2015 Volkswagen GTI
By Tony Swan
On Sale: Summer 2014
Expected Pricing: $26,000-$31,000
A hot rod version of the Golf hatchback, the Volkswagen GTI has been a source of affordable high performance since the original was unveiled at the 1975 Frankfurt auto show. Through six generations, the GTI has been the benchmark of the market category it established, the hot hatch class (also characterized as a sports car in a box), combining engaging dynamics and an extra measure of engine performance with all-around usefulness and everyday comfort.
Unveiled at the 2013 Geneva auto show, generation seven builds on that long tradition, and none too soon. Though it still rules its small category, particularly in Europe, the current GTI has been upstaged in terms of sheer performance by usurpers such as the Ford Focus ST and Mazdaspeed 3.
As always, the 2015 Volkswagen GTI is based on the VW Golf, also in its seventh generation and the recipient of the 2014 European Car of the Year award. This means the 2015 GTI will share the Golf's new MQB architecture, developed to support a wide range of new VW vehicles, the Golf/GTI one of the first examples.
The 2015 GTI will also share the new Golf's subtly refined sheetmetal, but with GTI embellishments: a deeper front air dam, expanded front air intakes, a rear spoiler, and rear diffusers embracing twin exhaust pipes. The horizontal red stripe spanning the grille of the generation six GTI now stretches from headlight to headlight, the taillamps sport smoked lenses, and the distinctive alloy wheels (dubbed Cuisinart wheels by aficionados) have a revised design, but still show off the traditional red brake calipers.
Inside, the redesigned Golf furnishings are enhanced with GTI instrumentation and badges, a grippy GTI steering wheel (leather-wrapped and flat-bottomed), GTI shift knob, and a set of sporty bucket seats up front. Continuing GTI tradition, the standard cloth upholstery is plaid, a new pattern called Clark, presumably for Jimmy Clark, the late Grand Prix great.
Of more interest to those with a need for speed, the new GTI will be propelled by a more potent version of VW's new 2.0-liter direct injection four-cylinder engine: 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, gains of 20 horsepower and 51 pound-feet versus the current engine. Like the current GTI, the new engine will be paired with a 6-speed manual transmission, or (optional) VW's excellent dual clutch (DSG) automated manual.
Volkswagen predicts a 0-to-62 mph (100 kilometers per hour) time of about 6.5 seconds, which seems very conservative in light of the current GTI's performance. Contemporary road tests of the current GTI have produced 0-60 sprints in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 153 mph.
Like its ancestors, the seventh-generation GTI will have firmer suspension tuning than the standard Golf, and more aggressive tires. Unlike its ancestors, it will have a new variable ratio electric rack-and-pinion power steering system and for the first time an optional performance pack. Included: a 10-horsepower increase in engine output, bigger brake rotors (13.4-inch front, 12.2-inch rear, vented fore and aft), plus a mechanical limited slip differential, replacing the standard electronic brake intervention system.
Like the current GTI, the next generation will be offered in three- and five-door body styles. And as was true of the current generation, U.S. buyers will have to be patient. The new GTI goes on sale this spring in Europe, but won't begin rolling into North American showrooms until the spring of 2014 as a 2015 model.
Why the big delay? Volkswagen has been slow about bringing new Golfs and GTIs to the U.S. in the past, but in this case the delay is related to the readiness of a new production facility in Puebla, Mexico, due to come online in the spring of 2014.
With the official on-sale date so far away, VW's official response to U.S. pricing questions is no comment. Unofficially, based on off-the-record speculation by insiders, we anticipate a base price for the three-door GTI of about $26,000, add $500 for the five-door model.