There I was, all ready to do something that no automotive journalist ever does: purchase a brand new performance car. I was days away from going down to the local Ford dealer and signing on the dotted line for a brand new Ford Fiesta ST. I had it all picked out: an ST3 model, with the Recaros, grey wheels and Performance Blue paint. And then I got a phone call from Volkswagen, offering me the chance to drive the brand-new, MK7 GTI.
For those of you still reading the buff books, the MK7 GTI has been out for the better part of a year – and every keen TTAC reader knows that this is the first GTI to be built off of VW’s MQB modular architecture. But what does it mean for the enthusiast who doesn’t live and breathe the ins-and-outs of modular architectures?
Well, quite a bit. The MK7 is longer, wider, more spacious inside, while packing more power and less weight. Length is up by 2.1 inches, while width is up by half an inch. Notably, the GTI loses 1.1 inches in overall height, while the front wheels have been moved forward by nearly two inches (thanks to the MQB chassis placement of the pedal box), which adds up to the much more pleasing “lower, longer, wider” look.
The overall effect is that of a substantial car. From the outside, the GTI still looks like it takes up the expected footprint of a C-segment car. Inside, the cabin looks nothing short of huge. The panoramic sunroof and generously bolstered seats give it an airy feel, while the uncomplicated center console feels like it belongs in something with four rings. The rear seats contain enough room for two full-size male adults, though three abreast might be a stretch. It’s better than a number of CUVs that I’ve recently come across, and would be more than adequate for the sort of “bro-trips” that many buyers of this car will undertake. Like most auto reviewers, I adore the tartan cloth and would skip the leather upholstery.
The added size appears to have no negative consequences for the GTI’s performance. Dynamically, the GTI has but one fault. The gas and brake pedals are spaced too far apart to properly execute a heel-toe downshift. Everything else you’ve read about the car is true: it is utterly brilliant, and possibly the best all-round performance car on the market.
The newest generation of Volkswagen two-point-oh-tee motor delivers peak twist at just 1,500 rpm, pulling all the way up to 4,500 rpm. That means all 258 lb-ft is easily accessible in the meat of the power band, right where you’d be most inclined to use it. Torque-steer manages to be mercifully contained, and describing the acceleration as “brisk” doesn’t quite do this car justice.
An optional Performance Pack adds another 10 horsepower, bigger brakes and a limited-slip differential. Does the GTI need it? I’m not sure. The example we tested did not have it, and I never wished for a second that it did. The brakes are strong and progressive, the handling beautifully composed with crisp, quick steering and the kind of sharp turn-in that you wouldn’t normally expect on a front-wheel drive car.
This performance is also fully accessible to the average driver on something as banal as a highway on-ramp, and you can tap into it while you’re averaging 26 mpg in spirited driving. Even with the low-profile tires and sharp handing, the ride is never punishing. If the light clutch and precise 6-speed manual gearbox are too arduous for your daily commute, there’s a dual-clutch gearbox available as well. What could possibly be wrong with a car that can truly lay claim to being the ultimate performance daily driver?
Well, as Jack said
Imagine that the GTI was slow-roasted until all the joy dripped out of it. Then imagine that all the joy that dripped out was caught in a drip pan. Then imagine that the drip pan was emptied into the Fiesta ST.
When I was 17 years old, my father bought a MKV Jetta 2.0T, and I, entitled little brat that I was, scoffed at the notion that a powerful, front-wheel drive car could be any fun. After all, video games and endless forum flame wars had taught me, so it had to be true. As it turned out, I adored that car, and I adore the MKVII, which is faster, lighter sharper and more refined than the MKV, with its laggy motor and first-generation DSG, ever was. But even though I’m less entitled and (slightly) more mature, I still want the raucous, slightly unhinged brand of front-drive fun that the Fiesta ST offers, even at the expense of the GTI’s substantial rear seat and cargo area. For everyone else that’s gotten that puerile recklessness out of their system, the GTI is the one you want.