Capsule Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
capsule review 2015 volkswagen golf gti

This is all very normal. I exited my driveway, turned left at the end of our cul-de-sac, then right onto our village’s main two-lane, low-speed thoroughfare, shifted into third and fourth, turned up the satellite radio’s volume, switched the driver’s heated seat on full blast, and finally came to a stop a few kilometres later at a red light.

I’m waiting for the light to turn green, thinking that I must remember my excuse (crackers and hummus?) for leaving the house at 9pm at the end of a busy day just so I could drive this bright red, 4-door, 6-speed manual, 210-horsepower, 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI. But it’s an awfully normal car. It’s not barking or bellowing or champing at the bit. Any gear will do. It’s not announcing the roughness of our coastal roads. I can see out of it. It’s completely tractable. It’s just a Golf.

Only a few weeks prior, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf 1.8TSI left me impressed, led me to believe that it was a terrific foundation for a GTI, and generated many more smiles per mile than I anticipated. Now, in mid-December, a week-long Christmas present from Volkswagen Canada seemed very much to be that first car, but with plaid seats, an upgraded equipment list, an extra cog in the gearbox, bigger wheels, and slightly sportier exterior styling.

Yes, it’s all very normal, this seventh-generation GTI. When you want it to be.

And when you don’t, the 2015 GTI maintains its disdain for MazdaSpeed 3-like raw exuberance while expressing itself instead through polished, refined, measured, soul-stirring performance; conducting itself with the grace and poise one expects from a far pricier German performance car.

Pricier? In Canada, it’s not as though the 4-door GTI is among the most affordable hot hatches. In a sense, VW Canada charges CAD $4900 to double the number of entry points as the CAD $34,290 4-door GTI is only available in Autobahn trim. (The 2-door GTI Autobahn starts at CAD $33,390.) Fortunately, Volkswagen’s American clientele need only pay an extra $600 for the rear doors. In the U.S., the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic is an $1100 option. Our Canadian-spec 4-door Autobahn tester was optioned only with a CAD $695 technology package which included forward collision warning and sat-nav.

The cabin, replete with a properly large sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, 8-speaker Fender audio, and keyless access, creates an overall impression of solidity, high-grade material quality, and relative simplicity. I love the plaid seats; my Mazda 3-driving neighbour was disgusted by their retro vibe. The rearview camera is easily washed out and offers little assistance at night. The infotainment unit’s graphics and speed are comically outdated. A marginal increase in rear seat legroom would be welcome even at the expense of cargo capacity. And of course, seats folded, the GTI becomes a delivery van, with 53.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Volkswagen’s own Tiguan offers only 2.4 extra cubic feet of total cargo space.

The GTI’s knack for swallowing a new dishwasher during a Boxing Day sale or assisting with a cross-town move is appreciated all the more because it’s still a small car. Yes, Golfs have grown. A lot. But the new GTI is only 168 inches long. That’s 16 inches longer than a Mini Cooper S and 8 inches longer than a Ford Fiesta ST, but it’s 14 inches shorter than Volkswagen’s Jetta GLI and nearly two feet shorter than the Volkswagen Passat.

Consequently, the MK7 GTI feels delightfully small to toss down an empty rural road, but it has the decorum of a much larger car when traversing rough city streets and cruising down the highway on a long journey. Ride quality is firmer than what you’ll encounter in a conventional Golf, but only moderately so. Meanwhile, the degree of steering and handling sharpness acquired by the GTI in its transition out of the Golf’s cocoon is palpable the moment you apply a bit of pressure.

The regular Golf, remember, is a fun car to drive quickly. It’s like playing intramural basketball: watch me drop a couple three-pointers before clanging one off the front of the rim and I don’t care since we’re just messing around and we’re all enjoying ourselves at this pace aren’t we? The GTI locked in a college scholarship in its junior year of high school with a killer crossover, a deadly fadeaway jumper, a solid defensive game, plenty of offensive rebounds, and a few crowd-silencing dunks. All modestly celebrated, of course. It’s a GTI, after all. Mature, prudent, sophisticated.

This latest GTI masks its front-wheel-drive nature remarkably well by quelling understeer, remaining relatively neutral regardless of what kind of stupid mid-corner lift-off or downshift or sudden braking or surprised squirrel avoidance maneuver you throw at it. That’s in Normal mode.

Press a button beside the shifter to choose Sport settings and the car tenses up in all the right places. The electric-assist steering could still be a bit quicker to react, but that hardly noticeable deficiency may be due to the winter tires more than any of the GTI’s inherent trait.

That the new GTI could readily amaze with its on-road behaviour is a testament to both the quality of its Continental ContiWinterContacts and the car’s own beautifully modulated suspension setup. Sure, the Volkswagen GTI is blissfully dull and cordially mundane when you’re driving your mother-in-law’s aunt to church. But 258 lb-ft of always-on torque, a short-throw shifter and a clutch with a clear point of engagement (which may be too high for some) come together with a perfect driving position, small car tossability, sports car grip, and grand touring unflappability to create a car that you can use to scare your nephews.

Best of all, you can enjoy the GTI in between those two extremes. It’s not so fast that you can’t floor the throttle without breaking laws in 31 states. The turbo 2.0-litre’s growl is pleasant, but not attention-grabbing. 25 mpg (observed) in mostly city driving is more than tolerable for a car driven enthusiastically on more than three or seven occasions. The GTI is flexible enough to be left in third gear all day long. And there’s feedback from the chassis at six-tenths, so you don’t need to rent a track and drive flat-out in order to feel like you and the car belong together.

The GTI, perhaps now more than ever, overcomes class distinctions. This Mk7 GTI’s performance goes beyond what its specifications suggest. Both in terms of style and texture, the interior possesses the aura of a car priced in excess of $40,000. As befits its mission, the latest GTI caters to all the priorities of its targeted buyer, and it does so without compromising on one front or another. It is a performance car, and it is a small family car, and it is not less of a performance car because it’s a small family car, nor is it less of a small family car because it’s a performance car.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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3 of 220 comments
  • Buzzyrpm Buzzyrpm on Jan 04, 2015

    Love the car but not a big fan of the interior. I think its just a bit above average compares to other cars in the segment. VW is not at the cutting edge of interior appearance and quality with the Golf as they were a few years ago. Although the GTI has nice touches such as the plaid seats, the shifter and the steering wheel, I don't see why no one comments on the econo dark gray dash and plastics that make up most of the interior (it's not true black), also the faux gloss carbon fiber trim that is the basis of most of the driver's side of the dash is truly cheap looking. Not to monition that trim offset where the AC controls area and the touch screen where the upper dash connects with the lower. There has got to be a more elegant way that this could have been done. You have to wonder if VW is dumbing down the VW interiors so as not to compete with Audi.

  • Eggsalad Eggsalad on Jan 04, 2015

    Interesting. The VW dealer here in Las Vegas refuses to stock anything with a manual transmission. (Same with Subaru, FWIW.) Neither will they order you one, even with a fat deposit. I'm glad to see VW still has no control over its dealers.

    • CJinSD CJinSD on Jan 04, 2015

      I understand why they don't stock them, but refusing to order one with a deposit seems like grounds for contacting the national headquarters.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.