2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI S Performance Pack Review

Patience is a virtue

San Francisco--We’ve been very, very patient, waiting for this 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. The seventh-generation GTI debuted as a concept, tantalizingly close to production, in September 2012 at the Paris Motor Show. Volkswagen followed up with the production version the following March, at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, and our European editor, Georg Kacher, drove it in France that same month. A couple of months later, also in France, west coast editor Michael Jordan had a turn behind the wheel. Both gentlemen enjoyed themselves tremendously, but the rest of us at Automobile Magazine had to bide our time, just like you.

Now, mere weeks before the 2015 Golf GTI finally reaches U.S. showrooms, we’re getting our first opportunity, albeit a brief one, to drive the car on American soil. Across the bay from San Francisco, in Richmond, Volkswagen has a fleet of Golfs and Golf GTIs at Craneway Pavilion, a dramatic, Albert Kahn-designed, prewar complex that was once a Ford Motor Company assembly factory, of all things.

Is this a new car?

At first glance, you’ll barely know that the 2015 VW GTI is a new car. Look more carefully, though, and you’ll realize that this Mk7 edition is indeed different from its predecessor. See the crisper body lines; the geometrically shaped five-spoke wheels; the new front fender badges; and the new front-end design with LED fog lights set into prominent horizontal strakes surrounding a mesh lower grille. The horizontal, body-color line that used to stretch between the headlights now goes all the way through the headlights, separating them from the turn signals. Still, while the 2015 GTI has lots of different details compared with the outgoing 2014 GTI, they’re all pretty subtle to the casual observer.

More power now, even more later

I’m handed the key to a Tornado Red 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI S with manual transmission and the Performance Pack. I open the door to see a familiar but freshened interior with the famous plaid cloth seats. (Leather is optional.) They are comfortable and supportive, but not aggressively bolstered. Once you settle in, you grasp the flat-bottomed steering wheel, which has a rim that’s just the right thickness. Left foot to the floor, right foot on the brake, right index finger hits the start button that’s located near the gearshifter, and I hear the steady thrum of the EA288 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine. With 210 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, it’s bringing 10 more hp and an additional 51 lb-ft to the party as compared with the Mk6’s engine. [The Performance Pack, a $1495 stand-alone option available on all trim levels and with both transmissions, adds an additional 10 hp, for 220 hp total, plus bigger brakes and, most notably, an electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated, torque-sensing, limited-slip front differential. The only bummer is that you’ll have to wait until December to get it.]

A silky clutch take-up segues perfectly to the linear movement of the gas pedal, and I’m effortlessly moving the gearshifter through the first few gears as I head to the 580 freeway. I hit the “mode” button and select sport settings for the steering and engine. Before long, I’m up on San Pablo Dam Road, a great, fast, hilly stretch that follows the San Pablo Reservoir. The razor-sharp steering, the torquey engine, and the great visibility all come into play here.

Feels like an old friend

I have lots of miles in the GTI Mk5 and Mk6, and this Mk7 feels like an old friend. The sensations of smoothness, refinement, precision, and accessible power that characterized those last two generations are even more finely concentrated in the 2015 GTI. The net effect is that the GTI is simply really easy to drive fast and to drive well. Your palms don’t get sweaty.

Cops, bicyclists, and turkeys

San Pablo Dam Road leads me to Wildcat Canyon Road, which winds through Tilton Park, above Berkeley. This is one of those tight, twisty, hilly, narrow roads dappled with California sunshine peeking through the tree canopy, that we Midwesterners fantasize about. Time to roll down the windows, the better to hear the exhaust and the optional, eighteen-inch summer rubber on the pavement. The GTI’s steering is pretty much perfect here. I’m rowing between second and third gears. I don’t have this road to myself, though, so I’m accelerating hard and then braking quickly, for obstacles as varied as a police car that’s running a speed trap; bicyclists; and, believe it or not, a wild turkey that crosses the road in front of me.

The GTI is unfazed. A little dab of the brake pedal, very little pitch or dive, and the car rotates fluidly through another corner. The ride remains supple, even in some bumpy, off-camber turns. As you toss the GTI into corners, you readily feel the additional torque that’s being directed to the outside wheels by the limited-slip diff.

At home on campus…

Down toward Berkeley I go, and suddenly I’m on Stadium Rim Way, looking into the vast bowl of the Cal Berkeley football stadium. I pull over to the curb for a minute, and a couple of students walking by eye the GTI. I almost roll down the window to say, “Guys, when you graduate, you should buy this car.”

…And on the freeway

Soon I’m on the 580 west heading back to Richmond. The GTI is quiet at 60 mph in sixth gear. Suddenly the freeway gets crowded, but it’s not a problem. Shift down to third gear, and there’s all sorts of power to slip into holes in traffic. In fourth gear, at 75 mph, the turbo four is running at 3500 rpm, well short of the 6000-rpm redline. There’s a little wind noise over the A pillars but, still, this is a quiet and refined pocket rocket, as well suited for a freeway road trip as for a romp on Wildcat Canyon Road.

