Almost 40 years have passed since Volkswagen introduced the Rabbit GTI to America, causing a seismic shift in the automotive landscape. This fun-to-drive little hatchback has flourished through the years, and for 2022 VW introduces the eighth generation of the iconic GTI. Considerably larger and more powerful than the original model, the new 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI celebrates the same enjoyable characteristics — and some of the same styling cues — in a sleek, high-tech package.
Next-Gen Hot Hatch
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI rides on the same wheelbase as the previous version; however, the new car is longer and wider, giving it a more aggressive stance. This bolder demeanor gets further accentuated by a large lower air intake with integrated fog lights, slim headlights and a sculpted hood. An available light bar that spans the grille gives the GTI a unique look at night.
New slim LED taillights and chiseled lines give the GTI a bold look when viewed from the rear, a look reinforced by a standard roof spoiler and integrated dual chrome tailpipes. A centrally placed red GTI badge under a large VW logo finishes the look.
Volkswagen engineers incorporated many of the new GTI’s exterior changes with aerodynamic improvements in mind. The aero tweaks include updated mirrors, smoothed corners, a stylishly integrated roof spoiler, as well as new wheel arch linings and underbody paneling. The result is a drag coefficient of a mere 0.31 as well as reduced lift.
Like the Original
Particular design elements have carried through multiple generations of the GTI, up to and including the new 2022 model. A few of these specific cues include a red strip that stretches across the grille, a large single-piece honeycomb lower air intake, and available Scalepaper plaid trim on the sport seats. The new manual shifter is a modern take on the original golf-ball shifter design.
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI is available in three trim levels: S, SE and Autobahn. All versions have a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard equipment. A 7-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox is available for an additional $800.
All trim levels of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI come with IQ Drive, Volkswagen’s suite of advanced safety features. A few of these safety systems include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane assist and a rearview camera.
Golf GTI S
At a starting price of $29,545, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI S comes with automatic climate control, cloth-trimmed sport seats, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped and heated GTI steering wheel, pushbutton start, 30-color ambient lighting, dual front and rear USB-C ports, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay and an 8.25-inch touchscreen display. All trim levels come standard with VW’s Digital Cockpit Pro and its 10.25-inch driver display. Other standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels with red brake calipers , as well as LED headlights, fog lights and taillights.
Golf GTI SE
Priced at $34,295, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE upgrades the S with a 10-inch touchscreen display with navigation and voice control; a panoramic sunroof; keyless access; a Harmon Kardon 480-watt premium audio system; wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; adaptive front lighting; and an integrated light bar in the front grille.
Golf GTI Autobahn
As the top-level trim of the GTI, the Autobahn starts at $37,995. In addition to the SE standard features, the Autobahn gets leather-trimmed sport seats, tri-zone climate control, a 12-way power driver’s seat, heated rear seats, a head-up display and park assist. The Autobahn trim also has VW’s multimode adaptive damping system and 19-inch alloy wheels fitted with summer performance tires.
Granted, there won’t be any mistaking the new GTI for anything else given its iterative exterior styling, but inside — especially in the SE and Autobahn — this sporty hatch takes on a decidedly high-tech look. The clean design features a large 10-inch touchscreen display with soft-touch controls at its base for temperature and volume control, and only four shortcut buttons below. Aside from the Start button, The new GTI has no other controls in the center stack; everything gets accessed through steering-wheel controls or the touchscreen.
Bring Back the Buttons
We love the new, clean look of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI’s interior, although from a functional standpoint it can be a little frustrating. Temperature settings are next to the volume control with little differentiation, with seat heating controls directly above on the screen. It can be difficult to select the correct function while driving; on more than one occasion we inadvertently turned the audio volume down when trying to adjust temperature, and we unintentionally activated the seat heaters several times. We understand VW’s desire to give consumers the latest technology in the new GTI; however, from a practical standpoint more intuitive buttons and knobs would make the whole driving experience more enjoyable.
Standard on all 2022 Golf GTIs, Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit Pro provides drivers with a configurable display that feels like equipment that would be part of a higher-end vehicle. The driver can choose from 21 different viewing options including car status, full-screen navigation, driving data, phone information and driver assistance features.
Whether trimmed in leather or the classic plaid cloth, the sport seats of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI look great, fitting in well with red and black trim throughout the cabin. No matter the material, the GTI’s seats are comfortable with strong side bolsters designed to hold occupants in place during enthusiastic driving. We spent several hours behind the wheel of the GTI and would have been perfectly happy to stay there for a lengthy road trip.
