* Model: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI
* Exterior color: Reflex Silver Metallic
* Interior color: Titan Black
* Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged
* Horsepower: 210
* Transmission: six-speed, dual-clutch automatic
* Fuel economy: 33 mpg highway, 25 mpg city
* Dealer: Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga
* Price (as tested): $31,515
If the new seven-passenger SUV to be made in Chattanooga represents Volkswagen's practical side, the new Golf GTI compact car is VW with its hair on fire.
The GTI, the sport-tuned version of the Golf hatchback, is assembled in Puebla, Mexico, which was Chattanooga's chief rival for the new SUV known as the CrossBlue concept. But while the CrossBlue marketing team will be casting a net for Generation Xers and baby boomers, the GTI comes under the category of Millennials Magnet.
Having said that, this old man would love to own one. The GTI blasts from zero-to-60 miles per hour in 6.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver, and corners like it's rolling on train tracks.
We drove a new GTI in "autobahn" trim from Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga earlier this week and came away convinced that it's one of the finest cars VW has ever produced -- the end result of seven generations of evolution dating back to the mid-1970s VW Rabbit-based GTIs. It's almost impossible to drive this car without smiling and wondering what would happen if more Audi and BMW customers gave one a spin.
Our test car, a Reflex Silver Metallic copy, retails for $31,515, including $820 shipping. The entire GTI line ranges in price from $22,860 to $32,490.
STYLING AND COMFORT
Our five-door, five-passenger test car is the most practical configuration for a GTI, which also comes in three-door hatch architecture. The car that gave birth to the term "hot hatch" is actually unpretentious, with none of the gaudy ground effects and spoilers common in the segment.
The GTI it clearly comfortable in its own skin, as only a couple of hood creases and door-panel character lines interrupt its smooth, simple surfaces. In possibly the best use of exterior accent color ever, our silver GTI has bright-red brake calipers, red brand badges and a thin red strip underlining the fascia. Otherwise, the GTI is virtually indistinguishable from a garden-variety Golf.
The GTI's boxy shape has become iconic, which is good because it makes the cabin more roomy for passengers and their cargo. From the moment you open a door, though, the GTI's sporty intentions are clear. You don't sit "on" the front seats as much as "in" them -- a clear signal that the car wants to keep you planted amid all the crazy G-forces you're bound to throw off while tossing around this little beast on twisting mountain roads. Our test car has black leather seats with contrasting red stitching, although the standard plaid, cloth buckets are one of the car's trademarks.
The steering wheel in the GTI is a well-executed, three-spoke design with brushed aluminum accents, a leather skin and a flat bottom for a true racing feel. Accelerator and brake pedals in our GTI test car come with aluminum cover plates, adding to the sporty vibe. The instrument cluster and 5.8-inch touch screen are simple and functional. The touch screen channels the GTI's uncluttered navigation system.
Our tester comes with a panoramic sunroof, five-spoke 18-inch alloys, Pirelli tires, a rear-view camera, a 400-watt Fender audio system, keyless entry and rain-sensing wipers. Interior materials and fit quality are on par with Audi products, which is saying a lot.
The GTI is powered by VW's a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 210 horsepower and an incredible 258 pound-feet of torque. Power is delivered to the front wheels through a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. A manual transmission is also available, and will be the transmission of choice for many driving enthusiasts.
On a test drive on Chattanooga back roads near Chickamauga Lake, the GTI showed off its charms. Steering is delightfully precise, and the sticky Pirelli tires offer protection from any imprudent cornering decisions you might make. Every 2015 GTI comes with a Driving Mode Selection feature which can be set to Sport or Normal modes depending on your mood. Not just a back-roads athlete, the GTI has a comfortable, composed highway ride that will be appreciated on cross-country jaunts.
Here's a suggestion for VW-loving families: Imagine one day pairing a GTI with a new, Chattanooga-made SUV in your garage. Let the little hatch be your daily commuter car, while the SUV can be your take-the-family-to-the beach car. What's not to love about that?
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.