The seventh-generation VW Golf -- still a year off for Americans -- is already on sale in Europe, with the new GTI about to follow. We borrowed a pre-production model for a revealing eight-hour shakedown drive in the Ile de France region around Paris.
Like its predecessors, the new GTI is far from in-your-face. The red stripe in the grille now stretches into the headlamp housings, the rear spoiler has been extended, and the wheels now run as large as nineteen inches. Inside, the GTI again serves up plaid cloth, a golfball-style shift knob, and red contrasting stitching. Everything you see and touch has class.
The push of a button starts the new 2.0-liter turbo, which is quite polished at idle speed -- tap the accelerator, and the direct-injected four snarls up the rev ladder. The engine’s 220 hp is more ten more than before, but what makes the real difference is the increase in torque from 207 to 258 pound-feet. With the curb weight reduced to 2978 pounds (in European trim), the new GTI sprints from 0-62 mph in a claimed 6.5 seconds and reaches 154 mph. And yet it consumes 18 percent less fuel in the European cycle.
Totally relaxed yet always eager to rev, the turbocharged four gets along very well with the optional DSG gearbox, whose shifts are quick and smooth. That’s the good news. The bad news concerns the six forward ratios: first through fifth are fine, but sixth is absurdly tall. With the transmission in S, this is rarely an issue because S uses a very energetic algorithm. In D, however, the gearbox shifts into overdrive sixth at low engine and road speeds, killing response. We would much prefer the top gear in the GTI to be a proper driving ratio.
Perhaps a revised set of cogs could be part of the optional Performance Pack. Not fitted to our car, the PP adds 10 hp, a mechanical differential lock, and larger vented rotors all around (the base car gets solid rear discs). Although unconfirmed for the States, VW expects fully half of European buyers to choose the Performance Pack.
Another worthwhile option is Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which has five modes: Comfort, Normal, Sport, Eco, and Individual. It adjusts the dampers, steering, powertrain, adaptive cruise control (ACC), dynamic cornering lights, and A/C, though not all settings affect all parameters. The ideal mode is Individual, where the dampers, lights, and ACC can be set in Sport mode, while the drivetrain is best left in Normal. Why? Because Sport brings early downshifts, late upshifts, and unnecessarily high revs in general. Instead, use the shift paddles to set your own rhythm -- or go with the standard six-speed stick.
Once you’re in the zone, you may want to dial back the stability control. Hitting the ESP button once deactivates traction control; hold it longer to call up Sport mode. It’s now possible to induce mild lift-off oversteer. New for the GTI is the so-called Progressive Steering, a constant-effort, variable-rate system that requires only two turns lock-to-lock. Yes, it does take some getting used to, but it’s hard not to be smitten by the go-kart-like directness and the depth of feel.
In fact, the GTI communicates on all levels: steering, throttle, transmission, suspension, brakes. Despite some easy-to-fix flaws, the new GTI epitomizes effortless velocity, practical performance, and accessible performance.