What is there to say about the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI that hasn't already been said? Introduced as a 2015 model in North America, the Golf line won pretty much every major award it could win. Despite the diesel-fueled drama stemming from VW's emissions-test-cheating software, the Golf remains the most compelling entry in the global compact segment. For 2016, the GTI is equipped with VW's new MIB-II Infotainment system, which features support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirrorlink smartphone interfaces.
My car is a Canadian-spec 5-Door GTI Autobahn in Pure White, with 6-speed manual transmission. It's equipped with the Leather Package (Leather seats with red stitching, driver power adjustment, driver power lumbar support) and the Technology Package (Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind spot detection plus heading control, Discover Pro radio, Front Assist- Automatic Emergency Braking, Park Assist, Rear view camera, Satellite navigation). The Performance trim line would have added Dynamic Chassis Control, an additional ten horsepower, and $2,300 to the bottom line. Had I opted for Dynamic Chassis Control, I would have certainly put my driver's license at risk by constantly trying to test the differences between the settings. You know, for science. Furthermore, as an American accustomed to rock-bottom lease prices, the lofty $650/mo lease payment for this Canadian model was already giving me vertigo.
The shopping process for this car was short. I've had four Volkswagens and three Audis in the past, and wanted to challenge myself to branch out. After driving the new MINI Cooper Clubman S, I was basically sold on that car. It's fun and quirky and has lots of options for customization. But a $950/mo lease payment with $5,000 due at signing really dulled the Clubman's lustre. Does MINI know who it's competition is at that price point? Visions of Jaguar XE's danced in my head. I drove the MINI a second time, this time with the lease payment echoing in my head, and I started to find its cuteness a bit contrived. The experience fresh in my mind, I went to the nearest Volkswagen dealership and drove the GTI. It was immediately apparent why this is the car that won all the awards. It's fast, agile, stylish, and insanely well-equipped. One week later, it was mine.
The GTI is the undisputed champion of hot hatches, and no other car has come close to matching its well-rounded, tradeoff-free formula. Push it into a corner, and it responds with reassuring feedback, suggesting that you could go a little faster, push a little harder. After nearly 2 decades of front wheel drive cars, I'm accustomed to varying degrees of understeer and torque steer. Not so, here. Accelerate through a turn, point the wheel where you want the car to go, and, as if by telepathy, it goes there. The XDS "simulated differential" uses the braking system to slow the inside wheels in a turn, keeping things flat and predictable. No wheel spin, no body roll, no drama. It's uncanny.
Volkswagen products have a bit of a checkered history when it comes to reliability. My own recent experiences, however, have been promising. My old 2007 Audi A4 2.0T quattro is still running flawlessly with its current owner. My 2011 Tiguan S Manual had exactly zero problems in the 36 months that I had it. My sister's 2011 GTI MK6 served her without fail for 4 years until the birth of her daughter necessitated a bigger car. She likes her 2015 Volvo V60, but she loved her GTI.
Will the love affair last? Over the next year, I'll be posting updates on reliability, and highlighting the special features of the GTI. Look for photos on Instagram with the hashtag #LifeWithGTI.