2015 VW GTI 5-Dr Review

2015 VW GTI hot hatch - hotter than ever

I rolled out of the dark underground parking lot into the eye-squinting glare of a winter morning.

A quick tug of the wiper stalk and the washer jets hit the windshield as the wipers squeegeed the glass clean.

Actually, the glass wasn’t even all that dirty. But it was an excuse to enjoy the scent of European washer fluid, a more appealing aroma than our domestic blue gunk.

I sometimes mentally picture VW technicians offering their customers a sniff of a cork before they fill the reservoir bottles.

I know you’re not supposed to drink the stuff despite the cognac-like bouquet, but with this Volkswagen vintage I’m tempted to at least dab it behind my ears.

I also sometimes wonder, after inhaling enough of the alcoholic fumes during a slushy drive, if I would test over the limit after being pulled over.

Maybe I have been sniffing too much of it, because I already seem to be going off track in this road test review.

But Euro washer fluid fragrance is just one of the many things I like about Volkswagens.

And a lot of the things I like are contained within the as-tested confines of this brand new 2015 GTI.

This is the hot-rod of the Golf lineup, a high-powered variation that marries nimble hot-hatch tradition with the latest go-fast technologies, distilled down to pure performance levels in this brand new, seventh-generation version.

Fans have been waiting for this car.

Even Volkswagen Canada had to skip the 2014 model year waiting for this car. But the 2015 GTI has now arrived, building on VW’s new lightweight MQB platform and Golf components with real performance values. And the new GTI is better – wider, longer, lower and stronger.

The 2.0-litre EA888 TSI four-cylinder engine blends turbocharging with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, surpassing its predecessor with 210 hp (up 10 hp) and 258 lb/ft of torque (up 51 lb/ft). Blend that extra oomph with excellent braking and responsive steering and you wind up with a pocket-rocket that boasts go-kart-like handling and maneuverability comparable to, or I would argue, even better than the latest generation MINI.

The GTI lineup starts with cheaper three-door models but, as tested here, we have the five-door model in the one-choice Autobahn trim level ($32,895).

But, then again, that one-choice five-door GTI actually comes in two choices, offering drivers the distinctive flavours of either a six-speed manual model or a six-speed automatic.

I drove both versions and it’s funny how two GTIs, both in Tornado red, both wearing the tribute-to-tradition Clark plaid seating fabric, can be so similar and yet so different.

I learned how to drive in a clutch-and-shift Beetle so I can wax as romantic as the next guy when it comes to manual gearboxes. And the 6MT is pretty sweet, shifting smoothly through the cogs with easy action, light clutch effort and quick engagement.

A wide gear ratio selection allows the engine to swan around town in an economical low rev range if you want, and even settle in at an easy 2,000 rpm at highway speed.

Taking 100 km/h as our baseline speed, multi-lane freeway passing is easy with a quick drop to fifth gear at 2,500 rpm or throwing down to fourth gear at 3,000 rpm or even third gear at 4,000 rpm for more urgent passing maneuvers on rural two-lane highways.

The shifter itself is pretty cool with a dimpled knob that resembles an oversized black golf ball. And like the dimples on a golf ball, the aerodynamic design of the knob streamlines shift throws through the air, allowing for quicker gear changes.

Okay, I totally made that up. But, at least the weird knob adds a touch of whimsical funkiness to an otherwise elegant but staid interior.

Having praised the standard tranny, let’s however admit that, from a modern technological standpoint, the manual transmission is deader than a Dodo. The romance soon wears thin for most drivers after the first few stop-and-go traffic jams. Manual transmissions are seldom opted for these days.

They tend to reduce resale appeal and are also only marginally more fuel-efficient than modern automatics. My results after about 500 kms of mixed driving in each car were almost identical – 8.5L/100km (comb) in the manual, 8.7L/100km (comb) in the automatic.

And, frankly, automatic transmissions can be just as much fun as a manual stick.

Take, for example, our second test vehicle, a GTI harnessing the engine power with a six-speed DSG automatic. DSG stands for “Direkt Schalt Getriebe” if you wear lederhosen, or translates to “Direct Shift Gearbox” for the rest of us.

This dual-clutch manual gearbox will shift in a fully automatic mode or can be shifted semi-manually if the driver chooses to play with the gearshift or steering wheel paddles.

With a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde duality of character, the DSG gearbox will also allow the engine to loaf along at an easy 2,000 rpm or less.

But slap the shifter back and Sport mode is announced with a growl and an immediate rev bump up to a threshold about 1,000 rpm higher, holding gears longer, popping through lightning-fast upshifts in eight milliseconds or less, and downshifting with accompanying throttle blips that make it sound like Nelson Piquet is at the wheel instead of just little old you.

It’s a fun ride, stirring the soul with sound, fury and rapid-fire shifting finesse.

Which leaves us with a tough choice – the nostalgia of traditional shifting or the technological thrill of DSG dual-clutch immediacy.

The DSG’s extra cost ($1,400) might be a factor in the decision but, with either transmission, the new 2015 VW GTI offers a real performance option in the latest generation Golf platform.

This 2015 GTI is as good as a Golf will get in Canada for now.

Much as they?d like to, Volkswagen Canada has no immediate plans to import the GTD performance diesel version. But an uber Golf – the ultimate 292 hp 2016 Golf R with 4MOTION – will be added to the lineup next summer.

They are also taking orders now for the January intro of a new Performance Pack trim level (+$2,295) that will add 10 hp (to 220 hp) to the GTI through ECU engine management, along with bigger brakes, a locking front differential, dynamic chassis control and available summer performance tires.

Yes, it looks like the original hot hatch just keeps getting hotter.

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