cubic feet of cargo can be accommodated behind the rear seats, while folding the seats flat provides a class-leading 52.7 cubic feet of space.