Lucky seven. Seventh heaven. Seven-up. Call it what you will, the number seven is the charm for the venerable Volkswagen GTI, now approaching its thirtieth year in continual production. The new car is lighter, nimbler, faster.
The seventh-generation Golf hits the Canadian market sometime late next year. As a bit of a sneak-preview, VW flew over a Euro-spec diesel model, as well as a slippery-shaped Scirocco R, and a bright-red GTI with all the trimmings. Naturally, the sleek you-can’t-buy-this-ever Scirocco got all the attention, but the arrest-me red GTI asked the more pertinent question, “How about a little short-range future shock?”
On first blush, this is a new GTI. Jeremy Clarkson’s always giving Porsche’s engineers a bit of stick about being the laziest in the world when it comes to styling, but at least they haven’t been sketching out a shoebox for three decades. Having said that, the GTI is all about restraint, subtlety, and a big dose of practicality. Think of the lower-valence side-strakes, big alloys, and dual-exhaust as simply being the Wolfsburg fangs peeking out from behind sheep’s clothing.
Here, in the winding roads of the Napa Valley, it’s more about poise than sheer power. The roads writhe across the landscape, tarmac’d boas laid out in their death throes. Each wriggling back-country track carves its way down a canyon. Straights are rare. Blind crests are not. This is GTI country.
In the pantheon of hot hatchbacks, this new tarted-up Golf isn’t about to set the world on fire with turgid horsepower claims. In fact, with just 217 perky ponies on tap, it’s down on power versus both the Focus ST and the Mazdaspeed3. On the inside however, it’s nicer than either—much less boy-racer than the ‘Speed3’s red-and-black Coke-commercial. The nicely-bolstered seats don’t have the loony lateral support of the Focus’s butt-pinchers, but they’re super-comfortable, built for the Autobahn as well as autocross.
The new cockpit is just that, a cockpit, more driver focused than the outgoing model, while retaining a Teutonic level of clean-cut, fuss-free design. The satellite navigation is hopelessly confused, thinking itself still back in the Rhineland, but there are other, more interesting buttons to push. Sport mode, for instance. And possibly the one that says it turns the traction control off.
This GTI is lighter by nearly 200lbs, much of that shaved right off the nose through a new lighter powerplant. It’s also got quicker steering and a bucket-load more low-end turbo punch, and the snappy dual-clutch DSG transmission comes boiling out of the corner like a startled hare. This car might be the next logical step in an evolutionary progression, but it’s also a revelation, and an end to what had previously been an ever-increasing curb weight.
Here, in the belly of serpentine byways, the GTI isn’t just quick—it’s fast. Few cars could catch it, and high-powered rear-drive stuff would long have been flung off the road. Well, at least your humble ham-handed author would have probably driven them off the road.
The fat, flat-bottomed steering wheel flicks left and right through a series of water-carved chicanes. The chassis dances. The sun-parched scenery blurs.
More punch, less paunch, and an interior nice enough to charm your mother-in-law. Mark your calendars—the king of the hot hatches is coming to take its throne back.
2015 Golf GTI
Brendan McAleer is a freelance auto-writer based out of North Vancouver, BC, and a member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. His work appears in BBCAutos, Road&Track, Autos.ca and elsewhere. Follow him on twitter @brendan_mcaleer
Photo courtesy of the author.