2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI Introduction By Thom Cannell

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2015 Volkswagen Golf

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

The hatchback revolution Volkswagen started back in 1974 has returned for its seventh generation. Indeed, the VW Golf is back in its seventh set of new threads and it is renewed from tires to sunroof. Available in two-door and four-door versions, the 2015 Golf is built using a construction method more versatile than vodka or bourbon. Volkswagen calls the system MQB, which stands for “from front wheel to steering wheel, all is similar so everything else can be different.” Thanks to MQB, VW can deliver spanking new cars, faster, and, more important to customers, at lower prices.

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The latest Golf is sleek, sexy, roomy. Because of the MQB system the new Golf has a longer wheelbase, making it more comfortable and delivering enhanced comfort as well as newly enlarged space for passengers and cargo. Tweet-style summation: the 2015 Golf is a mid-priced compact-segment car with impressive quietness, endowed with delightful interior surfaces that fit as if crafted by Cartier, impressive fuel economy, and driving comfort.

When Golf, then called Rabbit, arrived in the United States car enthusiast magazines nearly ran out of ink in their enthusiasm. They dubbed Rabbit, particularly the GTI version, a “hot hatch”. Since then anything with a hatchback and motor that can pull its weight has snatched at that superlative though many were, at most, lukewarm. In contrast, Golf and the new GTI version sizzle.

Now built in North America at Puebla, Mexico, Golf competes in the mid-priced compact car segment against Ford’s Focus, Subaru’s Impreza, and Mazda3—all excellent cars, but a few years older. The seventh generation Golf has been named World Car of the Year, European Car of the Year, and Japanese Car of the Year. Yes, it is that impressive to jaded journalists, including us, and with good reasons.

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Our first encounter with Golf v 7.0 began from the center of downtown San Francisco in rush hour. Our first assessment? Had the Tornado Red six-speed manual TDI Clean Diesel not immediately delivered good manners and a wealth of welcoming comfort, that fact would have leaped out bigger than the new Bay Bridge. Instead we noticed how composed and capable the vehicle felt in five frantic lanes of traffic.

The 2015 Golf TDI is somewhat of bargain, priced at $21,995 (plus shipping and such, $860) with a 6-speed manual ($23,095 for automatic versions). That amount is $3,500 below the previous version when adjusted for the addition of things like backup camera, heated front seats, climate control, rain sensing wipers, Fender Premium Audio, automatic headlights, front fog lamps, and larger 17” alloy wheels. Unless the Rally America driver in you wants more, this is the car to grab as torque from the diesel engine lets you use second gear in traffic, fourth gear for most roads, with a few extra gears thrown in for economy on long trips. With the DSG automatic you’d be cruising efficiently past gas stations with an EPA rating of over 40 mpg on the highway. Having driven previous VW diesels, if you can’t beat the EPA rating you need some throttle control instruction or to use cruise control more often!

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The TDI semi-bucket seats equipped with electric position controls were firmly comfortable, and we agreed its interior fit together precisely. We also agreed it was adaptable to different sizes and shapes of drivers or passengers. At first glance we thought the 5.8-inch touchscreen navigation system should be larger, but large graphics made it easy to use and read.
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Models without navigation use the same touchscreen to display CD, satellite, AM/FM stations, often with album art. Interior surfaces were, of course, engineered composites made to resemble brushed aluminum and they thunked with solid dignity. Others finishes were piano black or resembled embedded fish scales. Depending on the light you could read those surfaces as carbon fiber, but nicer without the annoying fake weave. Everything fit tightly, clean and handsome. It’s an interior that feels upscale and Audi, but more open and athletic, less pinstriped suit.

Let’s, for a moment, talk about the new EA288 diesel engine that the Golf TDI uses. It makes a few more horsepower—150, up 10hp—than those used until 2014 and has the same 236 lb.-ft. torque output. Torque is the stuff that gets you away from the stoplight. But the 2.0-liter engine is all-new, more robust, more fuel efficient and so quiet you could remove the TDI badge and few would notice anything like “diesel clatter” which just isn’t there. The engine uses advanced exhaust aftertreatment and is far more environmentally friendly. That Clean part of the Clean Diesel mantra leads to the only issue we encountered. Over truly nasty drops in the pavement we thought the rear showed a teensy bit of tail wag. Why? Because to fit the AdBlue urea tank necessary for taming nitrous oxide emissions (Selective Catalytic Reduction for you technos), the diesel rear suspension uses a different system (torsion beam rear with coil springs instead of multilink and rear coil springs and anti-roll bar) and we sussed out the missing anti-roll bar. 99/100s of buyers won’t notice, fewer will care.

