The Volkswagen GTI is now one year into its seventh generation. We first drove the 2015 VW Golf GTI in California but this is the first time for us to sample a GTI on our home turf. While our first-drive 2015 GTI was a top-trim Autobahn model, it did not have the Performance Package, which was not available when the seventh generation was introduced.
The Performance Package came later in the 2015 model year, but this is the first time we’ve been able to drive one. The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI S two-door that VW provided us for this evaluation was the base trim level—that’s what the “S” means—for the GTI, but our tester came with the Performance Package. It’s is available on all trim levels—S, SE and Autobahn—but it’s not the usual case where an option on the lower trim model is standard on the more expensive addition. The Performance Package features, a separate bundle of go-fast goodies, are available only as a part of that package.
More about the performance package anon. More about the trim levels now. The GTI, like the regular Golf, is a hatchback in two- or four-door configuration (or three and five if you count the hatch as a door, which makes sense for those go in and come out via the hatch, which no one does, but someone started that convention and we’re stuck with it).
The two-door is available only as an S or an SE model, with the SE adding leather and a panoramic sunroof. Neither are performance items, the sunroof actually adding weight high in the chassis and raising the center of gravity, so for a hot hotter hatch…save money. Stick with the S.
The four-door is available with all three trim levels, adding the GTI Autobahn on top. Autobahn adds dual-zone climate control, 12-way power driver’s seat and touch-screen navigation. But the Autobahn costs $6,000 more that the S, and it’s not any faster than the S. And all other things being equal, the Autobahn is a bit slower because of the extra weight.
The S is really the more traditional GTI, coming with plaid fabric inserts in the seats, a classic GTI touch, and the bolsters of the sport seats are just as high and buttworthy as those on the higher trim levels. The seats are narrow between the bolsters, however, so the bum endowed might be uncomfortable.
The new-for-2016 MIB II infotainment system is standard on all GTI trim levels, and includes USB connectivity and smartphone integration with VW Car-Net App-Connect technology. That’s a mouthful and if it means something to you, it’s probably a good thing. What the change means is that all three music apps–Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto and MirrorLink can be accommodated.
Also new for 2016 are upgrades to the Driver Assistance Package which includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert with automatic braking, and Parking Steering Assistant (automated parallel parking). Volkswagen says the system will fit the car into a space only 1.1 meters longer than the car’s length, going back and forth as necessary.
The Driver Assistance Package is available only on SE and Autobahn trim levels only. It doesn’t make the GTI any faster so dedicated GTI owners won’t notice that it’s not there.
The performance driver, however, will notice Performance Package, and for that the changes start with the 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged and direct-injection four. The standard engine is rated at 210 horsepower at 4500 rpm. However, unlike most so-called performance packages which are trim and maybe features to improve handling, the 2016 VW Golf GTI Performance Package alters engine programming to keep peak torque for an extra 200 rpm. The additional torque raises maximum engine horsepower to 220, and that at 4700 rpm.
And while the upgrade to 220 horsepower is definitely welcome, torque matters, the real trick of the two-liter engine is the broad range of torque. Starting at just 1500 rpm, torque peaks—or more accurately—plateaus at 258 lb-ft all the way to 4500 rpm. Or with the Performance Package, at the same 4700 rpm as maximum horsepower.