As far as new hot hatches go, the 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 is an important one. There is a lot riding on this car. It needs to rekindle the spirit of the 1976 Mk1 GTI – the original pioneer of the ‘hot hatch’ – as well as bring new technologies to the segment and set new benchmarks. On top of that, it needs to be quicker than ever and more efficient than ever. It’s a tall order.
For over 30 years now the VW Golf GTI has been the epitome of the hot hatch. A number of carmakers have brought out similar products, but the Golf has always remained as the respected master, the sensei that leads the way. In fact, the only real competitor it has to fend off is the previous-gen, Mk6 Golf GTI.
For the new model, Volkswagen has honed and enhanced the nameplate’s genes as much as it can with all of the technology and experience available from within the Volkswagen Group empire. So, as no surprise, on paper the new model is more advanced than ever. It’s safer and better equipped. It’s significantly more fuel efficient. It’s more practical than the predecessor, roughly 50kg lighter, and it’s more powerful and yes, it’s even quicker.
Like the Mk6 GTI, the Mk7 comes with a six-speed manual transmission as standard. With growing demands for automatic everything, it’s a brave move of VW to continue to offer a manual. It’s also the first indication that proves VW knows its audience and knows this segment very well. A six-speed dual-clutch DSG auto is optional.
Unlike the Mk6 which came in three- and five-door forms, the Mk7 is only available as a five-door.
Prices for the manual start at $41,490, while the DSG auto kicks off from $43,990. Despite the improvements in pretty much every area, both are just $1000 more than what the Mk6 versions were.
2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 – THE SPECS
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 162kW@4500-6200rpm / 350Nm@1500-4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Front-wheel drive, electronic locking differential
Wheels: F: 18×7.5, 225/40 R: 18×7.5, 225/40
ANCAP: Five stars (scored 35.92 out of 37)
Kerb weight: 1313kg
Power-to-weight: 8.1:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 6.2L/100km
Economy during test: 7.8L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 50L/98 RON
Power efficiency: 26.1kW:L/100km
0-100km/h as tested: 6.5 seconds
Priced from: $41,490
2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 – THE PACKAGE
Let’s start with the mechanical side of things. The highlight of it all is the new MQB platform which lays the foundations for the Mk7. This is Volkswagen Group’s brand new platform which has been designed as a modular unit, adaptable for a range of vehicles under the VW umbrella including the latest Audi A3.
Although the body looks quite similar to the Mk6, it’s actually all new. It’s 155mm longer with 46mm added to the wheelbase, 14mm wider, and the A-pillars are repositioned for a longer bonnet and a drawn back cabin stance.
Sitting eagerly under the bonnet is a revised version of the EA888 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine as seen in the last two generations. It now produces 162kW of power at a wider rev range than the 155kW Mk6 (4500-6200rpm vs 5300-6200rpm), and 350Nm of torque (up by 70Nm).
Thanks to the widened window of power and extra torque, the lower-speed gear ratios in the transmission have been exchanged for taller items. The engine is more capable of pulling through longer gears, and it’s happier to surge away from roundabouts and corners in third gear now as opposed to second gear with the previous setup.
The engine features both direct injection and multi-point injection to help reduce emissions, and it now passes strict Euro 6 regulatory standards.
The rest of the running gear has been given a similarly extensive overhaul. There’s a more progressive electric power steering system which requires just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, an updated XDL+ electronic locking differential drive system which is capable of targeted brake interventions on individual front and rear wheels to help pivot the car around corners, and a new suspension system with adaptive driving modes including Comfort, Normal, and Sport.
To help save some weight, the fuel tank has gone down from 55 litres to 50 litres. You don’t have to worry about a shortened range though as fuel economy has been improved considerably, going down from 7.7L/100km in the Mk6 manual to just 6.2L/100km in the Mk7 manual (official combined cycle). This means you have a potential range of around 806km compared with 714km in the Mk6.
During our week with this example we achieved a comfortable 600km from a tank, enjoying plenty of leadfoot driving. Unfortunately, the new model does require 98 RON fuel instead of 95. This means it can be more expensive to fill up.
Okay, so enough of the geeky stuff. What about features and comfort? Well, the traditional tartan upholstery is carried over once again. It was used in the original and Volkswagen has continued to incorporate it ever since. It’s a love-hate affair. We think it’s cool in a retro kind of way, however, not everyone is going to be as stoked about it as it can come across as a bit two-dimensional/old.
There is plenty of room on board, with an airy atmosphere, very natural ergonomics, good pedal placement for the driver, and a raised up centre console with a golf-ball gear shifter resting nicely in your hands. There are no cluttered fixtures or fittings to make the drive uneasy either. It’s relaxing. If anything, the dash is a little bit boring and overly sensible for a hot hatch.
All of the controls and touch surfaces are of typical Volkswagen quality. It feels robust enough to withstand years of use but at the same time most of the switchgear seems premium and rather prestigious for a vehicle in this segment.
Some of the high-tech gadgets on offer here are very impressive and usually only available in higher end luxury vehicles. There’s a flawless radar-guided cruise control system available as a $1300 option (Driver Assistance Package). Not only is the price reasonable, this level of technology is not usually offered in a ‘conventional’ small hatch, which makes it quite an exclusive deal. And we mean flawless too. We haven’t tested a better system.
It constantly monitors moving cars around you, and it won’t abruptly jump on the brakes automatically if an overtaking car pulls back in front of you, unlike some of the systems out there. There’s distance control to expand or contract the gap between you and the car in front. And it meshes seamlessly with the manual transmission, allowing you to change up or down gears while it moderates the throttle automatically. Even without the option, the GTI comes with cruise control with an auto brake function as standard.
