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20 April 2013

A new generation of GTI is like a marker in time. For a lot of us it is an indication that we’re just getting older and time is flying by. Hell, it seems like the Golf VI was just introduced and we were modding Golf IV’s just a few years ago (more like 10+ now). Volkswagen officially introduced the Golf 7 GTI at the Geneva Auto Show this past March and the time has come for the first international press launch where journalists get to drive the car for the first time. Journalists from all over the world will be flying in to the south of France for the next three weeks to sample the newest GTI in both standard trim and Performance Pack trim.

Since we are included in that lucky group we figured it might be fun to blog our entire trip live here for all of you. Updates will be chronological with the newest updates at the bottom of the page. We’ll do our best to try and make as many updates as we can – depending on our Internet connectivity – but Volkswagen has us on a busy schedule. If there is a specific question you want answered, just chime in at the bottom of the page and I’ll do my best to answer them. Keep in mind that the U.S. version of the car is still a year away and final specs and pricing are still being sorted out, so I won’t likely have a lot of details there. Meanwhile, stay tuned for updates throughout the next three days….




SATURDAY APRIL 20TH – 3:00PM CHICAGO
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The trip has us leaving Chicago O’Hare Airport on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Nice, France on Sunday morning (via Frankfurt, Germany). I’m flying Lufthansa to Frankfurt for the first leg and the flight time should be about 8 hours or little less. Lufthansa likes their big planes and our Boeing 747-400 is no exception. Service on Lufthansa is excellent and I’ve (knock on wood) never had any major issues. I make this flight about 4-6 times per year so I’ve gotten used to it. Everything I need to survive is in a carryon and I’ve got a photo backpack loaded up with computer, Nikon D600, lenses, two GoPro 3 Black Editions and lots of cables and connectors. Somehow I get lucky and almost never get hassled about the camera bag despite the absolute rats nest of wires, batteries, plugs and more.

I’ll be in France till Tuesday morning when I depart back to Chicago. So time to board, catch a few movies and a little bit of sleep. Next update from Frankfurt (so long as the layover remains reasonable)…



SUNDAY APRIL 21TH – 7:10AM FRANKFURT, GERMANY
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So remember when I said Lufthansa likes their big planes? The photo above is a just a small sampling of the fleet – those Airbus A380s make that 747 look small. The overnight flight was uneventful and I probably only slept about an hour at most. I finally got to watch the movie Django Unchained and so long as you go into it expecting the typical Tarantino violence, it is a great film.

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While I drowned myself into a caffeine induced haze, I started reading through the press materials for the new GTI. I’ll post up some of the more interesting tidbits when I’m on the ground in Nice, France. My next flight boards in 20 minutes, so I’m off to walk a couple miles through the maze of Frankfurt (Is this airport *always* under construction?). Next report from France.



SUNDAY APRIL 21TH – 11:10AM NICE, FRANCE
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Touched down safely in Nice, France. The view above was on our approach into Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. Nice is the fifth largest city in France and a major destination for tourists. It attracts more than 4 million visitors each year making the Nice Airport the third largest in France next to the two Paris Airports. Nice also has more hotel rooms than any other city in France. Weather is in the lower 60’s and partly sunny which is typical for this time of year. Tomorrow is supposed to be better which should be great for the drive.

Normally at these international press launches Volkswagen AG flies the European journalists in, they drive the cars when they land, attend a business/marketing presentation, have dinner and go home the next day. Volkswagen of America thought it might not be a hot idea to have the U.S. journalists fly in and try to spend the day driving cars while jet lagged to death. So they have brought us in a day early to brief us on the U.S. specifics tonight and to get a good night sleep so we can hit the road all day tomorrow.

The VW people on the ground here told us that there are white and red versions of the Golf 7 GTI on hand. The white cars have the Performance Pack and the red cars do not. That should give us a fair idea on how the two compare to one another.

So I spent some time combing through the press materials on the flight over and pulled a couple interesting bits about the Golf 7 GTI out:

– the new model is 92 lbs. lighter
– 2.1 turns lock to lock in the GTI. 2.75 in the regular Golf which is quicker than the outgoing model
– progressive steering ratio – more relaxed around town and quicker at extremes
– 13.4 inch front and 12.2 rear brakes – Golf R brakes – as part of the Performance Pack
– 258 kb-ft. of torque with the newest version of the EA888 engine
– VAQ electronically controlled mechanical locking differential is similar to the Haldex clutch pack and can handle over 1180 lbs.-ft. of torque
– ESC Sport – electronic stability control that is a two-stage system – first stage defeats ASR, holding the button for three seconds makes ESC go into performance/track mode and react with a delay to allow some slip angles. Need to find out if it can be completely defeated or not.
– New tartan cloth seat plaid pattern is called “Clark”
– Performance Pack spotting difference are the GTI logos on the red brake calipers

After the U.S. specific presentation tonight, I’ll report back before getting some shut-eye.



