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Volkswagen's sporty GTI is the most deliberate of the hot hatchbacks in terms of appearance and driving personality. Yet this is no slight. What starts out with the basic packaging and shape of the frugal Golf ends up, in each iteration, as a more finely focused performance car, yet one that can also work just fine for daily commuters.
And with the all-new Mark VII version of the GTI arriving this year, it looks like this deliberate, evolutionary process goes a step further—turning out a fresh-faced version of the GTI that should be a better drive than ever. While other models in the Volkswagen Golf family will get VW's new 1.8-liter turbocharged (TFSI) four-cylinder engine, the GTI gets a 2.0 TFSI, now making 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque (at just 1,500 rpm). There's a choice between six-speed manual and six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) gearboxes, with acceleration to 62 mph in just 6.5 seconds for the standard versions. A 'progressive' steering system and a suspension that's tuned for performance should again make the GTI more satisfying to drive fast than the Golf.
In a departure from that evolution, it looks like the GTI won't become more portly. Curb weight, just as with the all-new Golf lineup, is down; and it's estimated at just under 3,000 pounds. We hope that means that the GTI will regain some of the youthful vigor of former GTIs, but any such pronouncements will have to wait until we drive this new version. Euro-spec cars will get an engine stop-start system, but that's unlikely for the U.S. market. Altogether, VW boasts an 18 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, though, and most of that should carry over Stateside.
For the first time, VW is offering a Performance Pack, which raises engine power by 10 hp, shaves a tenth of a second off that acceleration time, and raises top speed from 153 to 155 mph. Performance Pack cars also get a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, as well as larger vented disc brakes front and rear (standard GTIs have solid rear discs).
You should, as with the last-generation GTI, have no problem telling this model apart from the Golf—even though there's still no mistaking that this is based on the Golf. A lowered sport suspension, twin chrome tailpipes, a rear diffuser, and special side skirts altogether give it a more assertive stance that tricks the eyes into thinking it's wider, while red brake calipers, 17-inch 'Brooklyn' wheels, and LED taillights set the distinctive look. Initially it's only offered in a choice of three body colors: Tornado Red, Black, and Pure White.
Inside the GTI you'll get a sport steering wheel, as well as a special GTI shift knob and performance instrument cluster, plus sport seats with a 'Clark' tartan pattern, plus a black headliner and special red ambient lighting. Stainless-steel pedals and a foot support should altogether make it feel sportier and more driver-focused even when you're not moving quickly.
Automatic climate control, a parking assist feature, touch-screen infotainment, and heated seats are all standard in the (admittedly higher-priced) European version of the GTI. We'll update this as we get more information about U.S. equipment.
What we won't likely see when the GTI arrives, late this year, is the GTD, with its turbodiesel four—a higher-output version than what will be offered in the 2014 Golf TDI—making 184 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque.
For more information on the upcoming Golf lineup as a whole, see our preview page for the 2014 Volkswagen Golf.
- Stronger performance
- Improved fuel economy
- Distinctive detailing
- Still a Golf to those who aren't auto enthusiasts