Review: 2015 Volkswagen GTI Performance Pack (Mk7)

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
review 2015 volkswagen gti performance pack mk7

After the first one, the second one, the worst one, and the star-crossed one, we’ve finally arrived at the Mk7 GTI.

Good news: it’s worth the wait.

After the mild update that turned the Mk5 into the lowered-expectations Mk6, this MQB Golf feels the entirely different car that it is. Longer, lower, wider, lighter, more spacious, better-equipped, but still recognizably a Golf both inside and out. A focus on Mexican production is at least partially responsible for Volkswagen’s ability to offer a $25.215 “S” model that offers slightly more equipment than the Mk6 it replaces. Those of us who remember the Rabbit S as the tape-and-stripe pre-GTI from 1981 will no doubt be slightly confused that there is now a Golf GTI S.

Let’s go over the equipment right quick, straight from the press release:

The Golf GTI S features the following standard equipment: 210-hp 2.0-liter TSI engine; 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; Bluetooth® connectivity; a touchscreen radio; Sirius XM® Satellite radio; a Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod® integration; a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, handbrake, and shifter knob; VW Car-Net® connected services; ambient and footwell lighting with LED reading lights; cloth sport seats with heritage GTI design; LED foglights; heatable front seats; and a new driving mode selection feature.

The SE starts at $27,395 for the two-door manual transmission model. It adds the following standard equipment: a power tilt and slide sunroof; Keyless access with push-button start; a rearview camera; automatic headlights; rain-sensing windshield wipers; the Fender® Premium Audio System; and leather seating surfaces.

The Autobahn is only available as a four-door model, priced from $29,595 with the manual transmission. This adds navigation, a 12-way power driver’s seat, and automatic air conditioning to the list of standard equipment on the SE.

The GTI S I drove had the Performance Pack, which adds big brakes, an electronically-controlled limited-slip (which I believe to have a mechanical component, not just brake programming) and 10 extra horsepower over the standard 210. It will be available later in the year. Car and Driver‘s Tony Swan could be reliably counted on to write “Know what? We’d wait for it” in regards to this sort of thing, so consider that written. You want a Performance Pack. Even if you don’t care about it, when you go to sell the car in five or ten years from now, each and every email and phone call you get about it will start with “Does it have PP?” As the song says, make it easy on yourself.

All the first impressions are good: this is a car that follows the same dark-materials-and-shiny-trim playbook as everybody else from Mazda from BMW but the execution is exceptionally good. While the standard Golf perhaps offers a bit more Ikea-chic with its full brushed-metal dashboard and center console (and we’ll cover that car later in the week), the GTI interior does not disappoint and it looks and feels more than a bit above the $25k sticker.

The control efforts are light but predictable and there’s more than a bit of Audi A4 to the GTI as I pull out for the “Long/Aggressive” drive loop. Time to boot the throttle. Directly prior to getting on the plane, I’d let the leash out on my 2014 Accord V-6 stick-shift for calibration purposes. I’m more than surprised at the way the new turbo engine out-torques the Accord from low revs; with 258 lb-ft across a very broad electronically-managed plateau, it has the twist of an ’83 Mustang five-point-oh delivered at pretty much the same place on the tach.

What a surprise to find that torque steer is mostly absent; the GTI simply runs hard until the small turbo runs out of puff in typical small-turbo style. Now, as the revs approach 6k, is when you’d really prefer to have a big Japanese six under the hood, but instead you get a lot of sound and fury, mostly artificial, signifying that it’s time to shift and ride the torque curve yet again. The net effect is bizarrely like the VR6 MkIII GTI, only played at fast-forward pace.

The Performance Pack suspension, brakes, and rubber all conspire to make the Volkswagen far too capable for our test loop. Letting the engine spin only results in running up more quickly against the next group of tourists or cyclists. What this needs is a track, but surely it would prove to be just as hapless as most Golf-pattern cars in that environment. Suffice it to say that you won’t easily reach the GTI’s limits anywhere that you wouldn’t reach the limits of something like a BMW 328i with the Sport package. This GTI probably runs semi-close to the Scirocco R for raw pace, assuming you select the DSG. As ever with these cars, no matter how many letters you use to describe the platform, the manual shift action is slow and steady at best, so you’ll have to take in satisfaction what you lose in over-the-road speed.

