2015 Volkswagen GTI (© Volkswagen of America, Inc.)Click to enlarge picture

From the front, it's easy to discern that this is the new 2015 VW Golf, with its steeper hood angle, more sharply shaped headlight clusters and overlaid horizontal graphic line.

For 2015, the Golf lineup enters its seventh model generation since its inception. Dubbed A7, the new generation brings refined and tidied aesthetics, greater power and efficiency from all-new engines and a mile-long laundry list of new safety, comfort and convenience features. It also means redesigning the already near-perfect GTI variant — always a risky, nerve-wracking predicament. Since the GTI is a perennial favorite, we jumped at the opportunity to get familiar with the latest Golf family.

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Model lineup
The more things change, the more they, well, you know the rest. The new Golf sticks to its tried-and-true formula of mating European build quality and Bauhaus styling with compact hatchback practicality and livability. Also as before, the new Golf family is divided into three main variants: the regular gas version (now called TSI), the diesel version (TDI Clean Diesel) and, of course, the enthusiast's darling, the GTI. These are the first cars to be built atop Volkswagen's new MQB modular platform architecture, a system designed to simplify and standardize design and componentry across the entire Volkswagen Group family of products.

Regardless of the Golf variant, three primary trims are available: the base S, midrange SE and top-line SEL (called Autobahn for the GTI). Aside from the 4-door-only GTI Autobahn, all can be had in either 2- or 4-door guise. These trim designations center largely on interior amenities and conveniences, but they do affect the wheel equipment. The base Golf TSI starts with 15-inch steel wheels, while the diesel TDI comes with 16-inch alloys. Depending on trim, both can be seen with 17- and 18-inch alloys, while the high-performance GTI starts and ends with 18-inch alloys (although multiple designs are offered).

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Under the hood
Gone is the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine of yesteryear; now all Golf variants feature modern, highly complex turbocharged engines. The new standard-issue Golf is powered by the newest 1.8-liter variant of the beloved corporate EA888 TSI engine, complete with all the latest tricks and technologies, such as direct injection and variable cam phasing. This new 4-cylinder unit boasts a compact, clever design and a power curve the previous engine could only dream of. Despite the 170 horsepower matching the old engine's peak power, a heady 200 lb-ft of torque now forms the muscular backbone of the engine. Plus, both figures are now delivered in a flatter, more usable manner across the rpm range, all the while delivering greater refinement and fuel economy — up to 37 mpg.

Similarly, the TDI's engine, dubbed EA288, is a new 2.0-liter diesel that aims to improve all aspects over its predecessor. With a 10-horsepower jump up to 150 and a robust 236 lb-ft of torque starting at just 1750 rpm, the new engine produces greater power and efficiency than before, with city and highway mileage figures sitting at 31 mpg and 42 mpg, respectively.

Last but not least is the GTI engine, also a third-generation EA888 like the TSI's, but two liters in size and packing a much greater wallop. Horsepower tops out at 210 at 4500 rpm, although the optional Performance package squeezes out an extra 10 horsepower. More importantly, though, is the heaping helping of torque available throughout the rev band that plateaus at 258 lb-ft — an impressive 51 lb-ft more than before.

All three variants can be had with either manual or automatic transmissions, with the TDI and GTI getting 6-speed manuals and DSG automatics and the TSI making do with a 5-speed gearbox or traditional automatic. These drivetrains are mounted in the all-new MQB chassis that is significantly lighter and stronger than the outgoing A6 chassis.

Additionally, all variants feature an impressive roster of safety and stability systems, including an intelligent post-collision braking system and electronic differential lock (XDS+ on the GTI, which can apply brakes to either inside wheel as needed). The sport-oriented GTI also boasts a progressive steering rack and is offered with adaptive suspension and limited-slip differential, among other performance-enhancing technologies.