Expert Reviews

Long-Term Test Wrap-up: 2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Odometer at pick-up (GTI): 2,711 km

Wrapping up our Golf long-term test with the 2015 GTI was a stroke of foresight – it is, quite simply, the car for me.

Odometer final (GTI): 4,698 km (1,987 km by autoTRADER)
Observed Fuel Consumption GTI:  10.2 L/100 km
Fuel costs (GTI): $231.84 (1,987 km – Premium Gas)
Fuel costs (TDI): $151.66 (2,104 km)
Fuel cost (1.8T): $244.98 (3,054 km)
Fuel costs (Total): $628.48

The Volkswagen Golf line continues its unquestioned ownership of your dear autoTRADER scribe’s heart. Wrapping up our Golf long-term test with the 2015 GTI was a stroke of foresight – it is, quite simply, the car for me. So any rational evaluation of its merits relative to its lineup and the competition is clouded by the insidious fog of subjective conviction.

Is it the car for everyone? No. While it’s a sporty performance car, its front-wheel-drive layout and modest power mean it is not quite an ideal track car, and cars with less power and greater balance (like the Mazda MX-5 and Subaru BRZ) might serve that mission better. Other cars at a similar price point will appeal to the power-hungry, delivering greater speed if compromised practicality. Some people have more than two or three kids, or like to make big purchases at Costco every other weekend.

But in the real world, where you can only enjoy the speed a few seconds at a time, practicality and comfort are two giant considerations in everyday life: commuting to work in the morning, loading up with groceries, strapping the kids in for after-school activities, rushing to the airport in the snow, finding a parking spot in a crowded mall parking lot, taking an onramp at slightly more than the posted limit… These are the things for which the GTI is the near perfect balance of size, layout and fun.

The heart of the fun is the GTI’s 2.0L turbo engine. The turbo makes for some heady torque even in casual use, 258 lb-ft of torque as low as 1,600 rpm, so you can either accelerate along with the flow of traffic effortlessly, or tap the shifter back to put the transmission into Sport mode and it holds gears until you are into the peak power, 210 hp from 4,300 to 6,200 rpm. In fact, it might be a little overeager, but S means Sport in this transmission, so if you reached cruising speed you’ll want to give it another tap to get back into standard Drive mode so you aren’t cruising along on the highway at 4,000 rpm for no good reason. Sport and Drive should also tip you off that this GTI was equipped with the quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic DSG that has been the class-leading automatic for years now. With such quick shifts, the paddle shifters that are at your fingertips often beckon for a quick geardown rather than the switch to S mode, dropping a gear or two for a brief stretch and then reverting back to Drive. You can also lock in manual mode if you’re feeling particularly dedicated to deciding on appropriate ratios for every situation.

As we discovered in our Everyday Fun Car Comparison, the GTI’s ride is refined and comfortable, in another league compared to other sport compacts, but would its mild manners begin to disappoint when we went searching for greater and greater speeds as the weather cleared up? Not in my book. In fact, I’d like nothing more than to put the GTI to the ultimate performance test on a track and see if I could eke out unexpected speed from a car that seem more commuter than track weapon.

Still, on the road, the steering is sharp and precise, the chassis light but undeniably solid, contributing to that refined, quiet ride while still delivering nimble moves in tight quarters and a buttoned-down highway cruising demeanour.

Like the Golfs we tested previously, seating is accommodating in both rows, even fitting my wife between installed child seats, the trunk spacious enough for our small family’s needs, and the hatch allowing easy access to maximize the cargo organization. Exclusive to the GTI, the seats were trimmed in ‘Clark’ plaid cloth, but the front seats were still heated (not to mention comfortable and just bolstered enough for casual sporty driving), which saw us through the cold finish to winter. Speaking of winter, the GTI wipers could not be moved when clearing snow from the windows, and they cannot be lifted to scrape the ice away from the blades and the area below them. This is a pain, because like many other modern cars, the GTI just takes too damn long to heat up, so if the windshield isn’t clear when I leave, it won’t be clear for the most hectic part of merging on the highway for the morning commute.

In that late winter cold, a heated steering wheel would have been a welcome addition to the GTI and Golf equipment list, as would a standard USB port instead of Volkswagen Group’s MDI connector requiring an extra cable, although Volkswagen Canada generously equipped these test units with a lightning cable adapter suitable for my generation of iPhone. Wisely, the cable is so short that it prevents idle interaction with your phone while driving, and a covered bin ahead of the shifter gives it a place to hide. However, for models without navigation, it won’t reach a dashtop-mounted smartphone seeing double duty as onboard navigation.

