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Quick Spin: 2014 Volkswagen GTI [Review]

by Ronan Glon

We check out the new Euro-spec VW GTI, which gives us more than a hint of what\'s to come for the next U.S.-market hot hatch.

Generation after generation, the Volkswagen GTI has lured buyers by delivering a well-balanced cocktail of every day drivability and track-bred performance. Marking the nameplate's seventh iteration, the new model boasts more of each thanks in part to the increased use of electronics and an optional Performance Package.

The 2014 GTI was shown to the public for the first time at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show and, although it is currently on sale throughout most of Europe, it is not scheduled to land in showrooms across the United States until next summer as a 2015 model. Shortly thereafter, the diesel-powered VW GTD will also be sold here.

The European-spec GTI differs only slightly from the upcoming U.S. version, generally giving us a good idea of what to expect. Available as a three-door and a five-door hatchback, the seventh-gen GTI is clearly an evolution of the outgoing sixth-gen model and an untrained eye would be forgiven for mistaking the two. The mk7 (in Volkswagen-speak) GTI stands out from the more pedestrian Golf thanks to a honeycomb grille with red inserts that stretch into the headlights, a lower ride height, bespoke badges on the fenders, aggressive model-specific wheel designs, a discreet spoiler mounted on top of the hatch, LED tail lamps and twin chromed exhaust pipes.

Audi-sourced power

Underpinned by Volkswagen's modular MQB platform, the Golf GTI is powered by an Audi-developed turbocharged 2.0-liter TSI engine that debuted under the hood of the potent S3. For use in the GTI, its output has been decreased to 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque in European tune, figures that represent an increase of 70 horsepower and 22 lb-ft. over the most powerful non-GT-badged model sold on the Old Continent. The shift to VW's much-publicized MQB platform enabled Volkswagen engineers to make the seventh-gen GTI 93 lbs. lighter than its predecessor.

Volkswagen has jumped on the cash-for-ponies bandwagon and offers the GTI with an optional Performance Package for the first time in the model's illustrious 37-year history. It bumps the TSI's output to 230 horsepower (the torque stays the same) while adding upgraded brakes borrowed from the range-topping Golf R and an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential capable of sending up to 100 percent of the engine's torque to either front wheel.

Regardless of engine output, the GTI comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed dual-clutch DSG unit equipped with shift paddles is available at an extra cost.

Yesterday's upholstery, tomorrow's technology

The GTI shares its distinctively Teutonic dashboard with less powerful Golf models but it is noticeably better finished inside and, while it's by no means cheap, it manages to feel more expensive than it truly is. Red stitching on the three-spoke steering wheel, both armrests and the shift boot help create a sporty ambiance inside.

The plaid fabric on the sport seats and the Golf ball-shaped shift knob found on cars equipped with a manual transmission hark back to the first-gen GTI but the comparison between the two cockpits ends there. The seventh-gen model is thoroughly modern with features such as a keyless start button located on the center console, a multi-function steering wheel and a configurable thin-film transistor (TFT) screen located between the four easy to read analog gauges in the engine instrument cluster. Our tester was equipped with an electronic parking brake but Volkswagen confirmed customer demand has prompted it to equip U.S.-spec models with a hoon-friendly cable-operated handbrake.

Like the standard Golf, the GTI can be ordered with Volkswagen Car-Net, an infotainment system that integrates the car's entertainment, navigation (if equipped) and connectivity functions while offering roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location assistance. The bulk of Car-Net's functions are accessible via a touch screen mounted on the center stack, but buyers not up to scratch on modern technology can use buttons located on either side of the screen and on the three-spoke flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Mexican-built U.S.-spec models will come standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, ambient lighting, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats and a multi-device interface. The list of options will include navigation, a sunroof, a premium Fender audio system, leather upholstery a power driver's seat and a rear-view camera.

Half carver, half cruiser

On windy roads, the 70 lbs. added by the Performance Package are more than offset by the limited-slip differential, which makes it possible to fully exploit the car's power and provides an impressive amount of grip even when quickly exiting a tight corner.

Handling is helped by the GTI's electric power steering, which is one of the most responsive setups on the market. With 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, it is noticeably quicker than its predecessor and its variable ratio makes it effortless to operate in a parking garage yet sharp and precise at high speeds.

Speaking of high speeds, the punchy two-liter engine smoothly and steadily delivers power well into the speedometer's three-digit zone - this is the Autobahn, after all. Mile after mile, the GTI is a refined high-speed cruiser that proves as comfortable as cars in the next price bracket up. The DSG is renown for its rapid gear changes and wastes no time in downshifting to the right gear when passing, though it can be overridden with a quick flick of the shift paddles.

We came close to Volkswagen's projected fuel economy of 39 mpg in the mixed European cycle when driving at a moderate pace in Eco mode with the start/stop system turned on. Mileage expectedly drops when the pace picks up.

Transformed at the touch of a button

Volkswagen's optional Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) increases the GTI's versatility by offering five driving profiles that can be selected by using the aforementioned touch screen: Normal, Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual. Comfort and Eco modes essentially mask the GTI's performance genes and turn the car into a tame family hauler content with running every day errands.

A boon on German roads paved with decades-old cobblestones, Comfort softens the suspension and provides a whisper-quiet ride. Selecting the Eco mode limits the power drawn by the air conditioning unit and switches on a coasting function in cars equipped with the DSG transmission.

Sport mode provides the most grins by holding gears longer, making the suspension stiffer and amplifying the exhaust sound by using what Volkswagen calls an active sound generator mounted on the firewall. Enthusiasts will undoubtedly balk at the idea of an electric device emulating the turbo four's sound but, for better or worse, similar setups have become common on performance cars over the past couple of years.

Interestingly, Individual enables the driver to essentially make up a bespoke mode by selecting the desired feedback from the steering, the suspension and the differential lock.

Leftlane's bottom line

The new GTI is an improvement in every dimension over the sixth-generation model. Few other cars boast the seamless blend of performance, refinement and practicality packed in Volkswagen's hot hatch, and it's hard to find a serious fault with it. As an all-around car capable of going from the track to the office with a trip to the grocery store in between, the seventh-gen GTI comes out on top.

There is one more important area where the seventh-gen GTI overlaps with the first-gen model: It's not cheap, and piling on options (especially those of an electronic nature) will quickly bump the hot hatch's price up to within spitting distance of premium compact sedans.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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