SUNDAY APRIL 21TH – 10:45PM NICE, FRANCE

Volkswagen of America presented their current state of planning for the U.S. version of the Golf 7 GTI. The U.S. market introduction isn’t for another year, so a number of details are still being sorted out. However there is a lot of good news in all this. First and foremost, this will be the least watered-down version of the Golf ever sold here. There will be more Golf 7 models and derivatives sold than any other generation. Since VW is making the large investment to build our Golf 7 in Puebla, Mexico, that means they also need to recoup that investment as quickly. That means more Golf models than ever to help drive that investment cost down. While we aren’t likely to get every last thing offered in Germany, a LOT of things are still on the table for our market. In the first slide below you get a general overview of the current features that are planned for our market.

golf7-gti-features

Again remember that VWoA is still working on trim and feature mixes both for the launch of the Golf 7 GTI and for the product lifecycle ahead.

Next up is chassis and suspension:

golf7-gti-suspension

Note that summer tires will be available this time around.

Next up is the EA888 2.0TFSI Engine:

golf7-gti-engine

Please note (and this is important) – final horsepower figures haven’t been sorted out. VWoA would *like* to get them as close to the German model as possible (220hp and 230hp with Performance Pack) but we’ll have to wait and see. Also very significant is the torque figure which has gone up massively to 258 lb-ft. Combined with revised gearing and lower weight, the new car should significantly faster.

Lastly here is a diagram/slide with the new VAQ electronically controlled mechanical limited slip differential:

volkswagen-vaq-differential

The locking differential can divert power to the wheel that needs it most. It looks for slippage from one of the front wheels (say the inside wheel when taking a fast turn) and will lock up the clutch pack to divert power to the wheel with traction. Volkswagen’s Scirocco race cars lap the Nurburgring 8 seconds faster with the differential installed, plus the cars reportedly have no torque steer issues either. I’m looking forward to trying this out tomorrow to see how well it works.



MONDAY APRIL 22TH – 7:!5PM NICE, FRANCE

Ok, I have a few minutes before dinner and trying to decide where to start is tough. Oh hell, let’s get one thing out of the way right now – THIS IS THE BEST GTI EVER. I know, what the hell else would Jamie say, right? Sorta… I’ve been a fan of the VW brand for a long time. That means a tough love at times where you want desperately for VW to build something nearly perfect, yet they have often fallen short. The Golf III GTI was the first of the heavier cars that didn’t advance performance and even stymied it a bit. The Golf IV GTI was initially boring as hell and had 16-way power seats and wood trim (!) – in a GTI? By the time the Golf IV GTI got to the end of its lifecycle, it had a very good 1.8T engine and the 20th Anniversary Edition/337 finally looked like a proper GTI. Starting with the Golf V GTI though, VW started to finally get back to their performance roots and offer something that started to recapture that hot hatch experience that the Golf I GTI was/is so damn good at. The Golf VI GTI further refined that and arguably VW was back in the game winning awards and making enthusiasts happy again. So to advance that significantly, especially in the face of the recent new competition, I remained cautiously skeptical that VW would step it up enough. Well I don’t have to worry…

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Overall every journalist that has driven the new GTI really, really likes it. I spent all day today driving it and have to say it is hands down the best GTI they have ever made. I can’t think of anything on the Golf VI that they didn’t improve substantially and performance was a BIG focus. The chassis guy on this project? Came from Porsche where he last worked on the GT3 RS. Ride is somehow better, quieter and extremely solid, yet the handling is also vastly improved with reduced roll stiffness, nicely absorbed bumps and substantially better steering. The way this thing pulls out of corners is tremendous and the new locking diff works extremely well.

Compared to a MazdaSpeed 3 or Ford Focus ST? The new GTI does what all past GTI’s have done giving you a solid, expensive feeling structure, dash stroking materials and more. The new GTI is even quieter inside, the interior bits are even nicer and you can drive it every day and not feel like a tuned version of an economy car. Stomp on the pedal though and this thing scoots hard out of corners, makes great noises and feels like VW spent a LOT of time refining every detail so that it performs significantly better with minimal compromises. The Focus still has quite a bit of torque steer where as the GTI has virtually none. The MazdaSpeed 3 likewise has its compromises in being more noisy, relying on electronic nannies to reign in power if the wheel is turned and a few other odds and ends. Talking to all the journalists in this group though, they can’t believe how much better this new GTI is and the German engineers constantly want to know what we don’t like or what needs to be improved. Honestly most people are at a loss as to what to tell them. Even the drama queens and whiners in the group have a hard time finding fault with it.

