Road Test Review – 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI – Better Performance But Where’s The Magic?

When Volkswagen embarked on its crusade to become an SUV-centric company, many feared the move would spell the end of the entire Golf range. These fears were accelerated when Volkswagen revealed that the standard Golf family would leave the U.S. and be a Europe-only exclusive moving forward. Thankfully, the 2022 Volkswagen GTI and its hotter cousin, the Golf R, escaped the ax and were allowed to bring their performance magic to their eighth-generation iterations. But have they lost the magic that made them unique in the first place?


Wild Color Adds Spice To GTI

While we get to wait another day to get a more in-depth look at the Golf R, our time with the 2022 Volkswagen GTI managed to help us learn alot about some of the changes that VW made in an attempt to make it appeal to younger buyers. Like the standard MK8 Golf, the GTI benefits from much of that model’s styling updates, with the front fascia being wholly reworked. While it does lose some of the swagger that defined the outgoing GTI, we like the revised LED headlights and the bigger front grille that helps channel more air to the turbocharged four-cylinder lurking underneath the hood. The grille even includes integrated foglights that have a honeycomb-like shape and help the hatchback stand out in night driving. The look gives the car a more mature appearance and works well when paired with specific colors.

On that note, our tester also arrived with a wild shade of Pomello Yellow paint. This color is a $395 option, and while the vivid Kings Red only outshines it, it managed to pop from multiple angles, especially with the sunlight shining proudly on it. Buyers looking for a more subdued hue can choose from several other colors, but we recommend giving this shade of yellow a chance, especially if your an area where you can make full use of the color’s ability to draw attention. That even included a passing police car with the officer inside (a GTI owner in his own right when not on patrol) giving us a thumbs up before resuming his commute.


Interior Takes Unwelcome Step Backward

Remember when we pondered whether the GTI lost some of its magic in the transition to the eighth generation? Slip inside the GTI, and it becomes readily apparent that this GTI has received some downgrades compared to what we have seen before. While part of this is due to the company attempting to separate it from the Golf R, it has come at the cost of removing some of the cabin’s luster.

Our range-topping Autobahn tester is supposed to be the pinnacle of the GTI trim ladder, but it was hard to ignore some of the chintzy hard plastics present throughout the dashboard. That dashboard has been redesigned, and the analog gauges have been replaced with VW’s Digital Cockpit, which swaps the analog units out for digital units. The look is slick, but navigating around specific menus is frustrating. That’s compounded by the fact that the bulk of the controls are operated by touch-sensitive sliders and haptic feedback buttons, which in theory adds a sleeker presentation to the cabin. In practice, they are an absolute nightmare to use when out on the move, especially the controls for the 10.0-inch infotainment system, which offers no form of analog controls. The GTI comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, which helps reduce frustration. Still, we hope that Volkswagen will eventually follow Honda’s lead and embrace a balanced layout with analog controls for the more essential functions and haptic controls for other items.

The numerous gremlins with the technology here are a shame since the rest of the cabin stands out in other ways. The leather sport seats in our tester offer a balanced mixture of comfort and support, while the rear has 22.8 feet of space with the seats up. Fold them down, and it expands to 52.7 cubic feet with the extra cubes capable of swallowing a day’s worth of errands or, in our case, an entire bicycle we picked up for Emily at a yard sale.


Performance Still Reigns Supreme In GTI


While the interior needs to come to terms with some of its technical problems, we’re glad that the Mk8 GTI still manages to nail it when it comes to performance. All GTI models continue to be powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder which is good for 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. That’s an increase of 13 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque versus the Mk7, and these beefed-up figures make a difference out on the road, with our tester making the sprint to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds.

Our tester arrived with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and while we prefer to row the gears with the standard six-speed manual. The dual-clutch is the one to go to for quicker performance and will also be the bulk seller for Volkswagen, especially here in the U.S., where the take rate for automatics is vastly higher than manual transmissions. The dual-clutch also delivers crisp shifts, and there were very few instances where we caught it sleeping on the job with the right gear being available at all times.

But there’s more in play here than the engine and the transmission, with Volkswagen adding other technologies that play a very prominent supporting role. That includes brake torque vectoring technology, an electronically operated limited-slip differential, and expert chassis tuning that make the hatch an entertaining car to throw around sharp corners. Braking is also a GTI strong suit, with our tester delivering solid and consistent stops. Compared with some of its rivals, the GTI still manages to be in a unique category, but others are rapidly catching up to it. The Hyundai Veloster N is going away soon, but it still offers a lower admission fee than the GTI and makes more power, allowing it to be a thorn in Volkswagen’s side for the time being.


Value Quotient

Pricing For the 2022 Volkswagen GTI is still in the higher reaches of the performance car segment, with a base S model starting at $31,370. Our range-topping Autobahn tester has a base price of $39,820, with our lightly optioned tester having a final sticker of just over $40,000 when all remaining fees are added into the mix. This pricing puts the GTI in the higher reaches of the segment, and as mentioned, there are rivals out there that can beat it in terms of pricing.

The current market situation has also created an interesting problem for the GTI when compared with its rowdy cousin, the Golf R. A base Golf R starts at $45,185 (before various options and fees), but some of the GTIs we have seen on sale nationwide have markups on average between $3,000 to $5,000. If you go for an SE or an Autobahn like our example, these markups could push the GTI ahead of an R model in some instances and make the choice between the two a bit blurred at times.

But if you’re lucky to find a GTI without such markups, you’ll be rewarded with a hot hatch that looks sleeker than ever before and delivers the goods regarding performance. Here’s hoping that Volkswagen will eventually address some of the technology and ergonomic issues that plague the cabin to help make this VW a truly perfect package.