For as long as I can remember, I've thought of Volkswagen as a cleave that divides the driving population: There are those with unflagging allegiance to the brand, and then there are the rest of us.
For believers, the brand's cachet is an irrevocable fact of life. But most have at least one story of a finicky VW from bygone days: the Passat whose driver-side door latch wouldn't function in winter; the Golf whose floor would have fallen right out if not for an experimental home garage treatment. For the rest of us, the endless tales of VWs' temperamental nature have only deepened the mystery of what drives all the unbridled love.
Anyone nodding in agreement would be well served to book some drive time in the new 2015 GTI, preferably on the winding switchbacks carved into the mountains northeast of San Francisco. Do so immediately. It was there on a recent spring day, nestled in the leather-lined cockpit of the new 210 horsepower GTI, the sun peeking through a generous panoramic sunroof and my hands wrapped expectantly around its thick, three-spoke steering wheel, I sped right into the light.
The seventh-generation Golf – VW's iconic hatchback – has been bred faster, lighter and just a smidge bigger than ever before. In the mind of its makers, the Golf, which boasts more cargo space than a mid-size sedan and features 170 horsepower, has never been better nor more worthy of purchase by, well, just about anyone who drives. Having pushed the GTI and TSI through hairpins cut into eucalyptus groves, and worked their diesel counterpart TDI up the side of California's coastal gorges and through the stomach-turning urban hills of San Francisco, the arguments are tough to contest.
The 2015 Golf is designed – inside and out – to behave as a model wing man. Regardless of horsepower and torque (although it's worth saying here no model was lacking) the cars, in three or five doors, companionably deliver whatever seems essential for the moment. Their versatility is astonishing: You want a stylish but slightly restrained interior? Ergonomic sensibility (read: plenty of elbow and shoulder room)? A competent media interface with a smartphone connection? Check, check and check. How about a smooth, quiet ride for the commute? Got it. Ability to rack a canoe and a road bike? Yep – both at the same time. How about responsiveness to snap decisions to, say, pass three cars and a transport truck in the right lane? Or stomping the gas through yet another winding hillside turn – just for fun? The answers are yes and yes. And instead of breaking a sweat, Golf will have you grinning (and looking for the next chance to execute a cheeky move).
The writer was a guest of the auto maker
YOU WILL LIKE THIS CAR IF ...
- You appreciate an exhilarating ride but don’t want the constant distraction of having to muscle an over-determined engine. The Golf steps up its performance when asked (think winding roads to the cottage or tricky highway stretches), but is the model of decorum when it’s business time, meaning it will never have you spilling coffee on the morning commute.
- You appreciate efficiency. With plenty of cargo space and a smart-designed cockpit, the Golf never feels like a compact hatch – and yet it is one, with the fuel economy chops to prove it. The lighter design means 2015 models are the most fuel-efficient yet. This car will satisfy your inner environmental citizen – look no further than south of the border for the e-Golf, which just made its debut.
Base price: $27,995
Engine: 2.0-litre TSI
Transmission/Drive: six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city/6.9 highway
Alternatives: Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus
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