REVIEW: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE – True To The Tradition

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The Golf GTI was the groundbreaking hot hatchback that balanced flexible power with capable handling, and today’s version is true to its roots. Model year 2015 finds the GTI in its seventh generation, and predictably, it’s been well received.


The 2015 GTI was a hit with the triumvirate of enthusiast magazines – Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year, an Automobile Magazine All-Star and a Car and Driver 10 Best.

It has also been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. This points to the broad appeal the GTI has.

If you’re shopping the GTI, you’re probably also considering competitors like the Hyundai Veloster and Scion FR-S, and maybe even muscle cars like the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang.

GTI prices start at just under $25K for the base S 2-door. You’d add $600 to that for the 4-door, which also throws in partial power adjustments for the front seats.

The test car is the mid-level SE, which starts just under $28K and adds the allegedly panoramic sunroof…


…keyless access push-button start…


…automatic headlights…


…the Fender premium audio system…


…and leather seating, rain sensing wipers and a rearview camera.

Then there’s the GTI Autobahn, at just over $30K. It’s available only as a 4-door and comes with 12-way power seats, navigation and dual-zone climate controls.

You can add the $1,495 Performance Package to the SE and Autobahn, and it brings an extra 10 horsepower, bigger brakes and a mechanical limited-slip differential, which improves upon the sensors that control wheelspin in the base cars.

If you want still more performance, then you’d add VW’s new-to-the-US DCC adaptive-damping system, which adjusts the compression and rebound rates for each wheel. You can get DCC only on GTIs with the Performance Package, and it’s another $800.

The tested SE had no options, and with the $820 destination charge, it rang up at $28,215.

The red LED accent lighting in the door panels and sills are standard on all GTIs, and they’re a nice touch.


The LED foglights are standard on all GTIs as well.


The 2015 Golf is the first US car to come from VW’s MQB platform, which will form the basis of everything from tiny hatchbacks to larger sedans. It uses common positioning for the engine, front axle and pedal box. With the Golf, VW says it gives a cab-backward appearance, which we’d agree with.

If you’re not sure you’re looking at a 2015, these new A-pillar windows are a tip-off.


The GTI’s base engine is VW’s EA888 two-liter turbo four with 210 horsepower. More impressive is the 258 pound feet of torque, which picks up at a low 1500 rpm and peaks at 4500 rpm.. The Performance Package gets its extra 10 horses from holding the torque peak til 4700 rpm.


I didn’t miss the extra horses; the GTI’s engine revs freely and feels beefy with all that torque.

Handling is a delight. Standard GTI wheels are blade-patterned 18-inchers, and extra-grippy summer tires were a no-cost option on the test car.


A single tap of a console button allows you to shut off ASR traction control…


…and if you hold the button longer than three seconds, you get a higher threshold before the electronic stability control kicks in.


Shutting off traction control was important, as its engagement turned hard acceleration into a series of shutdowns as the tires scrabbled to get the GTI up to speed.

The manual six-speed shifter is a dream to run through the gears. Short throws and VW’s typically well-damped gates are in full supply here.


Variable gearing reduces the steering ratio to an incredibly quick 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, and the suspension’s transitional behavior – the period of turning off-center and into a curve – is silky and confident.

And so the GTI always feels ready to spring.


Inside, the GTI impresses with rich materials and up-to-date tech.


Front seats have plenty of support for shoulders…


…and for thighs. They feel supportive and don’t have any kind of weird squeezes.


There’s a neat sliding bin under the driver’s cushion.


Rear seating is on the compact side, with sub-36-inch legroom. But unlike other sportsters, the rear seat is comfy, and the view out is expansive.


Trunk room is also excellent for a car with this kind of athletic ability, with a mid-sized-sedan-like capacity of 16 very usable cubic feet.


Rear seatbacks fold flat, albeit with a bit of a bump above the trunk floor.


There’s room enough for an over-five-inch smartphone in the rubberized console bin…


…and VW’s proprietary MDI media connector comes out from the glove compartment and lands there as well.


The glove box has slots for CDs and SD cards.


The console continues the neat VW touch of allowing you to notch up the cushion to land more accurately under lankier arms…


…and there’s a power point underneath.


There’s another power point on the trunk wall, next to a convenient little hook for your bags.


A car as practical and capable and flat-out fun as the GTI is should be on every buyer’s shopping list.

It’s so rewarding to drive that it becomes an extension of yourself, as the best sports cars do.

Then as now, the GTI is one for the history books.


Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of the GTI?

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Base Price: $27,395

– no extra-cost options –

Destination Charge: $820

Price As Tested: $28,215


Confident handling

Flexible power

High-quality cabin


“Panoramic” overstates the sunroof’s scope

Price creeps up with performance options

VW’s MDI requires tracking down compatible connectors for your devices – no on-board USB connectors