In my unending quest to find an affordable and exciting car, the VW Golf GTI has always been in the top three choices. Born in 1974 as a replacement for the massively popular Beetle, the Golf instantly gained a passionate following thanks to its angular design and front-wheel drive setup; the first few generations weren’t perfect, but they were pure. This was the car that literally created the “hot hatch category”. But the Mk7 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI ($25,000) is now in its seventh iteration, and I’d begun to wonder if the new technology invading the old standby would make it the best GTI yet or ruin it.
Though it’s tough to notice at first glance, the Mk7 Golf has grown 2.1 inches in length and a half inch wider. The cab has been pushed back, giving more interior room; the resulting classic C-pillar harkens back to the Mk1. Inside, the bucket seats and fantastic flat-bottom steering wheel feel very familiar. But I found myself annoyed at all the dashboard’s buttons, and, despite a rather genius motion sensor in the nav screen that brings up function options when your hand gets near it, the 5.8-inch touch screen was too small. I know, I know: “Too many buttons and I can’t see the screen!” I sound like my grandmother. But it’s true.
On the road, though, miles of beautifully twisty roads melted all too easily under the GTI’s wheels. The suspension shines on this car, and its precise steering and great balance had me seeking out tight corners with the giddy sense of fun that’s always kept the Golf in my “must-have” category. The DSG dual clutch automatic (also available in a six-speed manual) did a great job of flicking through gears as the turbo spooled off, and the dual exhaust let out a firm growl, warning the surrounding wildlife of my approach. A quick turn, a tire squeal and fishtail let me know the electronic nannies hadn’t taken over completely.
But then came the rub: Volkswagen also had classic Golf models on hand, and driving those alongside the new model provided a unique perspective on how different the driving experience has become. The quick shifting dual-clutch transmission, adaptive damping suspension, limited slip differential and electronic stability control make life easy — almost too easy — and the new car seemed to be lacking the charm and character from the first few generations. Maybe it’s like a pair of Alden Cape Cod penny loafers that just need to be lived in, filled with miles and scuffed up a bit before their true character is found. If that’s the case, I’ll certainly be in line.