While the multimedia interface uses a nice, clean, easy-to-use program, we did endure some quarrels using the standard GPS sat-nav. On a number of occasions it directed us along routes that were old or no longer in existence, even leading us to a dead end road at one point. We think the maps might be in need of an update for Australian roads.
Other standard highlights include parking assist with automatic steering, a decent eight-speaker stereo system with USB/SD card/MP3 support, auto wipers and headlights, driver attention detection to counter fatigue, on-board tyre pressure sensors, and dual-zone climate control with rear vents.
Speaking of the rear, more space has been incorporated into the back – a credit to the MQB platform – with 15mm in added legroom and 31mm in added shoulder space. Boot space is stretched as well, from 350 litres to 380 litres.
During our week with the car we had no issues in terms of living with the interior. It’s comfortable enough for long journeys, and although the well-bolstered sports seats might not suit really large people, they are a wonderful companion to have whether you’re out on the highway or threading through your favourite mountain road. Overall, it presents a great package.
2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 – THE DRIVE
With all of the technology changes, you might be wondering, does it still offer that raw, man-to-machine relationship? We think the quicker steering rack really helps to amplify a sporty, agile nature. And although the car still has that trademark solid, almost heavy character, it does feel a lot more composed and within its comfort zone especially on the limit.
Volkswagen says it concentrated on tuning the suspension and not just the components but also the geometry to find the ultimate balance between precision and comfort. There is now more stability at high speed and less weight shifting going on. If you decide to jump off the throttle mid-corner, for example, the tendency for the back to kick out is almost eliminated.
In saying that, the new Golf GTI isn’t as playful as some of the rivals. It gets on with the job in a more professional manner, staying focused and keeping everything straight and true. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun though. It just means that it’s a quick car point-to-point whether you’re an inexperienced driver or a motorsport ace. It rewards those who know how to drive and it shows amateurs just how easy it is to go fast. It’s always surefooted and confident no matter what silly things are thrown its way.
With the trick differential, flat-out stints up and down a mountain road are extremely enjoyable. Its road-holding is superb with loads of forward traction and face-distorting lateral grip. You can really press on through the long sweepers too and the suspension, in Sport mode, holds its lean and rails you around.
The suspension in Sport mode is one of the standouts to the drive experience in our opinion. Volkswagen has, again, found that perfect balance between supple ride comfort and stiff sportiness. The dampers swallow bumps like a marshmallow going into a fat kid’s mouth, with no aftershock ricocheting into the body or unsettling the car’s stability. It’s a truly outstanding suspension setup.
So, how about that engine? From inside the car we’re a bit disappointed about the noise it gives off. It sounds fairly undramatic and conventional, whining out to its redline like any other four-cylinder. From outside the car though it sounds like a cracking rally beast. DSG buyers will enjoy that trademark burp during gearshifts, while the manual buyers do miss out, they will love the slick lever movement and progressive clutch grab.
When you drive around normally in everyday conditions, the GTI doesn’t feel all that special. There’s certainly no obvious signs that tell you you’re in a vehicle that can, as you find out later, tear up the tarmac like a dedicated sports car. It almost feels boring driving around suburbia. There are a few contenders in this segment that are able to provide more pantomime and theatre, even at slow speeds, with sportier exhausts or turbo whistles. The GTI doesn’t really offer any distinct character in that regard.
Out on a mountain road or out in the country, it’s quite the opposite. This car is truly astonishing. Forward acceleration is relentless, pulling through those taller gears and relentlessly climbing speed. The engine loves to rev right out to its 6900rpm redline too, until you select the next gear and enjoy the ride once again. We timed 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds, which is quick but it doesn’t really do the actual excitement felt in the car any justice. We have no doubt the DSG version would be even quicker as well.
Braking hard time and time again will eventually cause the pads to stress and smoke a little, but their performance seems mostly unhindered. Initial bite is strong and the pedal feels good throughout the range of depression. There is some squirming under heavy braking from high speed.
The best way to sum up the driving character is to say it’s quick but it doesn’t have to make a big deal about it. And that can be taken as a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, it’s very confident and surefooted and just gets on with the job. But on the other hand it could come across as a little bit boring if all you do is drive around like a bit of a granny. You need to stretch its legs to appreciate the engineering, and appreciate its very high capability.
2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 – THE VIDEO
2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 – THE VERDICT
As the original did back in the 1970s, this car proves to the world of motoring that fast cars needn’t be impractical – let’s not forget this is a Golf, a word that’s synonymous with practicality. The new sports model is simply and purely an improvement on a product that was already leading the class.
If you’ve just read all of this and you’re still not convinced it’s the benchmark hot hatch, we’d suggest the next thing to do is take one for a proper test drive.
Sure, it’s not the most powerful small hatch out there, and it’s not the most aggressive, nor is it the hardest-edged. No, this is the best compromise between all factors. It’s the perfect balance.
The optional Performance Pack (169kW) is coming in a few months. We’d suggest holding off until that arrives. Because if there’s any negativity to be found in a product that’s too well rounded and too balanced, the Performance Pack is sure to fill such void with a dash of spice.
– Excellent suspension; soft and absorbent yet sharp and sturdy
– Crisp cabin infused with genuine retro character
– Plenty of modern technology; standard sat-nav, radar cruise control (optional), rear camera, clever LSD
– World class handling and point-to-point performance
– Excellent fuel economy
– Looks quite conservative
– Manual transmission not as quick as DSG
– In-car engine note not ‘hot hatch’ exciting