On the move, the GTI starts to feel distinctly mid-sized, particularly with regards to that nearly seventy-one-inch width. Still, visibility is decent enough given the considerable beltline draft. The same kind of dimensional gaps that made the Mk2 feel so much bigger than the Mk1 are at work here as well vis-a-vis the Mk6. Thank goodness the BMW 3er keeps getting bigger, or this Golf would catch it. As wide as an E90 and taller, slathered liberally with cold-to-the-touch metal trim, it’s light-years from the old GTIs. The proportions just keep drifting from the original, and at some point it starts to really matter that the perched-on-the-seat, elbows-on-the-doorsills feeling of the early cars is completely gone. VW did itself no favors bringing the “heritage” cars along, because they remind us of when the Golf was a compact car, not an Accord sans trunk. Why would you get an A3, other than for the rings on the grille and the guarantee that assembly took place without the involvement, direct or indirect, of a drug cartel?

It’s at this point that I want to suggest that you read Jason Cammisa’s review of the same GTI I drove. I want you to do this, not just because I want to prop up Jason’s career in the interest of receiving free drinks from him in the future, but because he’s such an unabashed fan of this car and I want you to hear all the good things about the car from a fan before I talk about it in a less than positive way.

Okay. You’re back? Let’s continue. This new GTI is, by any measure you can objectively apply, the best GTI in history. From the three-dimensional court and spark of the complex and gorgeous steering wheel to the video-game power delivery, from the considered retro chic of the upholstery to the absolutely vice-free way the nose turns even under braking, it is damned near flawless. If you envision the GTI customer base as people who cannot afford an M3 but demand a large subset of that car’s virtues at well under half the price, well… mission accomplished.

You can’t fluster it, not with idiotic midcorner braking, not with lazy shifting choices, not with pitch-and-catch attempts at adjusting its attitude around a turn. It’s effortlessly fast and frankly it would work just fine with a four-speed manual box, or possibly even a three-speed automatic, such is the flexibility and might of the engine.

The only problem with this car is that I’d rather have a Fiesta ST. Imagine that the GTI was slow-roasted until all the joy dripped out of it. Then imagine that all the joy that dripped out was caught in a drip pan. Then imagine that the drip pan was emptied into the Fiesta ST. The Fiesta is everything the Golf isn’t: deliberately unstable at speed, hugely involving, capable of returning vast differentials of pace depending on driver commitment and talent.

“But wait a minute,” you say, “the proper competition for the GTI is the Focus ST.” Well, I’m not totally sure I wouldn’t take the Focus. It’s not nearly as good of a car on the road but it has some racetrack desirability to it and I prefer the Rude Ford look to the A3 Lite one. This GTI feels awfully grownup. There have always been two groups of buyers for this car: literature professors slumming it with a campus-friendly rocket and kids looking to start trouble with Daddy’s money or the entire proceeds of their McJob. With the Mk7, Volkswagen has tilted the balance drastically towards the former.

What we really need here is the Renault Megane, which is everything you really want in a front-wheel-drive enthusiast car. The GTI could have been a Megane competitor. Instead, it’s an Audi competitor, which seems odd, because VW owns Audi.

Unto the seventh generation, the sins of the original Golf have been long expiated. The problem is that the virtues, and the character, were dispensed with as well. What’s left is a fast, competent, useful car from which to sit back and watch the Bimmer drivers paying too much for the same experience — and the Fiesta drivers having unadulterated fun.

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4 of 162 comments
  • NattyBumpo NattyBumpo on Aug 09, 2014

    T A very ignorant comment about Mexico manufacturing with no facts to support that there are drug gangs involved with the manufacture of VW products. As one who set up Mexican manufacturing in high tech assembly I can testify the yields were better than in home Silicon Valley. These people work very very hard with long hours and they take pride in their work. What a jerk comment.

