2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI S Review
By Ken Glassman
Set your way-back machine to 1983. Volkswagen introduces a new car that is designed for “drivers”, not just people who drive cars. The Golf GTI was meant to be a small, stylish (which was debatable) car that had good power, combined with excellent handling, a slick gearbox, basic interior appointments, and would still get excellent gas mileage. It had to fit four people (albeit a bit tight) and have the flexibility of a hatchback, which has always been popular in Europe. But built into everyone was the most important feature: it had to be pure fun and exciting to drive. They hit on all cylinders.
They were called “pocket rockets”, or CAFÉ racers, (Corporate Average Fuel Economy). Soon after the GTI’s introduction, other carmakers tried to copy the formula. Some succeeded, and many didn’t. But the GTI remained the gold standard for the genre. Many different iterations were to follow in the intervening years, and for 2015, the seventh generation hits the marketplace. It is arguably the best one yet.
Our test car was the base S model, and is equipped with a 2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged four that makes 210 hp @ 4300rpm, and 258lbs of torque at a very usable and entertaining 1600rpm. A slick shifting 6-speed manual transmission transfers the power to the front wheels. A paddle shifting Tiptronic automatic is available, as is the optional Performance Package, which boosts horsepower by 10 ponies, but keeps the torque number the same. The package also adds meatier brakes, and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential. Gas mileage for both engines is a thrifty 25 City and 34 Highway.
Since the GTI weighs in at just under 3,000 lbs., there is more than enough power to make this an entertaining car to drive. It seems that there is all kinds of oomph waiting to be unleashed when you press down on the accelerator.
The 2015 model is a bit larger than last year’s car. The front and rear axles are separated by 103.6” of wheelbase, and the overall length is a tidy 168”. The overall width is 70.5” with the wheels separated by 60”, so the rubber is located at the corners of the car, which gives it a Go-Kart feel when cornering hard. Not much body roll, and plenty of cornering grip. And despite the fact that 61% of its weight in carried up front, the GTI feels very well balanced, and just seems to waltz from corner to corner effortlessly.
The 2015 edition is considerably stiffer than last year’s model, and that adds to the cornering prowess and feedback, yet it doesn’t feel harsh, and never floaty. The brakes feel strong, and the steering is quick and taut. So this is a fun car for aggressive stints on challenging roads, yet is also comfortable for around town and commuting duties.
The interior of the GTI is very well laid out, and simple, something becoming more and more rare in the automotive industry. Harkening back to the original, the seats are clad with black fabric with plaid inserts, a look that I’ve always hated, but yet again, popular in Europe. However, the Black Watch tartan color scheme is as good as it can be, and fits with the dark interior. But even if the seats were upholstered with blue and yellow tweed, nobody could hate these seats. They are as comfortable as you can get on any car at any price. Just the right mix of cushion and side bolstering. They are soft in the right places and firm in the right places. Eight hours behind the wheel would fly by. And they’re heated, too.
And speaking of the wheel, VW also got that right. It’s the right diameter to feel good in your hands. It’s a flat bottom steering wheel with split bottom spokes, and has redundant controls for the radio and cruise control etc. and the correct amount of red accent stitching and brightwork to make it visually appealing.
The driver sits behind a basic 2-gauge electroluminescent pod, which surprisingly dispenses with the traditional red illumination. (But a strip of red lights appear on the door sills and door panels at night). Tach on the left, speedo on the right, with an info screen between them. Simple, easy, elegant. I found it amusing, however, that the speedometer goes up to 180 mph. This car is quick, but the only way this GTI comes close to 180mph is if someone drops it out of an airplane.
The center stack is also simple and easy to use. The test car wasn’t equipped with Navigation, but there still is a screen to navigate among setting and features. Beneath the screen are easy to use knobs for radio and another set for the heating and AC controls. It’s nice (and unusual these days) to get into a car, and be able to work everything easily in 20 minutes without having to refer to the owner’s manual to figure out how to make the air flow to the defroster and floor, or set a radio station. VW designers even tossed a few nice surprises into the mix, like lining the door storage pockets with a soft material, so things won’t make noise rattling around in them.
Interior room for front passengers is abundant, and even rear seat passengers will find surprising leg and headroom once back there, as long as the front seat passenger isn’t an NBA power forward. VW makes ingress and egress to the back seats easier by having the front seat slide forward on its track in addition to the seatback folding forward. And under that hatch, you’ll get almost 23 cubic feet of space for your stuff. Of course the seats fold down, and there is even a pass-through for skis.
Exterior styling is good, if not exciting. It’s a bit boxy looking overall, but with rounded corners to soften the look. But form follows function, and besides, with the power and handling this GTI provides, perhaps it’s better not to stand out too much, or bring attention from the local constabulary. And while the test car was finished in arrest-me-red, I managed to stay out of trouble.
As you can tell, I really like the GTI . . . a LOT. But there was one feature that really scorched my rotors. I’m driving along enjoying a nice spring day with the driver’s window down and my left arm on the door sill, as I like to do. Then a message pops up on the info screen that reads: “Eco Tip – Wind resistance – close windows”. Huh? A little bit later when driving more aggressively, another message pops up reading, “Eco Tip – note gearshift indicator.” What the heck? Then a bit later I get this one, “Eco Tip – When braking, declutch below 1300rpm.”
Sorry Volkswagen, but I don’t want my car telling me whether I can have the window open, or when to shift, or how to operate the clutch. If I want someone telling me how to drive, I’ll take my wife along with me, thank you very much! And these little unwanted tips pop up every 10 minutes or so. At one point I was worried that the car would shut itself down and I’d hear some voice with a German accent saying, “You are a dumb-koph and don’t deserve to drive zis car. Now get out and find somevon who can !!!”
So aside from the car being bossy, the Golf GTI is an excellent car, and a ton of fun to drive. It is rare that a Press Car is a basic model, as they usually want to show off all the bells and whistles. But this one had a base price of $24,395, and the only add on was the $820 destination fee, making the bottom line $25,215.
And lest you think that this is a real stripper, some of the standard features include: heated seats, the leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, 8-speaker stereo system with Sirius satellite, and interface for an MP3 player, Blue tooth compatibility, heated windshield washer nozzles, the touchscreen info center, a glove box with adjustable cooling, anti-theft immobilizing system, LED fog lights, ambient floor and door lighting, and a lot more.
In the fun yet affordable GTI S, one thing is certain: you will never feel like you’re driving an economy car.
2015 Golf GTI 2.0T 2-Door
18″ Austin alloy wheels
Touchscreen sound system
Clark Plaid cloth seating surfaces
Leather seating surfaces w/red stitching
By Ken Glassman
Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman has been a motor journalist for over 30 years, reviewing automobile, as well as motorcycle ride reviews and accessory reviews.
His car articles have appeared in Robb Report Magazine, Autoguide.com, Car-Revs-Daily.com and other media. His work has also appeared in Road Bike Magazine, Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser, SpeedTV.com, MotorcycleUSA.com and others.
As motorcycle columnist for The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, the paper became the only major circulation newspaper in the country to have a separate weekly section devoted to motorcycles. Later he wrote a weekly column for Cyclefocus Magazine.