2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI First DrivePosted on May 19th, 2014
Seventh-generation hatchbacks gain performance and efficiency
By Nina Russin
In 1974, Volkswagen introduced a front-wheel drive hatchback intended to replace the Beetle as the automaker’s volume leader. The car came to the United States a year later as the VW Rabbit.
Its success was instant and unprecedented. While American automakers had started to focus on smaller cars, few were well engineered. That left Toyota, Honda and Datsun, all of who produced excellent small cars, but none of which had widespread acceptance outside core markets such as California.
I was among the first generation of Rabbit enthusiasts, having purchased a ’77 model. My neighbor in Cincinnati who had a bit more money plunked it down on the sporty Scirocco: this on a street where anything aside from Ford, GM or Chrysler was considered somewhat subversive.
Volkswagen sold over 100,000 units during the car’s first year in the United States and opened an assembly plant to produce Rabbits for American buyers in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania in 1978. It was the first facility on US soil owned and operated by a foreign automaker.
Forty years later, Volkswagen introduces the much-anticipated Golf and GTI for the 2015 model year. The seventh-generation hatchbacks are clean sheet of paper cars. The new Golf that debuted in Europe in 2014 is based on the automaker’s transverse matrix architecture. In simplified terms, it’s modular system enabling economies of scale my basing multiple car chassis off similar components.
Value pricing for young enthusiasts
Both the Golf and sporty GTI are geared towards young, active driving enthusiasts. This makes value a big part of the equation. For the first year of availability, buyers can purchase a base Golf model for $17,995 excluding the $820 destination charge.
Power for the Launch Edition comes from a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission. While it lacks the alloy wheels and six-speed manual or DSG automatic transmissions available on upscale grades, it’s a great basic package, with four-wheel disc brakes, hill start assist, air conditioning, dual exhaust tips, satellite radio, Bluetooth and iPad interface.
Pricing for the sporty GTI starts at $24,395 excluding destination. Power comes from a two-liter 210 horsepower engine and six-speed manual transmission. An available performance package adds ten horsepower, larger brakes and a torque-sensing limited slip differential.
Test drive in northern California
I had the opportunity to drive the new Golf GTI with the performance pack and 2015 Golf turbo-diesel at a recent media event in the San Francisco Bay area. Both cars were equipped with the DSG automatic transmission. MSRP for the GTI was $31,410: $30,910 for the Golf TDI SEL.
While much has changed in the Golf family over the past four decades, the purpose and spirit remains much the same. Driving enthusiasts will be pleased with the peppy engines, solid steering response, firm suspension and linear braking while buyers with active lifestyles appreciate the versatile interior.
The car’s compact dimensions make it ideal for urbanites that contend with narrow thoroughfares and small parking spots on a daily basis. Fuel economy for both the Golf and GTI is improved considerably over outgoing models.
Highway fuel economy for the GTI is 34 miles-per-gallon: six better than the outgoing car. The Golf TDI averages 42 miles-per-gallon on the highway for the manual transmission car. The DSG model has yet to be certified.
The dual-clutch automatic transmission is a good choice for buyers who commute through dense traffic, offering crisp shift performance similar to a manual transmission, without the hassle of a clutch pedal.
San Francisco could be the most difficult city in the country to drive through. While traffic isn’t quite as bad as Manhattan, drivers have to content with a mixture of cable cars, cyclists lacking bike lanes and pedestrians. Each group seems to play by its own rules. While most of the streets are on a grid, enough are not to keep things interesting. The hills are a challenge for anyone driving a manual transmission car, and seem to add blind spots to every corner.
As with all major urban areas, the city center is in a perpetual state of construction. This was the situation in which I found myself attempting to navigate east to Oakland where the bulk of the drive program took place.
The Golf GTI handled this chaos as well as any vehicle could. I was able to weave around larger vehicles and share lanes with the cyclists commuting to work. The engine’s abundant low-end torque is available from 1500 rpm, so the driver doesn’t have to dig too deep into the throttle. It came in handy making quick lane changes in construction zones with minimal signage.
Its large greenhouse and long windshield provide excellent visibility around the perimeter. For a car with a 3,000-pound curb weight, the interior is surprisingly quiet: a boon for drivers living with the constant din of jackhammers and blaring horns.
Engineers used generous amounts of ultra high strength steel in both the Golf and Golf GTI, enhancing the cars’ torsional rigidity. As a result, steering feedback from the electric power steering systems is surprisingly good. Going through some tight, hilly switchbacks in a wooded area outside of Oakland was a pleasure, made even better by the GTI’s manual gear selection feature.
While I loved the pep of the GTI engine, the Golf TDI stole my heart. I look forward to the Sportwagen debuting early next year, with its more spacious cargo area.
Volkswagen engineers have refined the turbo diesel engine to the point that it is virtually indistinguishable from a gasoline block in terms of quiet and throttle response. At the same time, diesel owners benefit, not only from the increased fuel economy but considerably more torque.
While the two-liter TDI engine produces 20 fewer horsepower than the 1.8-liter gasoline block, it deliver 36 more foot-pounds of peak torque. In our traffic light-to-traffic light society, torque typically trumps horsepower, especially when it’s available from 1750 rpm.
The hatchback configuration gives the Golf as much versatility inside as a car with its dimensions could possible have. Most cyclists would want to add a bike rack, but a road bike fits inside with second-row seats folded flat. The split seat configuration enables owners to fold one seatback flat and leave the other in place for a rear passenger.
The manually adjustable driver’s seat is easy to operate and offers good lower lumbar support. Smaller drivers can raise the seats up for a clearer forward view. Both the leather seating in the GTI and leatherette upholstery in the Golf TDI are quite attractive.
Both the driver and front passenger have easy access to temperature and infotainment controls. Redundant steering wheel controls minimize driver distraction.
Audiophiles can upgrade to a Fender premium sound system. Bluetooth and iPod connectivity make it easy to owners to enjoy their own music libraries inside the car.
The Golf comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock four-wheel disc brakes and stability control. Buyers can add bi-xenon headlamps for better visibility after dark.
A post-collision braking system applies the brakes after the initial impact to lessen damage and injury. Buyers can add a pre-collision warning system and front and rear park distance control. Volkswagen’s new Car-Net connected services that come standard on upscale Golf models include automatic collision notification.
The factory warranty includes complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first year or up to 10,000 miles as well as three years of roadside assistance.
The 2015 Golf GTI rolls out in June, followed by gasoline and TDI Golf models in August. The race-prepared Golf R and Golf Sportwagen roll out in 2015. A full electric model, the eGolf, is also in the pipeline.
Like: The new Golf family stays true to the cars’ mission of value and performance while expanding available drivetrains, improving fuel economy, power and steering response.
Models: Golf GTI SE, Gold TDI SEL
Base price: $29,095 (GTI); $29,095 (TDI SEL)
As tested: $31,410 (GTI); $30,910 (TDI SEL)
Horsepower: 220 Hp @ 4700 rpm(GTI); 150 Hp @ 3500 rpm (TDI)
Torque: 258 lbs.-ft. @ 1500 rpm (GTI); 236 lbs.-ft. @ 1750 rpm (TDI)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 25/33 mpg city/highway (GTI); 31/42 mpg city/highway (TDI manual)2015, Best Value 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Volkswagen
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