The Urban, Uber-German Escape Hatch

Volkswagen’s new ride is thrillingly straightforward and great on the curves.

Fleeing New York City eastbound on the Merritt Parkway with one hand on a flat-bottomed wheel and the other resting on a well-sculpted shifter, we felt the crackling hum of excitement we normally associate with the Porsche 911. Like Stuttgart’s famous coupe, the 2015 VW GTI convinced us that we were, if not better than other motorists, then at least wiser. We’d made the best choice.

The fact that this gutsy little joy factory goes for $25k only enhances the buzz.

For that price, you get wheels so gorgeous they’d do a Lamborghini proud, and a double-clutch transmission that, in fact, does. The underlying architecture is VW’s superb MQBplatform – also used in Audi’s A3 – which supports the same turbocharged 4-cylinder that powers the A4 and A6. For a reasonable $1,495, the Performance Pack brings an extra 10 horses, larger brakes, and a fantastic mechanical limited-slip differential. For $800, adaptive damping is available, and unnecessary. Features like rain-sensing wipers, a collision-warning system, and a panoramic sunroof are available for those looking to vergolden die Lilie.

Even without the garnishes, the GTI is a bravura entrée. While those bits of flavor from the VW Group’s luxury divisions are stellar enough ingredients to overcome any amateur assembly, a master was in charge this time around. GTI Engineer Carlson Schebstadtworked on Porsche’s last generation GT3 RS, a car whose driving dynamics any sane person has yet to criticize, and helped to imbue the new VW with some of that grace and accuracy at 2/3 the speed.  

And yes, fully 2/3 speed. Flooring the throttle in a middle gear produces the kind of oh-whoa-WHOA thrust rarely associated with six-second-to-sixty cars, and no other front-drive car sticks this hard in and out of corners. In all our time driving, we knew no such thing as caution in a bend. A Subaru WRX STi is faster, but no more thrilling.

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Therein lies the wondrous paradox of the GTI: How can a car without a single superlative metric be superlative? There’s no number to attach to a feeling of cohesion, and graphs fail to portray the glorious intersection of driving fun and economy-car frugality (34 highway MPG). Worthy experts have called this a small Audi, and we don’t disagree, but hear this: some of that thrumming mechanical bliss that carries Porsche’s cars has made its way into this hatchback.

Photos by Volkswagen of America