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Preview: 2015 Volkswagen Golf & GTI

Popular hatchback drives better than ever

HIGHLIGHTS
ENGINE
1.8L I-4 FWD
POWER
170hp @ 4,500RPM
CURB WEIGHT
1,316 kg
TORQUE
200 lb.-ft. @ 1,600RPM
FUEL TANK CAPACITY
50.0L
ECONOMY
6.4L/100 km
BASE PRICE
$18995
PRICE AS TESTED
NA

Seventh-generation Golf is roomier, more powerful and more fuel-efficient

SAN FRANCISCO?Four decades and more than 30 million vehicles after it was first introduced, the Golf is still the car that essentially defines Volkswagen.

VW plans on keeping it that way, with an all-new, seventh-generation Golf and GTI for 2015.

Makeovers generally produce a car that’s bigger, roomier and more powerful than the one it replaces, and this newest Golf is no exception. But it’s also lighter, more fuel-efficient and, most importantly, drives better than before.

At the same time, the GTI is supple enough for mundane commuting, even when equipped with the higher-horsepower performance pack.

Some of these rockets can be too twitchy for everyday driving, but not this one. Take it to the track on Sunday, and then join the bumper-to-bumper crowd come Monday morning.

The GTI is available now, while the regular Golf arrives in August. The lineup will be completed for 2016 with the top-line performance Golf R, and the Golf wagon, which, oddly, will be called the SportWagon here, with an ?o,? but SportWagen with an ?e? in the U.S. Go figure.

A few U.S. markets will also get the all-electric eGolf. I drove it, and it’s very well-done, but don’t expect to see it in Canada anytime soon, if ever.

Although the Golf essentially remains the hatchback twin of the Jetta, the sedan is now considered entry-level, with the Golf positioned above it as the ?premium European car,? even though it’s made in Mexico.

Despite this, pricing starts about $1,000 less than on the last-generation Golf, thanks to new cost-saving platform sharing across VW’s numerous global brands.

Both the Golf and GTI come in two- and four-door styling. Volkswagen calls them three- and five-door models, counting the hatch as a door.

The Golf’s base engine is a 1.8-L turbocharged four-cylinder, making 170 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque, and mated to a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

There’s also a 2.0-L turbo diesel, making 150 horsepower ? 10 more than in the last generation ? and 256 lb.-ft. of torque, with six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic direct shift gearbox.

This higher-power diesel now requires urea, a liquid that’s automatically injected into the exhaust system to reduce emissions. It’s a simple job to refill it, and usually gets replenished about the same time as an oil change.

The urea tank’s placement means the TDI models use a torsion bar rear suspension, instead of the multi-link independent setup on the gasoline Golf. Even so, the ride is as controlled and well-planted, and most drivers would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

The gas engine comes in the three-door, starting at $18,995, and the five-door, which runs from $20,995 to $29,895. The diesel is five-door only, priced from $23,095 to $32,395.

The GTI uses a 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 210 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, up from 207 lb.-ft. in the last generation. A six-speed manual is the default, while the automatic is an additional $1,400.

Two doors are way sportier, so the GTI three-door comes in two trim lines, at $27,995 and $31,995, while the five-door is a single trim line at $32,895.

The GTI Performance Package trim debuts early next year, bumping the engine to 220 horsepower and adding larger brakes, with price to be announced.

It also includes a torque-sensing, limited-slip differential that’s unique in the front-wheel-drive segment. It distributes as much as 100 per cent of the power to one wheel if necessary, reducing understeer on acceleration, and pulling the car tightly around curves.

I started out in the 1.8-L with six-speed automatic. It’s a beautifully quiet and strong engine, and performance was good most of the time, but the autobox stumbled and bumped a few times.

I didn’t get a chance to try another one, and others didn’t experience it in theirs, so while I’m not making excuses for it, it might have been wonkiness specific to my ride.

I then moved on to the TDI with manual transmission. I do love me a good diesel and that’s what Volkswagen makes. It’s deceiving in that it doesn’t feel particularly fast, and it’s very quiet, but that low-end torque pulls like crazy, and you’re up to highway speeds before you know it.

But the star of the show is the GTI, of course, and it’s a hoot even before you add the performance items.

It loses nothing if you swap out the stick shift for the DSG, which gets the next gear ready as soon as the last one engages, for lightning-fast changes with no loss of power. There’s no torque steer, even with all that grunt going to the front wheels, and the quick, variable-ratio electric steering gives it great response.

All Golf models benefit from a tighter chassis; throw in the lighter weight, and all feel livelier and more fun to drive than before.

The interiors have been upgraded and, for the most part, the controls are well laid out and easy to use, save for a navigation system that could be a bit more intuitive. Volkswagen’s updates generally aren’t that dramatic on the outside, and the new Golf’s looks are more of an evolution.

The difference is in the driving, and VW has really done an excellent job of updating it into a tight, cohesive, and peppy package.

Throw in an interior that finally hits the standard it narrowly missed before, and its perennial bestseller status is pretty much secured.

Transportation for freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the manufacturer. Email: [email protected]

2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI

Price: $18,995 to $32,395 (Golf); $27,995 to $34,295 (GTI)
Engine: 1.8-L turbo I4; 2.0-L turbo diesel I4 (Golf); 2.0-L turbo I4 (GTI)
Power/torque: 170 hp/185 lb.-ft. (1.8-L); 150/236 (diesel); 210/258 (GTI)
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 9.4 city, 6.9 hwy. (GTI); TBA (Golf)
Competition: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Focus Hatchback and ST, Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra GT, Kia Forte5, Mazda3 Sport, Subaru Impreza and WRX.
What’s best: Sharp handling, improved interior, well-mannered but sporty GTI.
What’s worst: No wagon until next year.
What’s interesting: Standard post-crash system applies the brakes to prevent rolling into a secondary collision.

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

  • Preview: 2015 Volkswagen Golf & GTI
  • Preview: 2015 Volkswagen Golf & GTI
  • Preview: 2015 Volkswagen Golf & GTI

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