  • Wmba Wmba on Aug 26, 2014

    The quest continues. To replace my 08 Legacy GT. Tested so far: Accords, Mazda6, BMW X1, ATS, CLA, WRX, Chrysler 200 AWD, Acura TLX, both 4 and 6 FWD, plus assorted Korean crap in vain hope. Today the VW GTI. Quite disappointing, ridiculous price in Canada. What did I expect? Great interior, but frankly it's only just OK when you really look. And the damn driver's sunvisor buzzed the entire test drive no matter how I hit it. Seems to be made of a lump of polystyrene encased in leatherette, uh vinyl. Weight 20 grams and buzzy. Tight shoulder room, weird seat adjustments, everything feels lightweight, kind of like the car itself. Small trunk, no rear seat room. $35K for this one in Canada with nav, leather EXTRA, DSG extra. Try over $38 grand. A joke, surely? And the upcoming Performance Pack with limited slip puts it over $40K. For a damn warmed-over Golf. On the move, peppy but not outrageous, loud engine (why, because boyracer I guess). Six speed manual must have same lightweight rods to the transmission my 1980 Jetta had, even pedals seem flimsy. 5th and 6th gear plane difficult to find - this is no Accord Sport gearshift. So it howls around corners just fine, and goes pretty good on the highway, but it's noisy all the time, and the general feeling of flimsiness is ever present. Turbo lag, yes, when everyone says it has none. Wrong. Humpty dumpty ride when everyone said it was the best compromise out there. My head must need recalibrating. My mind kept saying, "Good second car". Hell, an Abarth is way more fun for that job. Underwhelmed. It might lack power, but a Mazda3 drives as well and has a little better steering. Neither as good as my old beast (hydraulic), which is also quiet, effortless and just as quick as this GTI, plus it whirs right out to 6600 rpm with no letup - no modern tiny turbo feeding the hamsters. There just ain't much juice to this GTI. Now I understand Baruth's comment about his old BMW being a real car compared to this GTI. And yes, I'd have an Accord Coupe over this GTI in an instant. Super engine, better shifter, quieter and actually LESS money in Canada, because leather is included for $35.5K. But it NEEDS an LSD in the worst way. Drove a new TLX Saturday. The 4 sucks big time for numerous reasons (like trying to kill me crossing two lanes of traffic from a stop with wheels preturned - zero response, none, while gerbils hunted for a gear, completely unacceptable). Over-eager loud engine, tranny allows revs to drop so low in gear in trickling traffic uphill, that engine actually shudders. Like a novice manual driver forgetting to push in the clutch. Useless. The V6 felt great but had no traction. Howling tires on takeoff with half-throttle. SH-AWD available in late fall. $39,999 for the cheap interior version of that in Canada, quiet, and the DI version of Honda V6 but with that awful ZF 9 speed. But guess what? It's a real car to drive even in FWD form. No flimsy whimsy and not a rattle to be heard. $40K for AWD and vinyl seats (Canada cheap-out version not available in US), and some real engineering under you. Now that's a deal. It's what the Chrysler 200 AWD could have been but ain't. Anonymous styling, which is fine by me. That Honda V6 speaks to me. A decent spec 328xi is nearly ten grand more here and you get a clickety, clackety turbo four - the brain hurts.

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    • Grahambo Grahambo on Aug 26, 2014

      wmba, Just curious as to what is leading you on the quest to replace your LGT? I have an '05 and while I definitely keep my eyes open to see what's new out there, I've accepted the conclusion that there's almost nothing that I would be happy with as a replacement (which seems to be the conclusion you are arriving at as well). The facts that it is paid off and has been reliable also loom large. So I'm happy to keep driving it for quite a while longer. (Still need to test drive the 2015 GTI and WRX but, based on your assessment, doesn't sound like that will change my view). The new Lexus IS350 F Sport is the lone exception to the above. Have you tried one of those? Assuming you are willing to forgo a manual and are not offended by the exterior, I think it would be to your liking. Really fun to drive as others have attested to, fast enough, smooth, refined and comfortable. The pricing in the US is higher than most of the other options you are referencing (although in the same range as the 328xi) but the price differential may not be as significant in Canada.

  • Gimmeamanual The new Wrangler isn't that new, it's still a JL and so is limited to what the platform can handle as far as addressing on-road handling. One thing Jeep should have done is increase the length of the front lower control arms by using the ones THEY ALREADY SELL with the Mopar lift. That 1/4" makes a big difference.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Tesla, relying on subsidies to sell vehicles. Goes to prove Tesla is still not price competitive. As I've asked before, what would happen to tesla pricing if the government subsidies were discontinued? I think the answer is clear, Tesla prices would drop to maintain sales. Now here come VoGhost and Art Vandelay with personal attacks.
  • Pig_Iron What an epic series. Thank you Corey. 🙂
  • IBx1 The LC Prado, AKA the 4Runner*
  • VoGhost This would be a great graduation present for the daughter.