So long, old friend.
OK, put away your handkerchief and hit pause on your ‘Sad Songs’ playlist because every time VW sends an old Clydesdale out to pasture, there’s always a new filly waiting in the wings. That’s hardly surprising given how important the GTI is to the company, never mind that it spawned entire automotive genre.
From what we hear, the Mark 8 promises to build on the time-tested formula of what makes the GTI such a great car- the elusive duality of a practical, usable everyday conveyance and the chuckability and poise that makes it such a blast to drive all while adhering to the basic ingredients of the hot hatch recipe. But, like every new generation, it is going to be a little bigger, a little heavier and with much more techy stuff because that’s what the market wants.
Don’t get us wrong, the Mark 7 you see here isn’t exactly an analogue car. Yet with the promised innovation and new digitally based features that are in the pipeline, we thought we would take one last spin around the block in the current model as a bridge from one generation to the next. It is not a stretch to postulate that, despite never having set foot in the new GTI, it’ll be a winner. No matter how good the incoming generation promises to be, there will always be those that lament various aspects of the outgoing version. For those who might be on the fence on whether or not to wait for the new one or pull the trigger now, this post is for you.
In order to fully immerse ourselves in Mark 7 goodness, we figured a road trip in our striking Cornflower Blue liveried tester was in order. Maybe not the regular kind of road trip that we are all familiar with- we’re still not quite there yet- but one that would allow us to soak up the intricacies and nuances of this current GTI before we say adieu.
With the ample cargo hold packed to the brim with family detritus and the necessities of a weekend spent at a cottage, we point the GTI’s prow north in search of some engaging, lightly travelled tarmac, an environment this VW positively thrives in. We find just such a road well off the beaten path and when viewed on Google Maps, it takes on the appearance of a cooked spaghetti noodle. Perfect.
At a time when sports car output numbers usually begin with a 3, 4 or even 5, the GTI’s horsepower number of 228 might seem a tad blasé but it isn’t. It is exceptionally usable and never feels underwhelming. That the tractable power is sent through the front wheels may invoke the sad trombone sound effect, but our tester had VW’s Vorderachsquersperre (or VAQ for short, or just plain ol’ limited slip differential) which allows the driver to pour on the power much earlier than he or she might have expected. The best part? It is funneled through a wonderful manual gearbox that is an unfettered joy to use. Sure, shifting gears for the heck of it is a crime we are guilty of, but with the linear power delivery from the 2.0 turbo four- still one of the best of its kind- means you can leave it in second or third gear and let the GTI pull itself around till redline, although it makes gobs of power everywhere so that isn’t mandatory driving behavior. You’ll want to roll down the windows to listen to the EA888 four banger do its thing, but we could do without the Soundaktor which pumps in synthetic sounds into the cabin that VW insists on fitting to all GTIs.
The rest of the dynamic offerings don’t disappoint either. The brakes feel strong and inspire confidence, and some of the spongy brake pedal feel we’ve noted in the past appears largely absent. The suspension is the real star of the chassis show however. We often talk about the black magic balance of ride and handling, something that we so dearly miss from BMWs of old but the Mark 7 just nails it. It’s comfortable and compliant when piling on highway miles and then pivots to sharp and precise when you pick up the pace. People often modify their personal GTIs with lowering springs or even coil overs but we cannot figure out why they would do such a thing. The factory setup is so superb right off the showroom floor that trying to improve on it seems like an exercise in futility.
Similarity, it seemed a fruitless task finding stuff to complain about, and we have never shied away about reaching for the pitchfork and torches when it’s warranted. But the GTI is that good. You could say that the styling is a bit staid and homely, but that boxy design is what nets you the practicality you’ll covet on a road trip like ours. Some may point out that the GTI costs more than many of its competitors and they aren’t wrong. But with the impressive bandwidth the GTI offers we find that gripe to be a bit baseless because it feels worth the price. Others still will point out that the lane departure system defaults to on every time you set off and must be deactivated before each trip, something that will annoy those who prefer to leave driving assistance technology off. The only other thing we’d change is to fit a better set of rubber because the all-season tires miss the mark in flattering what is a truly gifted chassis.
And so when Sunday arrived and it was time to pack everything up and head for home, we took a moment to reflect on the Mark 7’s swan song. Looking around the interior you get the sense that VW engineers were proud to design and build this car because everything is screwed together with car and smakcks of quality. Controls are well weighted, the driving position is spot on and you remember that no other hot hatch on sale today ticks off kilometers with such confidence and comfort. Yes, the Mark 8 offers promise that it will build on the formula that made the GTI such a great car throughout its seven generations. We look forward to driving it as soon as we can. Still, we’ll miss the Mark 7 and everything that it brings to the table.
So long, old friend.
2021 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn — Specifications
- Price as tested: $35,995
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger hatchback
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Engine: 2.0 litre turbocharged inline-four, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 228 @ 5,000 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 258 @ 1,500 rpm
- Curb weight: 1,421 kg (3,133 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 8.7 L/100km (27 mpg)