Longtime love affair

How much do we love the Volkswagen GTI here at Automobile Magazine? In 2007, we named the fifth-generation car our Automobile of the Year, celebrating its blend of athleticism, practicality, and performance, which we felt was the closest thing to the spirit of the original, 1983 GTI. We followed that up in 2010 with yet another Automobile of the Year award for the sixth-generation model, which honestly wasn’t that different but was still able to capture our hearts.

An evolution, but one worth waiting for

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI is yet another evolution of the GTI formula, but that’s certainly no bad thing. It’s lighter, bigger, and more powerful and efficient than its predecessor but hardly more expensive, and Volkswagen of America secured all the goodies from Germany that American enthusiasts want and deserve, including optional adaptive damping, a premium Fender stereo, and the Performance Pack. VW has made sure there’s a GTI for every buyer, with some ten iterations spread across three trim levels: GTI S, GTI SE, and GTI Autobahn. Two-door and four-door models return, and you still have your choice of six-speed manual gearbox or VW’s superb six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI was worth the wait.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI S 4 Door

Base Price: $25,815
Price As Tested: $28,305
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I-4
Power: 220 hp
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: Front-wheel
Cargo Capacity (seats up/down): 22.8/52.7 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 25/34 mpg (city/highway)
jay czyzyk23
the wrx is a better enthusiast car than the gti for pure raw perf
Dang.  I was ready to replace my 2013 Subaru WRX with a new one, and then I test drove the new GTI yesterday.  This changes everything.  Some years ago I had a Golf GT that was one of my favorites, but this is a whole new experience.The DSG, the Styling, the Interior, and enough power have me convinced that the GTI is my next car.  I'm going to try to exert just enough self-control to hold off until I can get the Performance Package, mainly because of the brakes and differential.

needs more lower and more power. my BALT SS has 290 hp and thats stock. Now I do think the GTI is light years ahead of Chevy in interior quality but its missing individual tire pressures - unforgivable ! no Boost Gauge ? wtf ?no AFR gauge or Spark Advance Gauge or Digi Water Temp Gauge. My Balt SS has all of that and cost me only 14k. lol
What really gets me is why in the hell I can't get this in the Jetta GLI. I really don't like hatchbacks, but why make the GLI if you're not gonna do it up right. The 2015 refresh is OK if I want a car to compete with the rest of the sheep. I don't. I want power and performance too. If you're gonna do it, do it right or don't bother doing it at all
Bobby P
Uh, it's "Tilden Park."
Eric U
I have a 2011 4 door Autobahn GTI with DSG with lots of go fast and turn quick mods...the car is incredible and only one problem in 65k miles covered by warranty.  (jinx)  I wanted to hate the Mk7 dammit because I love my car but I sat in one last weekend and damn...it is crazy nice.  Some may think the price is too steep but it is seriously luxo-sporty to the max inside and out.  I am waiting to test drive the perf. pack version when it comes out and trying to hold off until the R gets here but all indications are that this new GTI is the best ever.  APR stage 1 tune will make this car a sub 5 second car for about $500...  The GTI combines sport with understated class.  You can drive it like you stole it or tool around like it's a Benz with better gas mileage.  Fantastic cars made even better.
Marc Hamady
Too bad it'll cost $5000 to get the turbo fixed when it goes. The inevitable electrical problems will be be a bargain in comparison. Owned a '05 VW Passat from new, never again. The dealership had the car more than I did.
I think its uncanny why VW and Mazda gets their cars rated great or the best in their categories and yet these two companies don't sell extremely well in North America.I wonder what they must do to move up the ladder of the sales race if anyone's really counting?
Mike Wilde
Lexus RX350 express. My desire of owning a new GTi is all but abandoned. I get it, aerodynamics are a major consideration for any new vehicle. How about this: give us some of that good'ol GTi magical, boxy beauty and a diesel? GTd. Well, that already exists, and shares this egg's outer shell. Congratulations given for creating the hot-hatch. I hereby, sadly, mourn the end of an era, an ideal, a work of art destroyed by the accounting department. Best of luck capturing your only audience. BTW, gamers buy SUVs with automatic transmissions, or inherit their mom's Toyota.
Abdul Rouf
Jon Fullerton
No performance pack until December now? Seriously? We wait a year to get the car then wait another six months to get one equipped right?  I've been waiting for this car, but wait till December now?  Probably not. Might as well buy a focus ST and start having fun this weekend.
Paul Silverstein
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GOLF TURBO INJECTED? LOL! Isn't it just Volkswagen GTI?
Craig Stishenko
Mexicano Special
It's a crime that the SE and above automatically come with leather.  Please make leather a check box and let us get the plaid cloth in all trim levels.  It's an iconic GTI feature!
Chris Prather
Bring out the R already!!
I was giving some very serious consideration to buying a new GTI but to get the top of the line Autoban and I have to have a four door, I'm going to take a pass which really sucks.
Robby Robinson
love this car, it's great to see VW giving this car what it needs to be successful in a very competitive market.
Michael Anderson
Wtf are you smoking mahmoud?
Mahmoud Abdelhamid
GOOD NEWS A device for combining the clutch pedal and the acceleration pedal into a single novel pedal. The invention concerns a device that makes it possible to discard the clutch pedal, keeping the clutch system that will function with a novel pedal that operates the acceleration and the clutch at the same time. It consists of a single pedal that accelerates the car and, at the same time, turns a cam (figure 1) to connect and disconnect the clutch disc. The device according to the invention is intended for cars http://patentscope.wipo.int/search/en/detail.jsf?docId=WO2014064343&recNum=1&docAn=FR2013000238&queryString=FP:(WO2014/064343)&maxRec=1
Bryan James
Looks so much better without a front plate
Michael Anderson
The last one was amazing, this will be even better.
Ayaj Deshmukh
my dream car....
Jack Lail
@chevyfanatic What the hell is a BALT SS?
Mark TL
@Eric U I was hoping the same as you.  I have an APR stage 1 tune, all 3 unibrace upgrades, H&R rear sway bar and DG springs.  I was expecting to drive the new MK7 and be underwhelmed compared to what i've done.  Unfortunately though I am now on a strict budget from now until December because i'm pretty sure i'm going to have to upgrade.  Amazing car.
Brian Spicer
@DAllen21678 DUDE … that is a 10 YEAR old car! lol  These things have come leaps, and bounds over what they used to be in respect to reliability 
Mark TL
@DAllen21678 Sounds like you got ripped off.  That's extremely expensive.  Had to have been more than the turbo that was wrong.
Carlos Javier Alicea
My 2009 251whp has none of those problems.What car are you talking about?
Zack Kibler
@cm_smith_12@hotmail.ca It's simple: make the cars cheap, reliable, and boring to drive.
You are struggling to form a coherent thought
Jeffrey Myers
@Paul Silverstein  GTI doesn't stand for Golf Turbo Injected, it's actually Grand Touring Injection.
@Paul Silverstein @Paul Silverstein  Hey Paul. VW indeed says the official name is "Golf GTI," because that's how it's known in other markets. Not that anyone will call it that, of course. I think they also want to emphasize the "Golf"-ness of it as they are trying to bring renewed attention to the Golf lineup in general. Which is why they are going to rename the Jetta wagon as the Golf SportWagen.