A spirited outing in the GTI is an experience easily shared, thanks to a rear seat that is both comfortable and roomy for two adult passengers. As with most vehicles of comparable size to the GTI, the center seat is a bit cramped but certainly usable in a pinch. Dual USB ports keep devices charged.
For a car that possesses such a high fun-driving factor, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI also offers a high level of utility. Multiple pieces of luggage or several grocery bags will easily fit in the cargo area, and an integrated cover keeps valuables out of sight. Rear seats can be folded flat to create an expansive load floor.
Under the Hood
Powering the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI is an updated version of the company’s turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, producing 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque available at 1750 rpm, making this the most powerful GTI to date. We’re happy that Volkswagen continues to offer the GTI with a 6-speed manual gearbox — a rarity on the American automotive landscape. For those who prefer to stick with two pedals, the GTI has an available 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox with paddle shifters.
Call it a bit of welcome irony — the powerful turbocharged engine of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI is also surprisingly fuel efficient. According to the U.S. EPA, the GTI has fuel-economy ratings of 24 mpg city / 34 mpg hwy / 28 mpg combined when the car is equipped with the 6-speed manual gearbox. City mpg goes up 1 mpg with the 7-speed DSG; highway and combined ratings remain the same.
Still Front-Wheel Drive
Since its introduction to the U.S. market for the 1983 model year, the GTI has been front-wheel drive. That said, as the hot hatch’s potency increased so did the difficulties when trying to manage that newfound power. Volkswagen has come a long way in terms of power management thanks to the standard electronically controlled torque-sensing, limited-slip VAQ differential. Operating in conjunction with the electronic differential lock, stability control and available adaptive damping system, the VAQ differential optimizes grip while decreasing oversteer during enthusiastic driving.
Updated Chassis and Suspension
The eighth generation Golf GTI gets built on VW’s MQB modular platform — the basic foundation for most models in the VW lineup. With a stamped body and chassis that feature a large percentage of high-strength, hot-formed steel, the GTI can use thinner, lighter parts without sacrificing chassis strength. VW engineers made several modifications to the GTI’s running gear with the goal of improving driving stability and agility, including a revised front suspension with a front axle spring rate that is five percent higher than the outgoing version.
On the Road
It may have fresh looks and a high-tech interior, but ultimately the GTI still drives like a GTI — and that’s an excellent thing. The combination of precise steering, nimble handling, predictable throttle and brake response, as well as a great rumbling soundtrack make the GTI one of those magical cars that brings a smile to a driver’s face almost immediately.
Fun in the Corners
That smile never left the faces of our merry band of auto journalists as we tackled the twisty roads outside of Asheville, North Carolina, where the Golf GTI felt right at home during our press drive. The suspension and chassis upgrades were immediately evident as the GTI provided a confident ride, staying flat in corners even when pushed hard. Acceleration is strong and the power well controlled, thanks to the aforementioned VAQ differential — the new GTI has virtually no torque steer worth mentioning. This hot hatch is an easy car to drive fast, with more than adequate power that remains totally manageable without getting into trouble.
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI is as much in its element when bounding down back roads as it is while cruising the highway or loping through town. On freeways the GTI has a comfortable, quiet ride — the suspension works wonderfully in corners but doesn’t make the ride overly stiff. Even at 70 mph the new GTI has plenty of power on tap to overtake slower vehicles. Around town the car is easy to maneuver thanks to decent visibility all around; it possesses plenty of pep but it is perfectly fine cruising at 30 mph.
Two Great Transmissions
We had the opportunity to drive 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI variants with both the 6-speed manual and the 7-speed DSG gearbox — both are excellent choices. The DSG shifts quickly and smoothly when left to its own devices, although for those looking for a more engaging experience the paddle shifters work well and have extremely fast response. Although the GTI’s manual gearbox cannot be shifted as quickly as the DSG, rowing through the gears is deeply satisfying, giving the GTI a more authentic sports car feel. Given the choice, we would opt for the 6-speed manual transmission — every time.
Right for You?
Not many cars today possess the high performance, efficiency and versatility of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Whether carving a mountain road, commuting to work or road-tripping with the family, this new GTI is certainly up to the task. And even though we are not big fans of the new infotainment system, the GTI’s improved performance, respectable fuel economy, low starting price and everyday drivability more than make up for any shortfalls. The new GTI would take pride of place in our own driveway — and given the number of new vehicles we test every year, that’s saying something.
Pros: Sporty styling; excellent performance; spacious interior.
Cons: No physical buttons or knobs; controls can be frustrating.
Bottom Line: Volkswagen stays true to the GTI’s original premise with this new, more powerful, next-generation Golf GTI.
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