It’s hard to believe that the Volkswagen Golf GTI is entering its seventh generation. I fondly remember two GTIs that I owned and loved years ago. Reflecting on the GTI progress, it feels like the venerable hot hatch has evolved with its clientele, gaining refinement over time. While the next-gen GTI doesn’t go on sale here until spring 2014, VW was kind enough to rent us a European-spec car for a few days to get an early look, and what we experienced is pretty encouraging. (Learn more about the new Golf.)
Driving impressions: Behind the wheel, it becomes clear how much this car has matured. Our sample came with an automated manual gearbox, which swapped gears quickly and smoothly. The DSG transmission is accompanied by an enjoyably sonorous soundtrack as it blips the throttle during downshifts. Forward thrust from the turbocharged engine is a healthy but gracious shove, lacking the burst of power produced by its arch rival, the raw-and-raucous Ford Focus ST. Die-hard driving enthusiasts may still prefer a good-old stick shift.
The new GTI boasts a series of driving modes, such as engaging Sport, cruise-ready Comfort, and fuel-sipping Eco. Handling is agile, with very little body lean and a quick turn-in response. Even the new electric steering feels natural and well calibrated. The fun dosage is a measured one, blended with a dollop of taut-yet-civilized ride and good noise isolation, most noticeable in Comfort mode.
For more fun, Sport mode ups the ante, tightening the suspension and letting the gears wind the engine close to red line. Serious driving on our track reveals phenomenal cornering grip and fantastic brakes. Normal mode calms things down with some masking of the sporty and engaging qualities.
Good support from the leather seats, a large touch screen, and high-quality interior make the GTI feel livable and upscale. The touch screen interface with slick graphics is fairly easy to use and responds quickly, unlike many we’ve seen of late. (For more on VW tech, read about the electric 2015 Volkswagen eGolf.)
The price for a well-equipped GTI is likely to hover around $30,000. Based on our first impressions, we found the overall dynamics reminded us of more expensive BMWs, despite the front-drive configuration. Over time, the GTI has become a well-mannered, hot hatch for grown-ups.
We’ll know more when we buy and test our own—something I really look forward to.