The fun, nimble Volkswagen Golf GTI, Germany's original hot hatchback, has more power, new features, roomier seating and better fuel mileage for 2015. There's also sharp-looking plaid upholstery that makes the compact car look as special on the interior as it is on the road.
Best of all, starting retail price for this longtime favorite of driving enthusiasts didn't change from 2014: It's $25,605, which includes destination charge, for the base two-door GTI S. A base four-door GTI has a starting retail price of $26,205, and it comes with 210 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque — more than a four-cylinder Toyota Camry sedan.
Plus, the new GTI shed up to 82 pounds, now weighing just over 3,000 pounds. That's about 200 pounds less than the Camry, giving the front-wheel drive GTI ample engine power and a sprightly personality. The GTI has been clocked between 5.6 seconds and 6.6 seconds in zero-to-60 mph sprints, and with the performance package, the 2-liter, gasoline, turbo four-cylinder with direct injection can produce 220 horses.
Yet, the 2015 GTI feels a bit more refined than its predecessors, as if it's been brushed a bit by Audi, the luxury brand owned by parent company Volkswagen AG.
On the test vehicle, fit and finish inside and out was excellent, with gaps between sheet metal outside lined up and interior trim properly aligned. The sense of quality was palpable, even for a car at this price range. The new 5.8-inch touchscreen that's in every version of GTI gives it a modern feel, and ambient lighting with LED reading lamps is another new addition that makes the GTI seem more than a performance-oriented hatchback.
Eighteen-inch tires are standard on base models. Yet, the test car's ride was improved and less rough on road bumps than in previous GTIs. The 2015 GTI rides on a new, modernized platform that allowed designers to move the front wheels forward by 1.7 inches, lengthen the car by just over 2 inches and widen it by a half inch. But height was cut by just over an inch, and the GTI's low center of gravity gives the kind of stable, road-hugging feel that no SUV can attain.
Be aware, though, that engine and road noise come through.
The 14-foot-long car is so short, even with four side doors, that a rearview camera isn't really necessary; buyers who want the camera must move up from the base S trim to SE.
Two adult passengers can sit in the back, with legroom that's just 0.6 inch less than a Honda Civic sedan. Buyers also get 22.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seats, and when those are folded down, there's an SUV-like 52.7 cubic feet of room — enough to store a full-size bicycle. Loading is easier, since the hatchback opening is larger than before and the load floor is so low.
Last but not least, fuel economy is surprisingly good. The test GTI S averaged 28.9 miles per gallon in combined city and highway travel, which was better than the 28 mpg combined estimate from the federal government. This translated into a 380-mile travel range on a single, 13.2-gallon tank, though premium gasoline is required.
There have been three U.S. safety recalls for the 2015 GTI. One involved defective nickel plating inside the fuel pump, which could cause the pump to fail and thereby stall the car and not allow it to restart. A second recall involved a sealing cap at the fuel rail that could leak gasoline and potentially cause a fire. The third was for stabilizer link fasteners that might loosen and force drivers to use extra force in steering.