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2015 Volkswagen GTI
Volkswagen has redone its almost iconic Golf GTI

Prices: $24,785-$30,045

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI was one of the first hot hatchbacks when it made its U.S. debut in the early 1980s, when virtually all small cars were awfully dull.

Current GTI major rivals are the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Si and the Subaru WRX. None are dull.

The 2015 GTI is the seventh generation of this VW model and has been significantly redesigned. It's larger, lighter, faster and more fuel-efficient than previous GTIs.

The new GTI shares the roomier new Golf's smoother styling, but is more than an inch lower than the standard Golf. It's got a lowered sport suspension and has such cosmetic touches as side skirts and shining dual exhaust outlets flanking a rear diffuser, which is that horizontal race-car-style object that sits under the bumper. The GTI also is about a half inch wider for a more purposeful stance and 1.1 inches longer.

The quiet, redone interior has a special flat-bottom steering wheel and unique GTI instrument cluster with lighting that makes it easy to read in sunlight. Front seats offer good support in curves, and the more upscale interior has such things as soft plastic. There are several 12-volt outlets.

Long doors made it easy to get in and out of my test two-door model, and rear-seat entry didn't present much of a problem. However,  a tall passenger behind a tall driver could use a little more legroom. And this is more of a comfortable four-seater than, as VW describes it, a "five-seater. The uncomfortable center of the backseat is best left to the large fold-down armrest with two cupholders.

Drawbacks: The rotary control for front-seat backrests is hard to reach and awkward to use. You don't get a standard power driver's seat unless you order the top-line Autobahn model. And the front passenger seatbelt rattles when not fastened.

While small, dashboard controls are clearly marked.

The cargo area is large and easy to load or unload. Rear seatbacks flip forward to enlarge it. However, yanking the large VW badge on the hatch, which looks like it's just stuck on the car, opens the hatch and may lead those new to the car to wonder how to get into the cargo area.

The entry GTI comes with two or four doors as the GTI S model. VW says it costs $24,785 with two doors and a six-speed manual transmission, or $25,385 with four doors and that transmission. The sticker price of my two-door manual-shift GTI S test car said $24,395, so  go figure. Many auto prices seem to constantly change.

Even the solid-feeling GTI S is well-equipped. Standard are cruise control, a 5.8-inch capacitive touchscreen sensor (as in smartphone technology) for infotainment, 8-speaker audio system, power central locking system, manual climate control and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Other GTI models are the higher-line GTI SE, which has a sunroof, rearview camera and pushbutton start. The top-line GTI $30,045 Autobahn, which only comes with four doors, adds such items as automatic air conditioning.

All can be had with an ultraresponsive $1,100 DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission with a launch-control feature. The six-speed manual shifts precisely, but rather stiffly, and is hooked to a firm, long-throw clutch. I'd be tempted to opt for the DSG automatic if I had to do a lot of shifting, especially in the city..

A driver can select  "normal," "sport" or "individual" modes, which affect steering heft and throttle response.

Powering all GTI models is a turbocharged, direct-injection 2-liter four-cylinder with 210 horsepower and good torque. The horsepower can be increased to 220 with an optional "performance package," which also contains larger brakes and a torque-sensing electronically controlled limited-slip differential.

Acceleration in town and on highways is fast, with virtually no turbocharger lag. Estimated fuel economy with the manual transmission is 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on highways. Estimated figures are 25 and 33 with the DSG automatic.

The rather firm electro-mechanical steering feels reassuring at all speeds, and the wheel is adjustable. Handling is almost sports-car-like. The brakes bite firmly and quickly, and the ride is supple.

Safety features include electronic stability control and electronic brake-force distribution.

The 2015 GTI is all grown up, compared to earlier models, but still serves as a practical, economical fun-to-drive car.