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Does the new Golf resemble previous versions? Is it a Golf, a Rabbit, a Volkswagen? Absolutely, and maybe even more so—the GTI surely has a few cues that are arguably Lamborghini! With the change to MQB architecture came an opportunity to make the car appear, and be, more planted, more cleanly defined, a whole lot more attractive and bold. It achieves this with wheels pushed outwards and to the rear for solid MMA-like stance. Its new, more elongated hood is slippery and curvaceous as Candice Swanepoel. We particularly like the neon-glow tail lights and available BiXenon headlamps with swiveling beams. Best of all, Golf does not have a huge grin on its face. Instead, a slender grille arcs between headlights with modest lower air intake accent. It’s enough air for the turbocharged engine; it’s just right for us.

The second vehicle we drove was a first generation Golf Rabbit GTI. Yes, circa 1976 and still good looking, complete with plaid seats (they’re available on the new GTI too,) and still interesting. Equipped with a raspy exhaust note it was fun and served to point out how far the brand, and cars in general, have come in 40 years since the launch. (Though the nostalgia was a blast, we’d prefer the 2015.)

Our third Golf experience was one step up from the bargain $17,995 Launch Edition. It was a Golf S 4-door with sunroof that had all the important equipment starting with the new EA 888 1.8-liter turbocharged engine. The all-new engine feels, and is far more powerful than the outgoing motor. It’s not only smaller and more fuel efficient, but its broad torque band makes driving a standard transmission a shift-less-often pleasure. If you’ve seen the TSI badge on a Golf or other VW, it stands for turbocharged and direct injected.

Like all versions the Golf S has fully independent suspension, modern electronic power steering, and specific 15” wheels and tires, leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel, leatherette seat surfaces, cruise control, as well as a 5-speed manual transmission. What, no 6-speed? No, nor did we miss it as our journey was mostly rural with only a few dozen rush hour freeway miles. Who needed six speeds with all the power on tap from the new engine? Frankly, with all the standard features like XDS+ electronic limited slip differentials, hill-hold assist, carpeting, manual lumbar support, power windows and automatic climate control, plus a full-featured audio system, not to mention a gaggle of air bags, it is a supremely solid and sporty package that should fulfill many needs. It also looks great and lists for $20,995 with power tilt-slide sunroof and power seat backs. The six-speed automatic version is a bit more, $22,095.

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Our route from Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA over the Bay Bridge, up to Point Reyes and down the Pacific Coast Highway offered a chance to see what the 2015 Golf was made of. It is made of very, very good stuff. Volkswagen’s MQB chassis uses plenty of the latest high strength and ultrahigh strength steel. It offers superior safety, lighter weight, and far more rigidity. This made the car, its chassis, feel very solid and smooth.The Pacific Coast Highway #1 hugs precipitous hillsides and heading south the ocean is always in view and speed limits are enforced by gravity! The PCH is a great highway to discover how lucky you feel, to Dirty Harry-ism the experience. Churning along at a brisk pace we couldn’t have wanted a better selection of gears, more brake power, or more horsepower. On winding twisting roads the newfound chassis stiffness delivered greater ability to turn in, and out, with no overshoot, no corrections; it just went where pointed. More simply, it delivers confidence into the hands of the driver, and quietness and comfort to passengers.

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Which brings up other improvements for 2015, like the now inch-larger discs at all four corners, and the powerful new engine. The 1.8-liter TSI turbocharged Direct Injection engine is intercooled, makes 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque on regular fuel. With an automatic transmission, or manual, it delivers better acceleration, plenty of push for driving through corners in style. The new EA 888 engine has won awards including a recent placement as one of Ward’s Auto World magazine 10 Best Engines.

A few of our colleagues criticized the gearbox; we disagreed though thought a shorter shift lever would be cool. Nonetheless it shifted clean and slick even though only 600 miles had spun the internal gears. Steering is a bit on the numb side, as are most current EPAS (electric assisted) steering systems, not that it inhibited us, nor will it you.

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We also think there’s good rear seat room. Like most manufacturers, VW says you can fit three in the back seat. Three preteens, children, or very slender adults for sure. Let’s just say it is roomy for four, two in the back seat with the armrest folded down for coffee.

This basic and modestly priced Golf could satisfy a majority of singles and families seeking a very cool hot hatchback. It’s long been said Americans don’t like hatchbacks, or their benefits. Uhh, what would you call an SUV but a hatchback, the same for a minivan? Hatchbacks deliver more luggage space and the 2015 Golf measures over 22 cubic feet for your overstuffed gym bag, almost 60 cubes once the rear seat is folded down. That’s “let’s move to a new apartment” space, room for IKEA and antiques. The question is, will a Golf be your truck, your hauler, your go everywhere—do everything mobile device? Gas or diesel, either would be a fun, responsible choice. After all, it’s lasted 40 years already.

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