There will be a solid 12 months ahead of comparison tests, debates, awards and more likely coming to this car. The competition obviously had an impact on VW’s decision to up their game. And while on paper the GTI looks like it still falls short in a few places, on the street and track it tells a very, very different story. Like other proper GTI’s it manages to be a livable, fairly inexpensive, extremely fun hot hatch that has raised the performance level substantially. I’ll have more complete thoughts later, but I honestly can’t wait to get back in this thing and drive it again.

Oh, and the Performance Pack will be available on our cars (and there was much rejoicing!).

I’ll make more updates with all the photos and more when I’m back in the states later tomorrow. Have to be in the lobby at 3:45am to leave for airport. Fun.



WEDNESDAY APRIL 24TH – 4:15PM CHICAGO

Well I’m still getting unburied after arriving back home, but we did manage to get the full Volkswagen AG Press Materials up on the site today HERE. I’ll have more details from the drive event and some video footage to share as well in the next day or two.



THURSDAY MAY 1ST – 4:15PM CHICAGO

Ok, been crazy catching up on stuff since I’ve been back and I’ve got some updates to make, some more thoughts on the GTI and a few videos to post up.

First, press reviews of the GTI have been very, very good so far. Here are a few that you can peruse at your leisure…

Car and Driver – http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2015-volkswagen-gti-first-drive-review
Road and Track – http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-reviews/first-drives/first-drive-2015-volkswagen-gti-review
Motor Trend – http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/hatchbacks/1304_2014_volkswagen_gti_first_drive/viewall.html
Autocar – http://www.autocar.co.uk/car-review/volkswagen/golf-gti/first-drives/2013-volkswagen-golf-gti-performance-edition-first-drive
AutoExpress – http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/volkswagen/golf/63631/vw-golf-gti-performance-pack
Autocar GTI versus Ford Focus ST – http://forums.vwvortex.com/showthread.php?6029448-Autocar-mk7-Golf-GTI-Performance-Ed-vs-Ford-Focus-ST

So yes, overall quite a few stellar reviews.

When we arrived in Nice, France, VW had set up a temporary kiosk building for arriving journalists:

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This is where we picked up keys for the cars we were about to drive:

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We picked up our keys to our black DSG with Performance Pack. BTW, the keys are finally redesigned for the Golf/GTI:

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From the airport we headed out into the hills just north of Nice on a planned route that takes us through some of the best driving roads in Europe. One of our favorites is the Col de Vence which looks like something right out of a Gran Turismo video game. Check out this onboard footage we shot:

From there we headed south towards St. Tropez via more outstanding roads. In the video below are virtually identical Golf 7 GTI’s except one has the Performance Pack and the other doesn’t. The roads in the video were impossibly narrow by U.S. standards and at times barely fit two cars side by side (as we found out rounding a bend at 60 mph before filming this). After that we took it a little easier on the blind corners making sure things were clear first.

What did we learn? Well the 220hp version in the real world doesn’t feel any different than the 230hp version. They both make 258 pound feet of torque, so the 10hp difference would only really be felt in the upper rev range. However out tearing up these roads, we didn’t notice a single difference. Where the performance pack matters is with the VAQ locking differential and Golf 7 R brakes. In normal usage the brakes don’t outwardly feel different, but after repeated high-speed stops, the Performance Pack brakes stay a little fresher and maintain a nice bite, even when thoroughly flogged. In the turns, the VAQ without question puts those 258 pound feet of torque to the ground very efficiently. This thing pulls out of corners hard and bites with both tires. We felt like the system was a bit smoother in the high-speed sweepers than in very tight abrupt corners, but that is to be expected since the reaction time with the tight corners is far less. That said, when you need to get through a corner quickly, you just put your foot in it and the car will pull you through the corner – no more mid-corner inside wheel spin. The non-performance pack car was no slouch either and still manages to put power down far better than the Golf 6 GTI. We’d still order ours with the performance pack.

What really makes this new GTI so compelling though is the total package and in particular the handling dynamics. The steering is unlike any modern VW we’ve been in with just 2.1 turns lock to lock (versus 3.6 on the old car), the new variable rate rack and completely revised electro-mechanical programming. As we mentioned before, the guy in charge of the handling and chassis dynamics came over from Porsche where he last worked on the GT3 RS, so he knows a thing or two about handling. The new GTI manages to ride better, remain even quieter when just cruising along and feels like a more expensive car than it is. Throw it into a turn and roll-stiffness is significantly higher with the car taking a set earlier and with far less lean than previously. The rear end will rotate, particularly if you’re mid-corner carrying some speed, but it is never nervous or scary, it just tightens the line and tracks around corners at remarkable speeds.

So overall we are very excited by the new GTI. Our hope is that the U.S. version built in Mexico retains all the character and most of the features of the European version. From what we are hearing, that should be the case and we might actually get a few surprises. We’ll keep you posted.

When we arrived at our hotel we were greeted by this site:

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Seeing the span from the first generation to the current is always heartwarming. Knowing that this is the best modern GTI ever made? Now that makes our heart beat even faster.



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