VW recently released the all-new eight-generation GTI, and since it’s always been one of our favorite hot hatches for driving fun, we couldn’t wait for an opportunity to test it. Well, our wishes have come true and now the question is, is the GTI still the King of Fun? Let’s find out!
All-new and Completely Familiar
So, VW says this is an all-new design, and yet, it couldn’t be anything but a GTI – Volkswagen likes to make design evolutions instead of revolutions. That said, the update does keep things fresh and interesting.
The front is a nice mix of old and new – the familiar horizontal red strip in the grille, the GTI letters nestling below. Standard LED headlights give a strong display, while five LEDs on each side of the bumper create a signature X-shaped fog lights. Adding to the sporty look is a new large honeycomb grille that spans the width of the front and wraps around.
The profile is pure GTI – a 5-door hatchback design with crisp, squared-off lines. You never forget that the original GTI – although that was a 3-door – took a very functional hatchback and turned up the fun by adding enthusiastic running gear. An ideal blend of fun and function.
Function doesn’t mean sensible shoes, though, there’s a sharp cut-in line at the bottom, and a nice rake that runs from the headlights to the taillights. While those lines are tasteful and subtle, the 18-inch alloy wheels have a twisted 5-spoke design with a polished finish that’s bold and bright. Red calipers behind each wheel promise performance.
The rear features LED taillights that flow into a nice horizontal line, with a familiar large VW logo in the center, which is home for both the lever to pop the hatch and the rearview camera. Those with a good eye will notice that the GTI logo on the rear is now in the center, vs being on the driver’s side on the previous model. Our favorite part are the large dual exhaust pipes – not only do they look great, but they also pump out a rich full exhaust note.
Finishing of our tester was a handsome Atlantic Blue Metallic, that looks black in certain light conditions. If you drive the GTI like it begs to, you’ll want a nice low-key hue like this! Those willing to be more exuberant might opt for the Oryx White Pearl or Kings Red Metallic.
Welcome to The Digital Age
Inside is a completely different story.
Open the door and you’re greeted by well contoured front sport seats, covered in plaid cloth inserts – another long-time GTI tradition. Next to that familiar design is an all-new digital display with a 10.25-inch gauge cluster paired with an 8.25-inch info-tainment touchscreen.
VW calls the gauges Digital Cockpit Pro, and it serves up an impressive menu of info-goodness, with three views and 21 viewing options. We love that you can call up which bits of information you want – we liked turbo boost on the left gauge, speedo on the right gauge, while the center display gives you a massive tachometer for your driving fun. There’s also cool stuff like a digital g-meter display – fun for those track bound expeditions.
In the center console you’ve got a nice high-res 10-inch touchscreen that features…. ta da! Knobs for volume and tuning. We love that, but if you look around, you realize that those are the only knobs in the interior – everything else is handle by touch switches. That does make using the info-tainment system a bit challenging – you call up many of the screens by the way of a small touchpad with buttons for Assist, Menu, Climate, and Driver modes. It’s not intuitive and it takes a while to get used to it.
On the bright side, Apple CarPlay and Android auto work well, and even though you need to be wired in for those, there is a wireless charger ahead of the shifter. No Sirius XM is available on our S trim – a bit surprising.
While our tester was the entry-level S trim, we didn’t feel left out in other areas, you’ve got goodies like heated seats and steering wheel, auto climate control, multi-color (30 choices!) adjustable lighting and pushbutton ignition – but you’ll have to use the keyless remote to unlock the doors.
Slightly larger than before, the rear seats roomier and adult friendly, too. With the rear seats up, you’ve got an impressive cargo space, and fold those rears and you could challenge small SUVs for capability. That’s the kind of real-world practicality that’s always made the GTI such a useful vehicle.
All the sensible stuff is great, and useful, and all, but if you’re ponying up for GTI, you’re here for a thrilling drive, and the new GTI does not disappoint.
Powered is served up by a turbo 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder, and in the GTI, it’s a polished gem, now kicking out 241 hp (up 13) and 273 lb.-ft. of torque (up 15) at just 1,750 rpm. It starts up with a deep rasp that turns into a contented hum.
Those dual exhaust pipes are tuned to perfection, and it just sounds rich, deep and powerful as you run it up to redline. Riding a wave of turbo boost it pushes you along. It’s fun and addicting. And it’s not just around town fun – we found loads of power at freeway speeds – this little GTI wants to run on the Autobahn!
We were thrilled to find our tester had the 6-speed manual transmission, even though VW’s DCT automatic is one of the best, for sheer driving fun, we’ll take three pedals, please. The clutch and transmission lever have that well-oiled slickness we expect from a German machine, and while the throws are a little long, they are light and precise.
The clutch pedal take up is smooth and nicely weighted – perfectly paired with the brake and accelerator. This would be an easy car to teach someone how to drive stick on.
In typical GTI fashion, the power is sent to the front wheels, so it’s great VW includes a standard limited slip differential.
And that’s just the start, if you want an example of why we love European cars, just take this baby out for a drive. The ride is sublime, comfortable but well controlled, perfect for the commute, and still firm enough when you want to take it to the local autocross. And you can call up 4 different driving modes from Comfort to Sport to fine-tune the experience.
The steering feel is wonderful too, giving tactile precision as you dive into turns that makes slicing up traffic a grin-inducing affair. The brakes are partners to all the fun with excellent feel and control.
How Much for a 4-Season Pass to Driverland?
Surprisingly affordable! Our tester was the entry-level S model, starting at just $29,880. With no available options, and $1,095 for destination, we rang the bell at $30,975.
If you want to upgrade, it’s not cheap, you’ll come close to $36,000 for an SE, which gives you goodies like panoramic roof, upgraded info-tainment, Harmon Kardon audio and more. We like a lot of those features, but we’re not sure $5K worth. And if you go for the top-of-the-line Autobahn, you’ll be looking at $40k. Normally we like one of the loaded vehicles, but honestly, the S model gives us everything we want.
Competitors would include the new Civic Si at $28,910. The Honda is a sweetheart, and if you keep your vehicles for 8-10 years, the reliability is worth considering. But for sheer driving enjoyment, the GTI wins. We’re looking forward to testing the new Elantra N, the numbers look great – but it’s hard to believe it will have that Euro goodness.
The biggest competitor might just be the sibling Jetta GLI at $33,240 our Autobahn tester was loaded with the luxo features that would cost you $40k in a GTI – and it drives like a GTI. It doesn’t have the same vibe as a GTI but it’s a great package.
Stylish, faster, with all the European goodness and a bargain price – the 2022 VW Golf GTI 2.0T S remains the king of fun!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.