The Future Classic MK7 GTI is the E46 M3 of Hot Hatches
There’s been a lot of Volkswagen Golf GTI noise lately, and not much of it has enthusiasts excited. Between ditching the manual GTI and the MK9 model going all-electric, the GTI formula is sprinting away from its long-standing legacy. Sure, the MK7 GTI isn’t the first or last GTI model. But like the E46 BMW M3, it’s the best version of an iconic nameplate, and that alone will make it a future classic.
What makes the MK7 GTI special
By today’s standard, the MK7 GTI is pretty middle-of-the-road as hot hatches go. All iterations use the EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Depending on the year, that setup yielded anywhere from 210 to 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque in every version.
In addition, each generation of the MK7 GTI came with a six-speed manual transmission. Early versions offered a six-speed dual-clutch, while the facelifted version arrived in 2018 with a seven-speed DCT.
From 2015 to 2017, you could get the GTI as a two-door coupe. That version is likely to be especially special, as they are both rare and look better than their four-door counterparts.
Furthermore, the 2015-2021 GTI featured an ideal blend of digital and analog interfaces. With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s easy to stay connected on every drive. Granted, it’s a wired connection, but functions well enough and doesn’t ask many questions.
Furthermore, the MK7 GTIs were the last with analog radio, steering wheel, and HVAC buttons. That certainly didn’t seem remarkable at the time, but the follow-up MK8 GTI made owners pine for those physical controls.
A timeless hot hatch design
On top of the hardware and interfaces, the MK7 GTI featured a truly timeless design. While the 2022 follow-up got a more aggressive face, the last generation GTI was simpler and more refined. Basic, maybe, but dated designs can go either way when discussing their future classic status. With the MK7 GTI, simple, modern looks will hold up well into the future, with excellent proportions and well-crafted lines that all work together.
The Clark Plaid upholstery is possibly the best iteration after the original MK1. Supportive seats, phenomenal build quality, and ample cabin space round out this near-luxury quality hot hatch.
The MK8 GTI is the beginning of the end
With the greatness of the MK7 GTI in the mirror, the MK8 version arrived with much excitement in 2022. However, immediate issues with the interior and interface left a sour taste for the new-gen GTI. Haptic controls on both the steering wheel and dash are fiddly to use to begin with. Worse yet, they aren’t backlit, so it’s impossible to change settings at night without the cabin light. It’s a perplexing choice that should have never made it out of the Volkswagen boardroom. And it shows the brand’s decline after the retirement and passing of Ferdinand Piech.
Once again, the MK8 uses the EA888 engine, this time delivering 261 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. But the stiffer suspension takes the GTI from daily drivable to unpleasant on anything other than well-kept roads. And there aren’t many of those in the States these days.
Finally, the MK8 GTI’s exterior design is aggressive, but not exactly stylish. It certainly isn’t timeless, and it isn’t the model most enthusiasts consider when you mention the nameplate.
The end is nigh for two GTI hallmarks
Cementing the MK7 GTI’s place in the hall of future classics is what’s coming next. Volkswagen confirmed that there will be no more manual GTI models after 2024. And beyond that, the ninth-generation GTI will be an EV, rather than a turbocharged four-cylinder gas burner. Those two items are almost singularly responsible for the popularity of the German hot hatch. And with both disappearing in short order, GTI enthusiasts will start looking backward for their fix.
Cementing the MK7 GTI’s future classic status
Much like another German sports car, the MK7 GTI is uniquely remarkable. It isn’t the first or last of its kind. It is simply the best version of the GTI concept Volkswagen could cook up. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because it is the same formula that makes the E46 BMW M3 a sought-after classic.
MK7 GTIs haven’t leaped in price just yet. But as time crawls on and enthusiasts start looking for non-electric, manual hot hatches to drive every day, the MK7 GTI will stand out as the best of its time.