red rotors
Agree, same in the new TDI.VWoA - "no cloth for you SE, SEL"Me to VWoA - "no sale for you VW, buying a Subaru w/heated cloth 10 way adj. power seats"
Eric U
why pass?  it's an outstanding car from everything I've read and seen. 
Carlos Javier Alicea
No clutch pedal, no real interaction with the car thus, no sale for me.Please learn to drive a manual, then learn heel & toe, then your comment, nah, I'll still not care..
Brian Spicer
@Mark TL @Eric U my lease is up in Aug of 2015, and I'm going out of my mind trying to decide weather, or not to get the regular GTI w/ Performance pack, or go with the new Golf R!?!?!?!
Umm my '05 Passat. It had a 2.0T and I had all scheduled maintenance done. I got the turbo done at a local shop that specializes in VW. The dealer quoted me $6500.
Eric U
The average American prefers to drive an appliance or a dirt cheap domestic. 
red rotors
VWoA wake up and stop forcing vinyl/leather seats on us. Be a little different from nearly every other manufacturer. Please offer a nice upmarket cloth interior choice like you used to in the GLS trim years ago. For the EU market you offer wonderful cloth interiors in current VW/Audi, bring it here, I for one am willing to pay an up charge for "premium" cloth, heated, on your best seat.
@Carlos Javier Alicea can get a DSG auto or stick in a GTI.
Eric U
The VW of yesteryear was a piece of poop, especially say 1997-2008, however, since 2009 their cars are much more reliable.  Brands change and VW/Audi is only getting better every year now. 
Mark TL
@red rotors If they are going to force the leather interiors on the upgrade then they seriously need to give me the Recaro's that my brother's ST has.  That is the ONLY thing I would love to have in my GTI.
I don't know about that; my 08 Wolfsburg Edition Jetta has the 2.0 turbo and 6 speed manual with 95k on the clock with nary a problem, electrical or otherwise. She's pretty quick, stops on a dime and squirts through slower traffic like a scalpel. I just wish for better mpgs as she turns kinda high at cruising speeds
You're probably right and when the car wasn't in the shop it was fun to drive, however I'd kick myself if I bought another and it gave me problems. Its a shame because the Jetta GLI is really cool looking and I'd love to own one.

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