2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn first drive review: Big flippin’ deal

2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn

2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn

Yes, it’s a new generation of Golf, the Mark VII and all that. Big flippin’ deal. Well, not to some, perhaps, but for fans of the Volkswagen GTI it matters only because the Golf is the canvas on which the GTI is painted.

The thumbnail of the seventh generation Golf is one of lower, longer, wider…and lighter, as well as bigger inside. It is the first U.S. model built on Volkswagen’s new MBQ chassis.  The faithful 2.5-liter five-cylinder is gone, replaced by a 1.8-liter turbo four. The diesel in the Golf TDI is all new. The chassis is stronger, using a zig-zag laser welding procedure to replace spot welds. Suspension is struts in front, multilink in the rear except for the TDI, equipped with a torsion-beam setup. The MBQ chassis moves the driver position almost an inch rearward, and interior upgrades include a much needed 5.8-inch touchscreen multi-information display. And that’s just the beginning.

The 2015 Volkswagen GTI is all that and more.

The 2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn headlight cluster

The lighting cluster of the 2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn has Bi-Zenon headlamps accented with LED daytime running lights. (click to enalrge)

Like its predecessors, the VW GTI is a Golf with performance modifications, though Volkswagen prefers to set it apart with its own model designation—except when it doesn’t. Descriptively it’s “Golf GTI,” but technically Volkswagen GTI it is.

The 2015 VW GTI, then, shares most of the exterior with its alter ego, available in either two- or four-door configuration. It’s honestly going to take a practiced eye, or placing a Mark VI GTI alongside a Mark VII, to tell the difference, but the squinty eyes of the 2015 are just a little squintier, the grille loses a center bar, and while the spokes of the 18-inch wheels extend to the rim to make the wheels appear larger than they already are, the new spokes are hooked to one side rather than symmetrical.

However, most noticeable are the giant black strakes either side of the lower radiator grille, lifted directly from the sides of the Ferrari 512 TR, though not so many and not so big, and instead of inlets, they house the standard LED fog lights. Consider them the Hey You styling feature of the GTI. From behind, a distinctive diffuser and hatch-top spoiler distinguish the GTI from lesser members of the Golf clan.

2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn interior

The 2015 Volkswagen GTI comes standard with a new 5.8-inch multi-information display. (click to enlarge)

Still, with the front wheels moved 1.7-inches forward, the changes may be subtle but they make a more aggressive Volkswagen GTI.

Inside, the Golf and GTI are bigger in almost every dimension, thanks to the larger outsides. The 2015 GTI increases the use of soft touch materials, and while we weren’t able to see it during our daylight first drive, the GTI has red-illuminated door sills and ambient lighting, plus buttons and switches backlit in white.

The GTI also gets a sporty-look flat-bottomed steering wheel and aluminum-look pedals, ‘cause one’s gotta have The Look. Kidney-grabbing port seats are standard in the 2015 GTI, and accented, like the soft-texture leather steering wheel, with red stitching. Our seats were optional leather, part of the SE trim level, more about which later.

2015 Volkswagen GTI multi-information display

Audio and navigation are controlled via the 2015 Volkswagen GTI’s multi-information display. (click to enlarge)

Our first-drive 2015 GTI was equipped with the six-speed DSG automatic. It’s optional, instead of the six-speed manual transmission, in all trim levels except the top-of-line GTI Autobahn model, available only with the DSG automatic. The automatic can be shifted manually with the shift lever or better, discrete paddles on the steering wheel. And of course, it can be left to its own devices to shift manually.

The 2015 Volkswagen GTI’s engine is a two-liter inline four with an aluminum head but surprising today, a cast iron block. The engine block, however, is an extremely thin-wall construction, with the walls actually a mere 1.2-inches thick.

The double-overhead cam has variable intake and exhaust timing and variable valve lift as well, and with direct injection and a single-scroll turbocharger gets a significant increase in power, up by ten to 210 horses, but a substantial bump in torque, from a peak of 207 lb-ft to 258 lb-ft, and that over a range from a just-above-idle 1500 rpm up to 4500 rpm. A Performance Package available later in the year will increase horsepower to 220 horses.

The head also integrates the exhaust manifold, which not only allows quicker coolant temperature warm-up for improved emissions and economy, but its thermal management optimizes fuel injection operation for more efficient fuel use.

2015 Volkswagen GTI engine

The 2015 Volkswagen GTI is powered by a high-torque 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. (click to enlarge)

The engine, still dubbed EA888, is also lighter than its predecessor, with four instead of eight crankshaft counterweights, plus a polymer oil pan and the use of aluminum-alloy screws and fasteners.

The 2015 Golf/GTI increases the use of high-strength steel to 28 percent of its steel body and chassis, still less than many competitors, but up from seven percent for its predecessor. Varying thickness of steel used, however, allows strength to be added where it’s needed, helping reduce the overall weight of the GTI by 53 to 82 pounds, depending on model.

The GTI retains the strut-type front suspension and multi-link rear suspension used in the standard TSI, but sport suspension lowers the GTI by 0.6 inches, with larger front and rear roll bars, at 24 mm front, up by two millimeters, and the rear a millimeter thicker than the standard TSI’s 20 mm.