Does the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE Vanquish the GTI? [First Impression]

Is the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE sporty enough to nullify the GTI argument?
Is the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE sporty enough to nullify the GTI argument?

When the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE arrived this morning, my first thought was, “huh, that looks an awful lot like a GTI.”  The next thought was something like “it’s not a GTI, so I’ll spend most of this week yearning for one.”  Well, yeah, about that – I can’t stop driving this particular car.

What makes the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE so special, then, and why shouldn’t you theoretically plunk down $4,000.00+ more for a comparably-equipped GTI SE?

For starters, there’s GTI DNA oozing out of every pore in the TSI SE.  The standard (for SE trim) dark-finished 17-inch wheels look great with the rest of the exterior’s matte- and glossy-black trim.  Plus, the panoramic sunroof’s partially-black roof treatment contrasts nicely with this test car’s Tungsten Silver Metallic paint.


For those who feel the standard headlamp clusters are a bit oversized, a lighting package is optional on the TSI SE, filling the space with bi-xenon projector units and VW’s signature “double-U” daytime running lamps.

Inside, a flat-bottomed steering wheel sports a pair of shift paddles, satin-finish aluminum trim is swathed over the dash and doors, and the leatherette seats have sturdy bolstering.  Sure, the GTI’s plaid upholstery and colorful instrumentation are missing, but is it really necessary?

My six-foot-four frame has adequate leg- and head-room, even with the sunroof’s mesh sunshade closed.  On the passenger side, I even had enough room sitting in front of the kiddo in a booster seat.


Under the hood, the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE makes do with 170 HP from its standard 1.8-L TSI four-cylinder engine.  Power is transferred to the front wheels via a standard six-speed automatic transmission which, once the revs build, feels surprisingly like VW’s Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG) unit.  Upshifts are accomplished with surgical precision, and downshifts are rev-matched.  In manual mode, it’ll only override and command a shift once you’re just shy of the rev limiter.

The six-speed automatic is standard equipment on both the TSI SE and TSI SEL, so manual purists will either need to step down to the standard Golf S, laterally to the Golf TDI (S, SE or SEL), or up to the GTI or Golf R.

On the road, the first thing you’ll notice is the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE’s composure.  It’s unflappable, finding a balance between responsiveness and compliance.  Think E46 BMW 3-series after the steering upgrades, i.e.; 2002-2006.  The Servotronic speed-variable electro-mechanical power steering provides excellent feedback and has sharp response off center.  When pushed, the GTI-derived XDS cross-differential system does its best to minimize understeer characteristics in hard cornering.

Interestingly, this particular car tends to wander a bit on the highway, especially between 65-75 MPH.  Whether or not it’s a consequence of cool temperatures and accordingly stiffened all-season tires has yet to be seen, but the amount of steering correction needed at speed feels a bit unnerving.

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With an as-tested price of $25,715 (including an $820 destination charge), my 2015 VW Golf TSI SE has proven its value well.  In spirited city and highway driving, I’m averaging an even 29 MPG, according to the instrument cluster.  As equipped, the TSI SE is rated at 25/36/29 city/highway/combined MPG, so we’ll see if the number holds up after a full week and subsequent fill-up.

On that note, only time will tell if the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE truly nullifies the GTI argument.   If the rest of the week goes anything like the 130 miles I’ve put on today, and if you’re not a manual-transmission purist, I feel it would be a pretty difficult decision to make.

In the meantime, find out almost everything you ever wanted to know in this TFLcar video on the Mark VII 2015 VW Golf lineup.