ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It’s hard not to be a believer in Volkswagen’s aluminum intensive MQB platform at least when it comes to sportier applications. It underpins the Audi S3, which is a rockin’ compact sports sedan, the upcoming third-generation Audi TT is definitely more fun to wheel around, and now I’ve had a sampling of it on this 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI 4-Door, which is also very impressive.

The GTI has always been ahead of the other usual suspects in the sport compact world like the Ford Focus STMazda Mazdaspeed 3 and Honda Civic Si in the ride refinement department. The Mazda has a very firm ride bordering on an almost jarring ride, while the Honda is alright but doesn’t possess the solidity that VW does. The Ford is probably the closest in ride comfort.

A younger me didn’t care very much about ride quality and equated a rough and tumble ride to a high performance machine. However, as I’ve gotten a little older I’ve come to appreciate a car that’s good for daily running. What do I appreciate more? A car that’s good for regular drive and for the times when I want to light things up a little be it on my favorite stretches of road or on road course during an open track day.

Previous GTIs were good fun on the streets with lots of grip and peppy power from the turbo four-cylinder, but on a track, the brakes would go away in a hurry (like we’re talking about three or four hot laps) and had the tendency to understeer like you would expect from a front-wheel driver.

With our particular Golf GTI S test car equipped with the optional performance package, it’s brilliant. I ran around Michigan International Speedway’s infield road course for the better part of the afternoon and the brakes never dropped off staying solid and strong the entire time. I was just waiting for the pedal to get soft, but it never happened. Credit the larger front and rear discs that are part of the optional performance package that upgrade the front vented discs from 12.3 inches to 13.4 inches and the rear from solid 10.7 inches to vented 12.2-inch rotors.

I have a friend who tracked his previous-generation GTI and he did your typical upgrades for track duty. More aggressive brake pads and high-temp brake fluid helped, but his brakes would still go away after not that many laps. He even zip-tied laundry dryer vent tubing to the front of his bumper to try to improve front brake cooling, which may or may not have helped, but a spongy brake pedal still occurred, driving him insane. He actually just bought a Subaru BRZ and is in the process of selling his “lightly” tracked GTI. 

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If he had the new GTI with the performance package, I’m not so sure he would be selling it. In addition to the upgraded brakes, there’s the electronic limited slip and an additional 10 horsepower from the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. We often bicker about performance packages on a lot of cars not offering more power, but we can’t do that here. VW gave us a little more juice and that’s always a good thing.

Through the road course, the GTI is impressive for a front-wheel drive sport compact with good bite on turn in, you can get on the power early through corners and the rear end does scoot around corners nicely. Surely we can credit the new chassis, suspension and limited slip, but I’m also going to say the 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires have a lot to do with it. They are really aggressive summer tires, which do a great job of keeping this GTI planted in corners. There’s a little bit of body roll, but it’s an acceptable amount. The car feels very neutral and is fun and easy to drive hard.

The turbo four sounds pretty good at wide open throttle and pulls hard throughout the band. Throttle response is descent for rev matching and the manual gearbox offers shifts that are fairly crisp for a Volkswagen. It’s no Civic Si manual shifter, but it’s fine.

For those all important regular, not driving on a race track times, the GTI feels solid -- even more so than its predecessor. Handles bumps like a champ and doesn’t feel the least bit harsh. It’s also quite quiet in a cabin that’s not high on style, but is constructed with nice materials and is easy to navigate through. 

The $28,305 as-tested price is very reasonable in my mind. In fact, the way this car is equipped is exactly how I would have mine if I was throwing down my own money for one. And with the GTI’s improved track worthiness and pleasant on road mannerisms, I think I would be giving nod to the VW now above all of the other hot sport compacts out there. Well done, VW. Very well done.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI S 4-Door is definitely the best Golf GTI to date.PHOTO BY JOSH SCOTT

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Is this the best small car on the market? If not, it’s damn close and I can’t think of a better one off the top of my head. It’s definitely the best Golf GTI to date.

This is the car that started the hot hatch class and is still the leader. It drives in a more refined way than the outgoing car -- it’s smooth and quiet and the MQB platform is rock solid.

However, “refined” doesn’t mean “dull.” It means the interior quality looks and feels great; it means the seats are simply outstanding; it means the clutch/gearbox relationship feels right on to me, it means there’s ride/handling/communication-back-to-the-driver balance here few cars of any size match…

Dull? No. Get the tach swinging to 3,500 rpm and beyond and the thing gets right down the road.There’s a nice little growl going on as well. Stirring the gearbox is a pleasure, but with the engine’s wide range, it’s almost unnecessary around town -- just stick in third or fourth and cruise around.

The car just goes about its business honestly, that’s the best way to put it. There are no peaks or valleys in the way it drives, in performance, in build quality, in the shape -- it’s just an honest car, one happening to be a hoot to drive hard or not hard.

There wasn’t a lot wrong with the outgoing GTI, but this is step ahead for sure. I want to try the DSG-equipped model, but there’s really nothing I don’t like about the car equipped as this one is. I’d happily drive this every day.

VW sales aren’t setting any records lately; they’re down a bit compared to last year. The Golf line, however, is up about 5,000 cars on the year compared to ’13, and rightly so. Certainly this Golf GTI deserves to sell well.

It's hard not to be a believer in Volkswagen's aluminum intensive MQB platform.PHOTO BY JOSH SCOTT

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ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: There a lot of times when it’s tough to say whether you’re getting what you pay for with Volkswagen’s offerings, especially when you start looking at options pricing. That’s definitely not the case with this 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI S 4-Door. Even with a $995 lighting package adding to the sticker price of this car, I don’t feel like I’m being ripped off at $28,305.

It offers everything I would need in a practical daily driver: a simple yet roomy interior made of honest and seemingly durable materials, inoffensive exterior styling with a few sporty, Audi-like flourishes here and there, good fuel economy, etc. etc.

That it’s also a heck of a lot of fun for comfortably under $30,000 is a really pleasant surprise. The MQB platform/architecture, is, as Wes noted, an exceptionally rigid blank canvas upon which to build a very good driver’s car. The steering isn’t as light as I’ve come to expect from VWs; clutch weight is likewise just right. And the golf ball-shaped gear selector knob? Perhaps that famous German sense of humor on display (not that it’s new to the 2015 Golf).

Now, I really enjoyed the Golf R. It managed to combine some of the all-wheel-drive rally-ready fun of a big-winged overboosted boy racer’s dream with that certain German grown-uppedness. And with its quick-reacting all-wheel drive system, it was a blast to drive on ice. After tossing around the surprisingly neutral GTI, however, I have to wonder whether that extra set of driven wheels is worth the premium -- unless you happen to spend a lot of time on gravel back roads or frozen lakes, I guess.

Yes, there are still those few missing bits, like navigation and a back-up camera, which would have seemed like luxuries two GTI generations ago, but are now standard or easily added to vehicles costing far less than this. Then again, we got by without them for decades. You won’t miss them in this car.

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