Just how much of a difference can two generations make?
I love hot hatchbacks. Being able to have a practical performance-oriented vehicle is immensely appealing. For nine years, I drove a Mk5 2008 Volkswagen GTI whose sole option was the DSG automated-manual gearbox (Yes, it wasn’t a manual and no I don’t care). It was a fantastic car, but the time finally came when I wanted to upgrade. What to get? Something sporty like a Nissan 370Z? Some American muscle in the form of a Ford Mustang or Chevy Camaro? How about a fast German sedan such as a used Audi S4? Well, I went into a semi-local dealership and four hours later was home with my brand new car. Guess what I bought?
Hint: Not a Toyota Prius. Instead I bought…another GTI! Now settle down because I shall give some details for how different my new, more refined Mk7 GTI is compared to my older, GTI. But first, what exactly is different? Let’s start with the exterior.
As you can see from the front of the car, there are many radars and sensors to keep the car safe. The gap under the grill is for the radar-guided cruise control. The sides of the car also have sensors because these days what’s the point of having a car without sensors on every single panel? Put the car in reverse and the VW logo on the hatch lifts up to reveal a back-up camera. So the car is indeed safer than my old Mk5. What about how it is to drive?
What I loved about my 2008 GTI was that it felt more composed and easier to live with daily than a Mini Cooper S or a Mazdaspeed 3. The 2.0-liter engine produced 200-horsepower and sent the power to the front wheels via VW’s great double-clutch automatic gearbox. Even though it’s an automatic, the shifts are instantaneous and made the car feel like a racing car. A standard Mk7 produces 210-horsepower while my Performance Pack model has a whopping TEN more horsepower for a grand total of…220-horsepower! Not a lot, right? Oddly enough, you can feel a difference in the way the car accelerates. Part of this is due to the updated double-clutch gearbox, which shifts smoother than before.
Handling is what really sets the 2016 GTI apart from the 2008. Because of the Performance Pack’s trick differential, the 2016 GTI has tremendous grip on the road and understeer is basically non-existent.
What both GTIs share are beautiful interiors. My 2008 did not have options such as navigation, Bluetooth, heated and/or leather seats but the simplicity kept me humble. Even without these features, the 2008 GTI had automatic power windows, a leather wrapped steering wheel buttons for the radio, and very high quality materials on the dashboard. Of course the 2016 is completely opposite. I have all the options I didn’t have plus a VW standard for 2016: Apple CarPlay. Basically, you plug your iPhone into the USB port and the screen mimics your screen for music, phone, messages, and navigation. This makes it so technically you don’t need to get the top-of-the-line Autobahn which does come with navigation.
There are a few things that I won’t make comparisons to. My beloved 2008 GTI had two doors because I thought it looked better as a two-door. Contrast that to the 2016 with four doors because certain relatives don’t like getting crammed in the back of your Golf. Also, instead of a “Hey , Police! Please pull me over!” red, I went for a more “Hey every driver! Do your best to not see me at night!” black.
So at the end of the day is there a winner? Well yes. The GTI. Both the 2008 and the 2016 are great cars. A good Mk5 GTI can be bought for as little as $10,000 while the new GTI starts at around $24,000. I recommend either to people.
Two generations DOES make a difference. That or I’m a complete sap for buying another GTI.