Real-World Review

2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn: Real World Review

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2015

The Volkswagen GTI has always been one of the top hot hatches on the market, combining performance and practicality like few other models. But as the hot hatch market heats up, does the 2015 Volkswagen GTI have what it takes to stay competitive? We spent a week driving the high-performance GTI in its range-topping Autobahn trim, and we've collected our thoughts about the sporty Volkswagen below.

Fun to Drive

On the road, it's easy to tell right away that the latest Volkswagen GTI is just as enjoyable as it's always been -- even in luxurious Autobahn guise. Acceleration is one reason: The GTI boasts a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 210 horsepower and a muscular 258 lb-ft of torque. While that isn't necessarily class-leading power, it's still more than enough juice to blow you back on a highway on-ramp -- or to leave your passenger grabbing for something to hold on to.

But the GTI has never been about power. Instead, it's all about handling -- and even then, it's still among the best on the market. Cornering is excellent, with the car remaining perfectly flat in even the most challenging turns. And steering is nicely weighted, communicative and not too light like other Golf models. Yes, the GTI is still front-wheel drive, but you'd be forgiven for not remembering that as you're blasting through the corners.

But a Little Restrained

But there's a problem with the GTI. Specifically, the hatchback is a little restrained compared to its chief rivals. The Subaru WRX, for instance, offers nearly 270 hp to the GTI's 210, and it boasts an advantage with standard all-wheel drive. The Ford Focus ST offers more than 250 hp. And even the MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works offers 228 hp, beating out the larger GTI's power figure by nearly 10 percent.

This translates to some GTI drawbacks when you're at full throttle. While the Focus ST and the WRX feel like they're glued to the road and built for the track, the GTI doesn't seem like it can keep up with those higher performance rivals at the limit. The GTI also seems like it's tuned a little more for comfort, while top rivals seem to only have speed in mind.

Best All-Around

If you spend a lot of time on the track, this could be a problem. But most drivers don't do that. Most drivers spend all their time on the road, where it's nice to have a fun car, but it's also nice to have creature comforts, compliant suspension and some unique features. That's exactly where the GTI excels.

Here's what we mean. Yes, the Focus ST and the WRX are a little quicker than the GTI. But the WRX's interior is nowhere near as nice as the GTI's, and the Focus's suspension and thick sport seats will beat you up unless you're on a smooth racetrack. The MINI, meanwhile, offers a far more high-strung driving approach than the GTI's fun-if-you-want-but-laid-back-if-you-want demeanor. As one of our testers pointed out, the GTI makes "virtually no compromises."

Although some drivers will prefer the all-out performance of the Focus, the WRX and the GTI, we aren't those drivers. We'd rather have a car that offers nine-tenths the performance but far more appeal on the days when we're just trying to have a relaxing commute home in the rain. And the GTI does that -- especially with the upscale Autobahn package, which adds improved interior materials and a Fender sound system that all of our testers described as "excellent."

Our Take

Although we find the 2015 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn to be a little more tame than its high-performance rivals, we think its additional levels of comfort and luxury will suit most drivers. And that's not to say that it's slow: The GTI still packs a serious performance punch, especially with its ever-improving dual-clutch transmission. As a result, it's hard not to consider this the best all-around car in the segment. Nearly everyone who drove our press car agreed that they'd be very happy driving one every day.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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