The manual gearbox in the GTI is an excellent choice as well. With one of the easiest-to-modulate clutch pedals among performance cars in any price range, you won't mind stop-and-go traffic. The linkage is a little imprecise, but the shifter glides nicely between gears once you're used to it.
As for braking, in any versions of the new GTI, the pedal is a little on the touchy side for driving in traffic. But these stoppers feel super-confident in higher-speed slowdowns, and with the Performance Pack you step up to bigger 13.4-inch rotors in front—commensurate with that model's 155-mph top speed. It also drops 0-62 mph times by a tenth of a second, to 6.4 sec.
The engine itself is technically carried over—with the same EA888 engine code, 2.0-liter displacement, turbocharging, and direct-injection technology—but much has changed. The cast-iron block has been slimmed, and the cylinder head is entirely new, with water-cooled exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR) loop especially of note. That helps improve fuel consumption in conjunction with the variable valve timing system and dual camshaft system.
The GTI is also around 50 pounds lighter than the outgoing model (we'll see exactly how much when the U.S. car is spec'ed out)—in moving to the new MQB VW/Audi front-wheel-drive platform—and the weight loss combined with the added kick of the engine make this GTI feel faster than the previous Mk6 car, even if all-out acceleration times are around the same.
Performance Pack: Get it.
You might also notice we're talking a lot about the Performance Pack. It's something that will be offered in the U.S. GTI, although pricing, and exactly what's included, are still on the table. We know it'll wrap together the active-diff system, brake upgrade, and a few other items—although it might or might not include the summer-performance tires our test cars were fitted with. Variable damping is also a wild card, and could affect general refinement when it lands on these shores. In any case, we think this package, which will likely cost less than $2,000, will be the way to go.
Without the Performance Pack, the 2015 GTI gets by with an all-electronic e-diff system, essentially leaving torque-transfer duty to the brakes. It's likely you'll want to check that box if you have track driving in mind.
As it is, though, the GTI is hands down the grownup of the hot-hatch group. For its dynamic prowess, quick steering, and immense torque on tap, the GTI is the small performance car we'd pick for a long daily commute, or a cross-country drive. Ride quality is great; the interior is definitely the quietest of this class; and the standard seats are not only well-bolstered but generously sized and genuinely comfortable for a wide range of driver types. There's no seat option like the Recaros in the Focus ST, but we're fine with that.