In 1976, Volkswagen created the “hot hatch” with the MK1 Golf GTI. Since then, many competitors have come and gone, but the little GTI has evolved into the seventh generation you see here. Though the GTI has grown bigger, stronger, and more refined over the years, it has retained plenty of its original character, with the Mk7 2015 GTI is the best one yet.

Power Train

In base trim, the 2015 Volkswagen GTI is rated at 210 hp. We have to list base trim, because, for the first time, Volkswagen will offer a Performance Package that, among other things, will bump power to 220 hp. Even bigger is the addition of 51 lb-ft of torque over the Mk6, bringing the total to 258 lb-ft. (The figure is the same for base and Performance Package cars.) Better still, torque peaks at just 1500 rpm and remains tabletop flat all the way until 4400 (base) or 4600 (Performance Package) rpm. I have a feeling the engineers in Wolfsburg are being modest with their numbers, as not only does this GTI feel faster than the previous car, but the Performance Package car feels like it receives far more than a 10-hp bump.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R - First Drive

In addition to having extra power, the third-generation 2.0-liter EA888 turbo-four is lighter and more efficient. The increases come from a number of changes, the first of which is the use of both direct and port injection. Port injection is still preferable for low RPM situations, and direct injection is more efficient once power is requested. It is unconfirmed by VW, but I have a feeling that using a small amount of port injection will also help with the carbon buildup on the intake valves inherent in direct injection engines. Those valves are now controlled by a pair of cams that feature variable timing on both the intake and exhaust side. The exhaust-side cam also features variable lift, which optimizes exhaust charge velocity to decrease turbo lag.

Another remarkable engine feature is the absence of the exhaust. Instead, the exhaust runners collect in the head before dumping out directly into the turbo. Minimizing runner length means faster spool times and probably saves a few bucks in the process. Those runners are surrounded by coolant to keep exhaust gas temperature down, primarily in high-power situations. Previously, these engines had to run richer than optimal to preserve the O2 sensor and the catalytic convertor. Not only does leaning out at the top end pick up a few ponies, it uses less fuel in the process.

Though the block is still iron -- VW engineers insist that iron is still the best mix of cost, durability and weight for this engine -- it has lost some weight through optimization of mass. A good portion of the fasteners are now aluminum; the oil pan is plastic; and the new turbo, no longer a K03-based unit, is more efficient and lighter than the previous unit. Even with more power and substantially more torque, Volkswagen is expecting an EPA rating of 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway for both models.

Another GTI first is the addition of a proper limited-slip differential, though instead of a straight mechanical Torsen or clutch-pack differential, Volkswagen went with an open differential combined with a computer-controlled, hydraulically operated wet-clutch coupling that locks the axles. The setup allows the differential to operate fully open when it is most advantageous, with the ability to fully lock it when needed. Control of the differential is tied into the stability control and the old electronic differential system, now known as XDS+, which is used for brake vectoring in extreme situations. Unsurprisingly, transmission choices will continue to consist of the buttery-smooth six-speed manual and VW’s famous DSG six-speed twin-clutch automatic.


Chassis

The Mk7 Golf will be the first of VW Group’s MQB platform cars to be sold in the U.S. Despite being larger and better-equipped, the Mk7 will be almost 100 pounds lighter than the outgoing MK6. Part of the weight loss is because of a dramatic increase in the use of ultra high-strength, hot-formed steel, which makes up 22 percent of the Mk7’s unibody versus a mere 6 percent of the Mk6’s. The Mk7 also promises to be safer, with VW saying that the architecture was modified late in the development cycle to perform better in the new small offset crash test.

Anyone that’s ever worked on a Golf will find a familiar setup in the Mk7’s suspension. The front is still a MacPherson strut, but the front suspension arms and subframe are now built from high-strength steel. While not as sexy to look at as cast aluminum, it is both lighter and more rigid. The change may only save 4 pounds, but keep in mind that these are larger and stronger components.

The front anti-roll bar is now hollow, something the aftermarket tuners have been doing for a decade to shave ounces. What the tuners aren’t doing is vulcanizing the bushings directly to the bar to reduce NVH during use. VW has also worked on the geometry of the 2015 GTI, raising the roll center closer to the center of gravity. This reduces the strength of the lateral force that pushes the body of the car away from the inside of the turn, making for less body roll with the same spring rates.

VW also spent more time on the suspension bushings. Maintaining geometry through the suspension’s motion is paramount for keeping the car stable and predictable, and the Mk7’s stronger bushings keep the tires pointed in the intended direction while still isolating NVH. On the front suspension mock-up VW had the event, the bushings looked and felt far stouter than those on the previous cars.

The rear suspension uses the multi-link design introduced on the Mk5, but here too, VW shaved weight (some 9 pounds) and improved functionality. New bushings have increased transverse rigidity, improving rear tire tracking and quickening the entire car’s reaction to turn-in. The rear suspension also utilizes a hollow anti-roll bar and the locations of the anti-roll bar drop-links and shock-mounting points have been changed. It all adds up to a more connected-feeling car front to rear.

To quicken steering response, the 2015 GTI uses a variable-ratio steering rack that requires a mere 2.1 turns to go lock-to-lock. The teeth on the rack itself vary in pitch and spacing based on the distance from the center of the rack. As a result, on-center the steering feel and response feel like those of the old car, but response increases as you dial in more lock. Unlike active systems, however, the settings are constant and can’t be changed with the push of a button.

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