2015 Volkswagen GTI: Preview Drive

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We're hustling along in the all-new Mk7 Volkswagen GTI, on a tightly curved back road in mountainous Southern France. Just as traffic opens up and I can see a fair distance ahead, I raise our speed into the next bend. But it turns out to be a flat, decreasing-radius corner. I pull my line tighter than intended; and instead of understeering—or exploring the limits of stability control—we slingshot through the corner, with a sense that, for a moment, we'd warped the rules of how front-wheel drive cars behave near the limit.

What happened in that moment is that, right when it mattered, with my right foot dabbing into the accelerator, the front wheels seemed to simply find more traction and pull right through that tighter line—rotating us through without the rear wheels stepping out, with no dramatic weight transfer either.

But back to reality; this automotive parkour I speak of is surely not due to my driving prowess, but to some smart new chassis engineering in the new GTI. With the Performance Pack, which we're convinced is the only way to get this GTI, when it arrives next spring for the 2015 model year—this hot hatch packs a dynamically heroic one-two technology punch. First, Volkswagen has applied a electronically operated, hydraulically actuated, mechanically clutched front differential that can essentially lock to transfer up to 100 percent of torque to one of the front wheels—or more often expertly vary the mix to send increasingly more to the outer front wheel as you’re cooking it into the apex of a corner.

Secondly, VW will fit all new GTIs with a variable-ratio electric power steering system that is darn near flawless, imparting good feedback, helping tuck those lines in tight hairpins, and allowing a system that can go lock to lock in barely over two turns of the thick, flat-bottom steering wheel.

And altogether, the knockout punch here is how fluid and unflustered the 2015 GTI feels through this 'trick.' Most notably, somewhere between the differential system, the steering, and the front-end geometry, VW seems to have completely quelled torque steer.

Knockout handling, and quite the punch

That would otherwise be a concern, because there's a lot of torque. Standard versions of the GTI are up to 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, while with the Performance Pack it makes 220 hp and the same torque output—although different engine controls make boost more available when you need it, in transitions, and there's an even broader range for peak torque. What it means, essentially, is that while the throttle is even and easy to modulate from a stop, if you press further you'll reach a point when a groundswell pins you back in your seat—and helps pull you quickly out of each corner, even if you're a gear or two too high.

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