Although Volkswagen gets knocked for offering poor value in many higher trims, there is value to be had in the lower trims. The base GTI is the $27,995 3-door model, and under the hood is the 2.0L turbo, updated for this generation with 210 hp and a convincing 258 lb-ft of torque. Under the trim sheet metal we find 17-inch wheels, six-speed manual transmission, front MacPherson struts and rear fully independent four-link suspension with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and stabilizer bar, and electronic transverse differential lock (XDS) that simulate a limited slip differential using selective brake application. As in most other Golfs, the DSG twin-clutch auto is a $1,400 upgrade and, while it takes the joy out shifting that sweet manual transmission that we so loved when we had it for our big sport compacts comparison test, it is one of the best sporty automatics in the compact segment, right up there with Subaru’s super-quick CVT in the WRX.

More mundane features include heated power mirrors, halogen headlights, multifunction trip computer, 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, 8 speakers, voice command, auto climate control, variable cargo load floor, proprietary (non-USB) iPod/phone connectivity, Bluetooth, satellite radio with complimentary three-month subscription, eight-way adjustable plaid cloth seats (heated), tilt/telescopic multifunction steering wheel, leather-wrapped shift knob, hand brake handle and steering wheel, aluminum pedals and accents, and many more basics like power windows and locks and remote entry.

A Sport Package for $1,995 takes you almost to the nest trim with 18-inch alloys, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto headlights, proximity keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers and a power sunroof.

The first trim level is Autobahn, which jumps to $31,995 in 3-door trim and starts the 5-door party at $32,895. Beyond the 18-inch wheels, power sunroof and other features of the Sport Package, the headlights are bi-xenon HID, daytime running lights are LED, and a back-up camera helps you park perfectly every time. Leather is seats are available in an $895 Leather Package ($1,095 for 5-door models), but then you lose the GTI’s signature plaid seats, though you do gain 12-way power adjustable sport seats.

Our tester was a 5-door Autobahn with the $695 Technology Package that adds navigation and forward collision warning (FCW) system, of which only the former was used with any regularity. As equipped with DSG and Tech package, plus the mandatory $1,395 Freight & PDI and $100 A/C tax, our tester was labeled at $36,485, before even adding on taxes, which seems like a price tag that belongs in a different class – like so many enthusiasts out there, I still associate the sport compact segment with a price point below $30K, never mind $35K. Scream at the clouds as much as I will, this is where the four-door sport compacts land, with varying degrees of equipment, capability and refinement delivered by the dwindling number of options in the segment, with only the WRX, Civic Si Sedan and Ford Focus ST remaining.

From the beginning: 2015 Volkswagen Golf Long-Term Test: Arrival | Update 1 | Update 2 | Update 3

There is one more trim that has recently become available and this will be of interest to performance aficionados. The Performance trim comes in at $34,290 in 3-door form and $35,190 as a 5-door, unlocking 10 more hp, adding a new mechanical locking differential, dynamic chassis control (adaptive dampers) and upgraded brakes. While you can only order this model as a high-price trim, at least you can still get it with a manual transmission, saving a bundle as well.

So, there are a broad range of options with which you can equip your GTI, and a correspondingly steep price tag should you be willing to spend, getting right to the doorstep of the 292-hp AWD Golf R expected on our shores this September, arriving at a base MSRP of $39,995.

Through two reviews, two comparison tests and four reports of this long-term test so far, I have resisted the urge to dip into the clichéd Golf-golf analogy well, but as I wrap up this long-term report, the time has come to abase myself and give in to my pun cravings. The GTI, quite simply, is a hole in one. Tee it up, break out the composite driver, and go for eagle.

The TDI Highline model we tested immediately before the GTI was par for the course: extremely efficient, superb in its handling and comfort, with sharp looks, desirable tech but at a price that stretches into a very crowded market in the mid-30s, pricewise.

However, the 1.8T is the Goldilocks option, a birdie, if you will, in links parlance. It hasn’t the thrills of the GTI or the outright efficiency of the TDI, but it offers great value in modest trims and a balance of performance and economy that, combined with the Golf’s refinement and practicality throughout the line, make it a winner in the compact segment, and the best option in the Golf lineup. Just don’t test drive the GTI and you won’t know what you’re missing.

Pricing: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Base Price (3-door GTI): $27,995
Base Price (5-door Autobahn GTI): $32,895
Options: $2,095 (DSG – $1,400; Technology Package (navigation, forward collision warning system) – $695)
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,395
Price as Tested: $36,485

4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km Powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

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